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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Rosa Maria Siervo: Shaping the Future of News with Personalization Tech

Meet Rosa Maria Siervo, the Machine Learning Engineer who’s making waves at DPG Media. In the heart of Europe's tech scene, Rosa is part of the team that’s changing how we get our news. Her work in the News Personalisation Squad is all about connecting readers with stories that matter to them, using an intelligent mix of data, software, and machine learning. It's a role that's as creative as it is technical and suits her just fine.

Rosa Maria Siervo smiling at the Moraine Lake in Canada
Rosa Maria Siervo at the Moraine Lake in Canada

Rosa's journey from Italy to The Netherlands is a story of following her passion. With a background in Mathematical Engineering, she didn't start out in AI, but she found her way there through a love of math and a curiosity for its real-world applications. Her career path is a reminder that it's okay to start from scratch, face challenges, and grow into the tech whiz you're meant to be.

In her narrative, Rosa shares the ups and downs of tech life, from tackling impostor syndrome to learning the power of asking for help. She's not just about algorithms and analytics; she cares about the people behind the screens and the community she's helping to build. Rosa's story embraces the tech world with open arms and makes it a little more welcoming for everyone.


Q1) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?

I am a Machine Learning Engineer at DPG Media, the leading media group in Flanders and the largest in The Netherlands. I work in the News Personalisation Squad (NPS), the team responsible for designing and developing news recommendation systems for our Belgian and Dutch brands.

Our daily job is a nice mix of software and data engineering and ML modeling and analysis on the other.

I also spent a few years working for a consulting firm, always in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Although I didn’t study Artificial Intelligence at university, my background is not too far from it. I pursued a degree in Mathematical Engineering in Italy and, as part of my studies, I had the opportunity to move to The Netherlands, which I now consider my home.

Q2) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?

I have always had a passion for mathematics throughout school, but I never explored its practical applications until I took my first computer science class at university.

Initially, I faced substantial difficulties and felt somewhat clumsy because I was unfamiliar with even the basic terminology. Despite these struggles, I found myself captivated by the potential of this field and inspired by what more experienced students could achieve, which fueled my growing passion for programming.

After graduating from university, I was uncertain about my next steps, and none of the job vacancies in the market particularly excited me… until I came across a job opening for an analyst role in the AI domain. As soon as I read the job description, I immediately realized that I wanted to work in AI. Sometimes, it's just that simple!

Q3) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

There are quite a few challenges that come to my mind:

  • The impostor syndrome: I faced this challenge head-on when I first graduated from university. My mathematics degree gave me a solid foundation, but I lacked the knowledge of many of the technologies and tools companies used. It wasn't until later that I realized my attitude toward learning was more valuable than the knowledge I had at the time. Ultimately, it's not just what we know that makes us good at our jobs, but our attitude towards problems that we don’t know yet how to solve.

  • Asking for help: I have always found it difficult to approach others for help because I didn’t want to either appear incompetent or somehow bother them. The good news is that I was utterly mistaken. First, it may sound cliché, but there are no “silly questions”, they are simply things you don’t know yet. Second, most people are genuinely motivated to help others and enjoy being asked to share their expertise. Third, asking for help is an opportunity to learn faster, as colleagues can provide valuable tips based on their experience that you cannot easily find online or in books. The key is not to wait too long before asking for help. I had to put effort into learning to evaluate when it was time to stop tackling a problem alone and instead ask for help.

  • Feeling overwhelmed: There’s so much that you could do in the tech world, so many tools to discover, learning paths to explore, and potential ideas to unlock that it can get overwhelming quite quickly. Initially, I attempted to delve into every resource and topic I came across, but this approach led to anxiety when I realized that there simply wasn’t enough time to do all of that. Moreover, I felt like I was skimming through various subjects without learning something.

What helped me avoid getting lost down the rabbit hole was the practice of setting clear goals, prioritizing my work based on them, and monitoring my time.

Instead of trying to learn everything at once, I could finally channel my efforts into mastering the essential skills required to achieve my priorities. Also, by being mindful of how much time I spent on specific tasks, I could conduct retrospective analysis and improve my planning decisions for the future.

Q4) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?

First of all, my family has always been very supportive. When I decided to study mathematics, they let me follow my passion, even though they were concerned about my prospects of finding a job afterward. Little did they know, and honestly, I didn't either, that mathematics would open the door to numerous job opportunities. I chose it simply because I liked it.

In addition to my family, I have encountered many supportive people along my journey, both at university and in the workplace.

