Still Curious is on mid-season break, returning in August.
Cristina Huidiu - from hating math to being a data analyst | S2E6

April 26, 2022

Cristina Huidiu - from hating math to being a data analyst | S2E6
Play Episode

In this episode: Journey from a humanities background in libraries to technical integrations specialist for a global corporate. Building a chatbot and losing everything in a server crash. Importance of communication and soft-skills when working on technical projects. A love of problem solving and an avoidance of boredom.

About the Guest:  Being forever curious about how things work has taken Cristina Huidiu from various roles within the library to technical roles in the corporate environment, where she now works as an Integrations Consultant at Elsevier. Cristina has discovered her biggest passion is to humanise data, metrics and tech so it works for us rather than people having to adjust their lives around them.

Cristina's socials:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cristinahuidiu/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/CristinaHuidiu
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cristina_huidiu

Recorded 29 March 2022

Links:

--
About the Host: Despite never letting school interfere with his education, Danu has nevertheless acquired two social science degrees and an executive MBA. He toils at the intersection of education, technology and society and has worked at various times in teaching, research, project management, business development and customer service. He has so many interests that he has started to outsource them, and his life plan is rapidly running out of alphabet.  [Danu's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danupoyner/]

Music: Kleptotonic Swing by Tri-Tachyon

Website: stillcuriouspodcast.com | Email: stillcuriouspodcast@gmail.com
Instagram: @stillcuriouspod |  Twitter: @stillcuriouspod

Transcript
Cristina Huidiu:

I hated math passionately. My background is in humanities. And if anyone would have told me that I would have to use math on a day-to-day basis, I would have said they're absolutely insane. But think I've always had. Problem-solving inclination And it just became a means to an end in solving all of my curious questions.

Danu Poyner:

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Cristina Huidiu who designs and prototypes integration solutions with Elsevier and has previously been a technical product specialist, product trainer and librarian. Cristina is based in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands. In today's episode, we discuss Cris' love of problem-solving, her journey from humanities background to becoming a data analyst, and the importance of communication and soft skills when working on technical projects.

Cristina Huidiu:

A lot of it comes from listening first and asking questions after and trying to figure out how people really use that particular technology. Knowing how to ask questions is probably a better skill, than knowing very advanced computer programming languages.

Danu Poyner:

We talk about growing up in Romania, building a chat bot system using natural language processing and how an unfortunately timed server crash meant losing everything.

Cristina Huidiu:

I spent probably a month on really nothing to show because it just literally did not exist anymore.

Danu Poyner:

We also go into Chris's thoughts on humanising technology why some really tedious sounding things are boring and why some aren't, and Cris' is very practical approach to learning technical things.

Cristina Huidiu:

Why would I spend a week or two trying to figure something out when someone else surely has done it before. I could have spent that time doing something else.

Danu Poyner:

I really enjoyed. Chris's very modest, pragmatic, and down to earth takes on all manner of topics. I hope you will too. It's Cristina Huidiu coming up after the music on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast. Hi Cris, an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast. How are you?

Cristina Huidiu:

I am very well. Thank you for having me. It's really exciting to be here.

Danu Poyner:

Excellent. I have so much to ask you, so I'm just going to dive right in. You're an integration consultant with Elsevier where you design and prototype integration solutions, write technical specifications and co-ordinate a development team. Previously. You've been a technical product specialist, product trainer and librarian. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Cristina Huidiu:

I think for me, it's been a natural growth in understanding how research is being assessed. That's how I started as a librarian. And then digging into the data more and more. Where's the data coming from? And now I get to really go behind the hood and understand all of the processes and what it means to bring all that data together. And what are the challenges there? I consider myself quite lucky in that respect.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, absolutely. Were you always technically minded and analytical? What was driving that interest?

Cristina Huidiu:

I actually don't know because, my background is in humanities. I hated math passionately. And if anyone would have told me that I would have to use math on a day-to-day basis, I would have said they're absolutely insane. But I think I've always had. Problem-solving inclination of sorts. And it just became a means to an end in solving all of my curious questions.

