Jenn Thom: Research Manager

Jenn is a Research Manager at Spotify in Boston – focussing on computer-human interaction and now working from home, alongside her partner and two sociable cats. 

7.00 am

Time to wake up, make breakfast and start thinking about the day ahead. Because I’m interested in voice technology, I’ve got a bunch of voice speakers all over my home and have set up a morning routine, so they read me the news, play short podcasts and stuff like that. I’m always messing around with them – experimenting with different questions and seeing what comes up if you ask for certain types of podcasts and so on. So the soundtrack to my mornings can really differ from day to day.

8.00 am

For the past year, I’ve been working with more teams in Europe and my starttime has been getting earlier. So at 8am, I head upstairs to my home office – not a long commute these days! – and get going with my tasks and meetings. 

I lead a team of research scientists who are distributed across the East Coast and Europe, and who focus on how people use technology and integrate it into their everyday lives. We’re interested in figuring out how best to interact with users and prototype novel interactions. A big part of my job is to get our findings into different parts of the organization and ensure they’re transferred into the product in a smart, systematic way. It’s a really exciting thing to be involved with, because we’re trying to push Spotify forwards and make it truly state-of-the-art. 

We’re also starting to explore the area of machine learning fairness – how best to support people who make ML models and how different kinds of toolkits can help them integrate fairness to their work. 

12.00 noon

At noon, I step away from my computer, make lunch and play with the cats for a little bit – it’s fun to see them more these days. At first, I think they were curious why we were home so much, but they’ve got used to having us in their space. And we now have a better idea of what they do all day – which, to be honest, is mostly sleeping! 

1.00 pm

Since my meetings are usually clustered in the morning, I tend to have most of my focus time in the afternoons and I’m trying to use it to write more – for instance, pieces like this recent one on handling ambiguous music requests in voice search systems, or how reinforcement learning can change the way people interact with technology. We’ve had a few papers accepted recently, so my afternoons are often spent making the finishing touches and discussing things with my co-authors. 

I also do some reading to keep on top of what’s happening in the external scientific community – we actually host a number of reading clubs and what’s nice is that the topics we cover are broad enough to interest people across Spotify, not just us researchers. 

4.00 pm

One of the reasons I’m enjoying my 8am starts and Europe-time meetings at the moment is that I can finish up a little earlier and get out while it’s still light. If it’s not snowing or super-icy, I like to go out for a run – it helps me transition from work to the rest of my day, even though I usually end up checking emails and tying up loose ends for a little while when I get back. 

In the evenings, I listen to lots of podcasts – anything from news round-ups to discussions about TV shows like The Crown. And I also like to work out in the home gym we built in our basement right before lockdown – who knew it would come in so handy?!