I feel exceptionally fortunate to have consistently worked with amazing colleagues who pushed me out of my comfort zone and believed in me even before I believed in myself. Their faith in me has significantly boosted my self-confidence and motivation to keep learning and pushing forward.

Q5) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?

My work experience has always been in international teams, and I have seen everyone making dedicated efforts to promote inclusivity in the workplace. I must acknowledge that the tech industry still tends to be male-dominated, but in recent years, I have witnessed many companies recognizing gender bias and actively seeking ways to reduce it. These strategies include adopting better recruiting practices, offering greater flexibility to employees, and supporting women in more senior roles.

I have also had the privilege of participating in various local initiatives in The Netherlands that have allowed young girls to discover the exciting world of technology.

This is so much needed, as I still encounter many women, even at a young age, who do not consider a tech career, not because they dislike it but because they have grown up with the wrong belief that tech is solely for men.

Q6) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?

I believe that a job in tech gives more flexibility than many other professions, and the possibility to work from home a few days a week is a good example. Since my team transitioned to a hybrid work model, I have started practicing more sports and have noticed reduced fatigue at the end of the workweek.

Nevertheless, achieving a healthy work-life balance is not easy, especially when you are faced with a challenging task and a strong desire to continue working on it.

Keeping a clear separation between work and personal time has worked well for me. I primarily adhere to standard office hours and have a dedicated workspace when working from home. Additionally, at the end of the workday, I have adopted a few routines to help me switch contexts, such as listening to a podcast or going out for sport.

First-person picture of Rosa cycling alongside a canal in Utrecht, Netherlands.
Rosa loves cycling alongside the picturesque Dutch canals, like this time in Utrecht.

Q7) What skills are most important in today's tech world?

The first skill that comes to my mind is a lifelong learning attitude. Continuous learning is very important, especially in the tech world, where everything gets outdated quickly, and new technologies constantly emerge.

Problem-solving skills are also highly valuable in our field. For those who doubt their abilities, I'd like to emphasize that these skills can also be developed and improved. It's simply a matter of practice!

Next, I would like to mention the importance of communication skills and effective teamwork. Learning to communicate and collaborate with others allows you to achieve so much more.

Lastly, kindness and empathy in the workplace are crucial in every industry, including tech. Helping create an environment where every colleague feels at ease and open to vulnerability is probably more valuable than anything else.

Q8) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?

I am afraid of falling into the recency bias here because I tend to answer with my latest project every time I get asked this question. It is easy to overlook past projects when immersed in something new.

Currently, I am working on a language learning app tailored to my learning style and focused on the Dutch language. While this project is relatively recent, it has been on my wish list for a while, and I am happy that I have finally found some time to turn my idea into something a bit more concrete.

It is based on my experience after moving to The Netherlands. At that time, I couldn't enroll in a Dutch course due to time constraints, so I made the decision to study Dutch on my own, at my own pace. Drawing on my prior experiences learning English and French at school, I analyzed what worked well and what didn’t, and I decided to take a different approach this time to avoid previous pitfalls.

The new approach turned learning Dutch into an enjoyable experience, deepened my interest in Dutch culture, and helped me better understand how my brain retains information. Here I am now, trying to turn these insights into an app, with the added ambition of combining them with the latest advancements in AI to enhance my learning experience. Let’s see what comes out of it!

In general, I would say that the projects I have undertaken in the past are all an essential part of my career. They involved various challenges that ultimately led to substantial learning, stronger connections, and personal satisfaction.

I am not only talking about successful projects, this perspective applies to my failures as well, as they have played an equally vital role in shaping my career.

Q9) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?

In recent years, my passion for the engineering aspect of my job has been steadily growing. As a result, I am currently preparing for the Kubernetes Certified Application Developer (CKAD) exam and actively working on enhancing my system design and software architecture skills.

On the soft skills front, my current focus is on learning to provide feedback. For some reason, I still find it challenging!

I am very excited about the innovation that is happening in the tech industry. It is clear that AI is disrupting every domain, and personally, I am particularly curious about the unexpected benefits that AI will likely bring to the medical field in the coming years.

Q10) What advice would you give other women considering a tech career?

Don’t be afraid of pursuing a career in tech, and give yourself the time needed to learn and master the tools for your job. I once came across the quote, “Experience Can’t Be Taught” - and that’s so true. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the journey.

Don’t worry about others. No one expects you to know everything, as that’s just impossible.

Your willingness to learn what you don't know is far more critical. Also, focus on what truly matters. While everything may seem attractive, you cannot focus on everything simultaneously. Learning to prioritize is key.

And remember, don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.

Q11) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?

Felienne Hermans, the creator of Hedy.

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