Danu Poyner:

So you're a humanities person, turned data analyst. Is that a fair assessment?

Cristina Huidiu:

yes, definitely.

Danu Poyner:

I'd love to dig into more about that journey, before we go too far, one of the things I always do is ask people to explain things as if to a 10 year old. You're an integration consultant. Can I ask you to explain what an integration is to a 10 year old?

Cristina Huidiu:

I think it's a lot like Legos. Just imagine that you have a bunch of buildings, that are just scattered around the room and you have a car and you need to drive the car through all of those different buildings. And you don't have connections between the buildings. So you would have to go to one building, go out, go to another building, go out. With integrations, you basically building bridges between those buildings. And of course, some buildings might be built with Duplo and the other ones were built with bigger kids Legos. So you need to either build some connectors from scratch or find the right way of creating those bridges between the buildings.

Danu Poyner:

Nice. Okay. I'm getting the visual that sometimes all of the pieces don't fit because they're made of different types of blocks and things. So what do you do then?

Cristina Huidiu:

That's the fun part of it. One of my colleagues said that when it comes to integrations, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. We need to be prepared in that respect. But the best thing to do is not get sucked into the problem itself, but always keep in mind what you really want to achieve with that particular project. How you bring things together needs to eventually bring value to the people who end up using that system.

Danu Poyner:

What kinds of data are you actually working with? Just so I'm clear because a lot of people who listen to this or not be from a university background. So, you're working with integrating all the pots of data that the organization has in different areas and integrating that with a core system for managing research information. If I got that right,

Cristina Huidiu:

Yes and no. primarily it's research data, but it can be any other bits and bobs that around the university. So you can think of HR systems or data that lives in grants, management systems or patents. For the most part, this is it or data from ethics management systems, covers 80, 90% of most of the data that we get to work with? Others might just be in a completely different data universe, like a data warehouse or something else is needed.

Danu Poyner:

Can you share any examples of what kind of integrations you're working on so people can understand what it is you're doing.

Cristina Huidiu:

It can be either connecting various systems together. Or, putting together data from multiple different systems. So you can end up reporting on data that has been living in systems that are so different, that people wouldn't have thought that you can put them together.

Danu Poyner:

You described that as the fun part. It occurs to me that probably not everyone would consider that their idea of fun. What is fun about it for you?

Cristina Huidiu:

The problem solving part of it because you need to think about how do you really put it all together? Who would have the best answers? And there are lots of super talented people that I have the pleasure of working with. So I get to pick their brains every day, in thinking of what can we actually do to build those bridges.

Danu Poyner:

What's fun about it?

Cristina Huidiu:

The problem solving part, definitely. Just trying to figure out how to solve whatever connection needs to be built. How are people using it? It's always interesting to figure out and understand what people actually expect of those particular platforms. It also gives you an insight into specific cultures and the categorizations that you're using and the way that the system itself is built, and the default languages that they're using. It really gives you also an insight into the culture and the country, and the university.

Danu Poyner:

So a bit like archeological digging. You can tell

Cristina Huidiu:

A little bit. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

about the thing you're working on based on how they classify things and what kind of stuff they have.

Cristina Huidiu:

as a librarian, when it comes to classifications,

Danu Poyner:

Super power. Yeah. You mentioned that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, which I think is good life advice. What kinds of things do go wrong and what happens? How do you deal with that?

Cristina Huidiu:

Oh, the server can crash and everything you've been working on can disappear, or certain connectors just take longer to build and you're on a tight deadline. Or there are specific errors or data mismatches that you weren't expecting. Specific dates, you would expect them to be written a certain way, but two or three of them, or 100 of 20,000 have a completely different format. And you can think of the European type format versus the American one where you have dates with day, month, year, and then month, day and year. And you only have a few of them. So, trying to uncover them as soon as possible before everything else is preferable, not always possible.

Danu Poyner:

It sounds like there's a lot of attention to detail over things that maybe some people would consider trivial, but they're not trivial. They have implications and consequence. Do you have something that comes to mind about the most trivial sounding thing that had the biggest consequences?

Cristina Huidiu:

That's a good question. I think the answer might be different depending on where you are in the project building team. For me, the fascinating part that I still don't understand a lot of is the DevOps part, because there's just a lot of magic going on. That little bit keeps fascinating me for some reason. Some of the projects that I'll probably be more excited slightly outside

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, what's the most exciting thing you get to work with.

Cristina Huidiu:

people.

Danu Poyner:

Good answer.

Cristina Huidiu:

There's just so many fantastic people that I get to work with both internally. So with the team and the wider team, but also of course, each of our customers and the people that I get to meet through conferences or other places, but people in general.

Danu Poyner:

excellent. So before your current role, you were working as a product specialist at digital science on a global information database for the science technology and innovation sector, which is how we know each other. We had basically similar roles in different parts of the world. So one of the things I really admired about you there was your in-depth and really hands-on understanding of the data structures and how you were able to then apply that to solving business problems for clients in creative ways they hadn't considered. I'm really fascinated by that combination of serious technical understanding, the analytical problem solving you've mentioned, and then also wrapping it up in a strong presentation and storytelling style. It's not something you find all that often in one person. Can you unpack that for me please?

Cristina Huidiu:

That is a bit of a very nice compliment. So thank you, first of all. Still working on parts of it. For me, what has been important is to figure out which parts I am really good at and where I need to work. But, for the most part, I'm just another connector between the technical team and how they explain things and how they think about the systems that they're building. And then the customers who have a different view in different focus of course, because they're thinking about their own problems in how they want to get things done. It's a bridging of the different worlds. And that's one thing that I found absolutely fascinating because I get to dig into the business problems on the customer side. And then I dig in into how did that's actually possible to make happen.

Danu Poyner:

That communication and translation function there is clearly a really important part of what you're doing. So there's being able to talk in technical detail with developers and also to the technical people on the client's side, but then also being able to convey technical ideas to non-technical people like the managers and the sponsors is important as well.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yep. And a lot of listening, a lot of listening. So people get the space to explain everything that they need to explain.

Danu Poyner:

I wanted to ask you how you go about navigating that communication side and in general and what strategies you use and how you go about preparing for meetings. The communication side is so interesting.

Cristina Huidiu:

For me, it's very important to understand what motivates. On the business side of things, I really need to understand what is making them need, whatever they're asking for. So what is the driver? What is the need? Why they want things a certain way. And then that gets paired against the technology that is available, and what it would take to get certain things done, because not everything can be done all the time, so there might be some trade-offs. You need to understand just how important each of the bullet points really are in case something needs to be left out or transformed, but maybe there's a different way of thinking about it. Not necessarily how it was explained the first time.

Danu Poyner:

and there's never a conflict between the motivation and the technical possibilities of right. That never happens.

Cristina Huidiu:

uh, that always happens.

Danu Poyner:

So what does that look like and how do you navigate that?

Cristina Huidiu:

That goes back to the Y, just understanding why certain things are important, and what kind of decisions are being made based on it. And then maybe the solution is not straightforward, but it might not be something that either the technical team or the business side of things have thought of, but together there might be some creative thinking and solution finding. I think there's always a solution. As long as the limits are very clearly described and the motivations behind it very clearly described no one is going to be unreasonable. But there's a lot of transparency and a lot of trust on both sides.

Danu Poyner:

So, is part of what you're doing, designing those kinds of solutions and then communicating them and getting acceptance for them?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yes.

Danu Poyner:

Zooming out A bit Let's talk a bit about those set of skills. Integrations consultant at an academic solutions company seems a very specialized role. Was that something you always were aiming for? Or did you have a plan? A tell me about that.

Cristina Huidiu:

I never really had a plan, a this one was nowhere near the alphabet or any alphabet for that matter. It just naturally grew into what I was doing, just following the questions that I had about the job I had at a certain point in time. On the librarian side of things, we're doing a lot of benchmarking and analysis and using all sorts of metrics, to analyze impact and then moving on the corporate side of things, I got to see how they were brought together and what that means. Now I'm just taking it another step to just look under the hood a bit more and try to understand all of the processes, but more from a technical perspective. There's quite a lot of technical jargon that I need to learn. And I've been learning in the months since I've joined Elsevier. It's been a natural transition. If I would have started in a different role or different types of jobs, my curiosity would have led me somewhere else.

Danu Poyner:

It seems like the librarian work really opened up some possibilities for you and get you things to play with. But I'm curious how you came to arrive at the librarian work in the first place.

Cristina Huidiu:

Oh, that is a very good question. I think I have a very funny answer. Between my cousin and myself is an 11 year difference. And she was already working in a library and she was always telling you how she's traveling everywhere. And she's meeting all sorts of people. I was like, oh, this is such a cool job. So I went to library school for that very specific reason because I too wanted to travel for work and have fun. And the rest is history.

Danu Poyner:

Well, going to library school so you can travel as not a combination that I would have thought of. You grew up in Romania in Bucharest, is that right?

Cristina Huidiu:

I grew up in a small town in Eastern Romania and I moved to Bucharest for the university. So my small town is the typical small town. Everyone knows everyone. So we'd go out and play and climb trees and the typical childhood and then move to Bucharest, it's a completely different environment, just the typical big city, I guess, where you get a lot more opportunities to go to the theater or go to galleries, big concerts. And of course the university environment is different.

Danu Poyner:

It's a whole thing all by itself. Isn't it. So when did this inspiration strike you to do librarian school?

Cristina Huidiu:

11th grade. But even that it was never really my first choice. I started out like any dreamer kid wanting to be an astronaut and a pilot but I hated math, so that wasn't an option anymore. And then I have to focus on something more tangible and being a librarian looked fun.

Danu Poyner:

Because of the travel or because of something else?

Cristina Huidiu:

Because of the travel and just meeting people and being around all sorts of interesting things.

Danu Poyner:

So travel, no math being around interesting things. Tick, tick, tick off. I go to Bucharest and the rest is history. But it turns out that the bit that you were drawn to, there was the math C bit. I want to understand more about that discovery.

Cristina Huidiu:

Even in library school, the classes that I liked the most were the cataloging and the indexing part, and then as a group, the third year and masters, it was around knowledge management and information management side of it all. There were also courses around the history of literature and around all sorts of old languages. So you could focus a bit on Greek or Latin, or Slavic languages but I discovered quite early that that's not really me. So, I focused on more of these, they're not really technical, but they're more to the realm of what is possible now and in the future.

Danu Poyner:

When you say they weren't really you, is that because it wasn't tangible or practical enough or some other reason?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah, I think the word practical, and I think I've always liked them from a romantic aspect of it. So when you think of just opening old books and they're beautiful and they were printed 500 years ago or some that had been erased and rewritten on top of it, and that's a whole discovery process in and of itself. But I wanted something more practical and more tangible and something that I could play with without destroying, basically.

Danu Poyner:

Fair enough. So what was the first really tangible, practical thing you were working on where you discovered you really enjoyed that?

Cristina Huidiu:

I started working in the library and my second year of university. So the discovery actually started at the same time, because I got to do indexing and cataloging in the real world and then I got to see what were the struggles that we would have at work and try to figure out solutions to that. We implemented easy proxy at the library. We got to do all sorts of trainings, for the databases. So I kinda got sucked into all of this pretty early on. And I was having a lot of fun. As long as it don't get bored and I have fun, I'm pretty happy at work.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, same. Did your colleagues recognize this ability that you had? Was that helpful?

Cristina Huidiu:

I would hope so because I was there for 10 years. And I'm hoping that if they weren't finding all that useful, they would've told me sooner. And I'm still in contact with them. I can ask them.

Danu Poyner:

This might be a silly question. It's certainly a naive question, but is there a characteristically Romanian take on librarian ship or is that pretty much a universal thing?

Cristina Huidiu:

to be honest, I think that the idea of a librarian has changed so much, that it's pretty much different from university to university, even in the same country. Because a librarian can mean a variety of things. You can still be the person that assigns the indexing and the cataloging and indexing codes to the books. You can be the person that guides the users into discovering the research that they need. Or you can be the types of people that was mostly drawn into that deal with metrics and analytics and the impact part of the role. It can mean a variety of things, and they're also different skills that are needed. Librarian means the sum of skills that exist in a library at a certain point in time. And also the freedom that they have to focus on any particular thing But I I've met some fantastic librarians as a librarian, but also since I joined the corporate side of it all and they're always inspiring to talk to.

Danu Poyner:

Tell me a bit about the move from the librarian role into that corporate structure. How did that come about?

Cristina Huidiu:

That's also a bit of a funny story. I moved to the Netherlands from me to the Netherlands because my now husband lives here. So I moved out of love you can say. I always loved metric. And when the opportunity arose to, to work for the company that has Altmetrics and with the Altmetric team, I just went straight for it.

Danu Poyner:

That's really great. They say that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. It sounds like that just came up and you went for it and two things in one, a nice job in a future husband's not bad.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah, you can say it that way.

Danu Poyner:

What was the experience of relocating to a different country like for you? Was that straightforward? Were there things that surprised you.

Cristina Huidiu:

I think I I've gotten the lucky part of it all because of course I had to live, and I had someone to guide me through the whole process. I still feel like a guest in many ways, because I still work from home even though I've changed jobs. And I get to explore all sorts of places, but every time I see a windmill, I'm still incredibly excited.

Danu Poyner:

Excellent. Do you like working from home?

Cristina Huidiu:

Oh, I love it. I'm definitely way more productive when I work from home. I get to separate my own time and also not necessarily work nine to five or nine to six, but if I want to open my laptop and just do something at 10:00 PM, I'm not incredibly exhausted because I spent two hours commuting to work and back.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Freedom and flexibility, but that's interesting because the global headquarters of your organization is not far from where you live. Is that right?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah, that's true. They headquarters are in Amsterdam, but my manager is in Italy. Part of the team is in Denmark and another part of the team is in India. The people I need are not an office on a daily basis. Anyway.

Danu Poyner:

What was it like moving from the university situation in the library to that global team environment, what was different?

Cristina Huidiu:

there was definitely a bit of a learning curve, especially in how things are seen. And there's a lot more practicality to it all when it comes to decision-making and how you plan your time. These were things that I had more freedom to come about and explore things. So if in the library I wanted to spend a week on playing with, I'm thinking of Bots. so Bot is, one of those tools that I've played with for about a week or two, the chat bot. Yeah. That's the word I was looking for. I wanted to build a chat bot for the library and my manager was like, okay, go for it. She is still very awesome. But unfortunately as I finished building it, there were they the floods in the U S in 2009 and the servers there died and I didn't want to rebuild it. But that was, I think my first interaction with really technical language and properly building something from scratch in trying to understand how very basic natural language processing really works. That was a very basic form of it using Ellis. So nothing advanced, but it was fun.

Danu Poyner:

So you're working on a chatbot in the library. This is the first time, you really engaging with the technical side, how do you go about learning that stuff from scratch? Can you put yourself back in that process and talk me through it?

Cristina Huidiu:

I Google a lot I go from the premise that whatever problem I have, someone else had it before me. So it's just about streamlining the questions that I asked the search engine and there's just so many resources. And then there are so many people that would be happy to share what they know. It's just a question of finding. And I've gotten much better over time in asking for help when I needed help. I think these are probably one of the biggest lessons that I've learned to just speak up and ask for help when I need it. But at the time it was mostly just naive twenties of trying to do it by yourself. There was a lot of Googling involved, a lot of failure in learning from that and then reverse engineering, whatever went right. Or whatever went wrong. And trying to understand and learn from that. And then just Google some more.

Danu Poyner:

I'm just lingering on this a bit because I recognize the Googling for stuff approach and it feels like a kind of skill in its own right. Knowing how to ask and streamline that and what to for. Is that a fair assessment?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yes. I've definitely spent a lot of time just trying to figure out how to ask the search engine for what I needed. And then two hours later, when I found the right combination, I felt like a complete idiot because it was just so straightforward. But I think there's been this misunderstanding of where and how to use search engines and in this whole misinformation and fake news things. So there is definitely a lot of assessment? but the information that you need, but when it comes to the code or when it comes to more of the technical stuff, there's definitely a lot of value in just using engine.

Danu Poyner:

What's there a moment when you realized you becoming confident at this or getting good cause that process is very iterative. There's a lot of, time where you don't feel like you're achieving anything, just looking for stuff, then there's times when you do find something really useful, but it means that it has ruined everything you've done for the last three weeks. And you have to start again. There's a whole lot of emotional stuff that goes on in there. What's that process like? Talk me through it.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yes. So the more I've gotten into analytics, the more I understood how I work and how I learn but also what I don't know. There are things that I know I know, and I know well, and then there are things that I have no idea what I'm doing, so I'm just wishing for luck. I tried to position what I don't know in two buckets, things that I really should be knowing, and things that I really don't need to worry about. So I need to be comfortable with not knowing. That's where I am right now, but it took me a while to get comfortable with not knowing and be able to express it to the world that I don't know that. And I also don't want to know that, but I'm interesting in why this thing works that way, because this is the problem that I'm trying to solve and getting to the point where I conveyed the problem quite well to the people around me so we can think of solutions, and also get rid of some of the non sustainable solutions, but at the same time with proper arguments.

Danu Poyner:

Did you flick a switch in your head from being a humanities person to a data analyst type person or is it not a binary like that?

Cristina Huidiu:

I don't think it is a binary. I think humanities, people ask a lot of questions and curious about a lot of things. I think for each person, whatever drives this curiosity is different. For me, it is just the problem solving part and just trying to figure out why something works the way it does, it's just fascinating to get the answer to that. Why is this thing working the way it does? But other people might work differently. I do think that having a humanities background can be helpful in this. Situations, because if you do look at things differently, sometimes get to challenge things that have been the way they are, but you have no idea they were that way.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. You get to ask inconvenient questions that, people go. Why are you asking that? I'm asking you a lot of questions about this because I think from the outside what you're doing is very inspiring to a lot of people. It's a trajectory that lots of people in 2022, evaluating for themselves, I think people with more soft skills backgrounds looking to build up technical skill and explore the possibilities of technical data-based careers. But this is something that you've been doing for a long time and you're having a lot of success with it. I think it's really interesting to hear about how that journey worked for you at a time when it was a lot earlier than many people were looking at that. a perspective on that?

Cristina Huidiu:

I think that the journey into technology roles is not a straightforward one. Knowing how to ask questions is probably a better skill, than knowing very advanced computer programming languages. Of course it depends on what you're planning on doing, because if you want to build applications from scratch, then of course asking questions, won't help you all that much. There are also different roles within technology and data areas. There will always be the people around you to support you. So do find the people to help and guide you and inspire you. And don't worry if it's not a linear path. It almost never is.

Danu Poyner:

It does strike me again how much you're emphasizing the communication side of things, knowing how to ask questions and also the listening that you mentioned, because so much of it is about the people that you're working with. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? The listening in particular.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah. I'm particularly fascinated about the humanizing technology aspect of. And in order to humanize the ecology and humanized data and in science, in general, making it understandable and approachable by people that are outside the field. It takes a few different steps and I think social scientists in general can bring a lot of value and people with soft skills can bring a lot of value into that. A lot of it comes from listening first and asking questions after and trying to figure out how people really use that particular technology, how people go about their daily life. For me personally, there are pieces of technology tools that I have to use every day. And I absolutely hate, the user experience is horrible. I always think that the people that designed it absolutely hate their jobs and they want to share that pain with other people. So I really want people that work with the solution that myself and the team that I'm a part of come up with think that we absolutely love our jobs. That is why we listen a lot. And we ask questions about everything to make sure that the solution that we come up with, it's not just a bunch of drag and drops that, you know you have to use and then you have to move your entire work around a tool rather than the tool serving you.

Danu Poyner:

I wonder if you have any examples of a humane technology practice that you're particularly impressed with.

Cristina Huidiu:

I'm not going to name any names, but I think for each of us, every time we use a tool and it's not painful, that is a very good example of that. There is quite a lot of conversation around it, around the data visualization community and how you visualize data and how you bring it to different types of audiences. That would take it away from just creating charts and graphs to really expressing the core value of your analysis. So you're not taking people through a journey of your own discovery of the data you've been working with. but actually answering the questions that people in front of you have. You also need to consider who those people are. Do they only want specific things. Do they really want to get into the data and find out more about what you've been doing? There's a lot of empathy I that you need to have and work with and Yeah. a lot of communication.

Danu Poyner:

You've mentioned couple of times the importance of coming back to the client's motivation and having the big picture perspective about who's there and why they're there, what they need, and making sure that the solutions are tailored towards that. How do you go about understanding what those needs are? A lot of the stuff you're working on, as I understand it,

Cristina Huidiu:

it's

Danu Poyner:

Innovative. And sometimes clients may not be able to articulate their own needs really well. So how does that work?

Cristina Huidiu:

It's really just a back and forth and asking questions, just trying to understand how they're currently going about solving the requirements. So whatever is asked of them, what are the bumps in the road, in how do they envision streamlining things? Then we discuss what is and what wouldn't be possible. How much time and effort would they say if any at all, or is it just a gimmick that we just have fun playing with in building. It's really a conversation and it's a discovery process on both sides.

Danu Poyner:

I sense from your answer, Cris, that for you, this seems like, well, of course, this is just what you do. This is straightforward, right. But legions and legions have failed IT projects and terribly soured corporate vendor relationships would point to the fact that communications is not so easy. You might be underselling it a little bit is what I'm getting at.

Cristina Huidiu:

Probably, for me and my team, it's just how we work. In our previous roles, it is also how we used to work. I think that the more technology becomes a part of how we live really, because it influences every single part of our existence. That would become easier. So you're not building the tools for robots, you're building tools for other people. It's much better to understand what those really want rather than requiring 500 additional clicks for something that is really straightforward to do.

Danu Poyner:

The data visualization stuff you mentioned was something you were just really getting into when we were last working together. And I I'm pleased that you mentioned it. Is this an example of that, that you particularly proud of where you are able to communicate something in a way that has that kind of insight and impact you are looking at?

Cristina Huidiu:

I don't think I am at a level where I can be really proud of what comes out. I've seen fantastic examples on Twitter and in certain newspapers about just how fantastic data visualization meets art. In how the story is being conveyed. And it's something that I aspire to him differently. Not there yet. I am going to get there, I am going to tell you, and I'm going to be very proud of it.

Danu Poyner:

I'm very curious about this dynamic in the way that you talk, Chris, on the one hand you're, Very high ambitions and you have very high standards and you're thinking pilots and astronauts and the best examples that other stuff available that you can find. And on the other hand, when it's about yourself and practical examples, the standards are well, it's not painful, it's not boring. There's a tension between those two things. I think, this is a modesty and a humility and also quite a grand ambition of both happening at the same time. Is that a fair assessment?

Cristina Huidiu:

I don't know. However, I would answer that I would look weird. So either I don't do full of myself or weirdly modest. I don't really know how to answer that. But I think there are certain expectations that I have of me. I am not there yet, but I'm working towards it and I know that I can do it.

Danu Poyner:

That's a good answer, I think, sorry to put the question to you in that way. How will you know when you're pleased with your progress?

Cristina Huidiu:

I've developed this sort of self-assessment internal beta. So when I'm really happy with myself, I just know. I don't want to change a lot of things. There will always be things to change, but not a lot of it. And I know it fits into what I need of it.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you for that. I'm going to change gears a little bit now and ask you about the technical stuff that you work on. What's the most weirdly arcane technical thing that you've had to master?

Cristina Huidiu:

Programming languages

Danu Poyner:

Yes.

Cristina Huidiu:

jargon. There are things, for example, in an agile, at least Pico velocity which is really the amount of time that it takes someone to get something done. People were talking about velocity and I was thinking of physics, no,

Danu Poyner:

Fair enough. what other weird jargon is there?

Cristina Huidiu:

Computer scientists have this fantastic sense of humor. So there's the sanitation tool called Brat and the first time people are talking about Brat can we say that? But turns out it's a tool. And then there are all sorts of other programming languages or tools that have really funny names. It's like a whole jungle out there.

Danu Poyner:

What's your favorite part of the jungle?

Cristina Huidiu:

My favorite part, the jungle is not really the jungle at all, but what the jungle can do. I can understand most of it is possible to do with it. My coding skills are nowhere near what my colleagues can do. So I really tried to balance what I still need to learn to do a lot of the testing by myself and a lot of the MVPs by myself. And then just let the professionals, bill what they've learned to do and they're fantastic at.

Danu Poyner:

Can you walk me through what a typical week looks like in your role?

Cristina Huidiu:

considering I've been here two months, every day is different. At first it was just meeting a lot of people and trying to understand what is going on, where do I fit? Where do we fit? And then of course, just having more and more conversations around the projects that we're having in order of developing. That was this another assumption that I think I had to kill early on, because when I started, I was under this naive impression that it's going to be fine and I'm going to be onboarded in a week's time. And everyone was like, no, you need six months. You guys crazy. No one needs six months to be onboarded. Yes, I do need six months. But then there now.

Danu Poyner:

So you're in the middle of the first part of doing a job where you're onboarding and trying to figure out what everything is and what everyone does and how it all fits together.

Cristina Huidiu:

Where at how I can go for help, because of course this is a huge company and everything that I've thought of before there is someone that does it better and for longer, so trying to find them and leveraging all of the resources that I have. So I don't get to redo mistakes that other people have done, or just getting things done faster, sooner. That's where I'm at currently.

Danu Poyner:

For me, that's always the most fun part, the first

Cristina Huidiu:

Definitely,

Danu Poyner:

everything out.

Cristina Huidiu:

Definitely. I'm having fun every single day. Also because I've been lucky enough to also have a mentor and that has helped me tremendously to navigate everything that is being thrown at me.

Danu Poyner:

That's really great. How does the mentoring

Cristina Huidiu:

It's really just a conversation and guidance. It's like having someone handhold you through all of the bumps in the road, basically. And focusing on yourself, on your professional and career growth, which is something that I've read about how great it is to have. I've never experienced it myself, not in this kind of proper setting. I guess I've been lucky and I've always had people took me under their wing to teach me and show me things.

Danu Poyner:

You strike me as someone who's very good at making use of the resources that are available to you in the best way. You've mentioned a few times that outlook of, well, someone's dealt with this before and someone will have better ideas than I have from scratch. So I'll go find them. that sounds really obvious, but it's not something that everyone would do.

Cristina Huidiu:

Also very practical. Why would I spend a week or two trying to figure something out when someone else surely has done it before. It frustrates me when I spend a lot of time figuring something out and then being super proud that I figured it out. And then just be totally disappointed that it was something very easy and tons of other people have done it before.

Danu Poyner:

That's interesting because some people would be really pleased with themselves that they'd figured it out and get that sense of accomplishment. But it sounds like you're just really annoyed that you hadn't found the shortcut earlier.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah, exactly. Right. Because then I could have spent that time doing something else.

Danu Poyner:

What do you do with your spare time, how do you fill your cup?

Cristina Huidiu:

I'm one of those people who cannot hold a hobby down. I try a variety of things. I have a coin collection that I only add to when I'm traveling. So that has been in standstill with the current COVID restrictions. I tried to pick up guitar. That was a complete failure because I cannot play for nothing. I am terrible. I should not do that. I kinda dabbling Korean, just because I think it's just such a fantastic language and culture and the philosophy behind it is something that has drawn me to it. Then of course I have a four year old.

Danu Poyner:

that's less of a hobby, isn't it?

Cristina Huidiu:

Definitely. I wouldn't call her a hobby. No, she wouldn't be very mad at me when she grows older. And if she ever listens to this recording, if I call her, I'll be no,

Danu Poyner:

Oh, that's lovely. So you can't hold down a hobby. That was an interesting list you just rattled off Korean guitar and coin collecting.

Cristina Huidiu:

I get bored quite easily. So having one long term hobby, it just doesn't exist. I collected a bunch of stuff at different points in my life, it has been old books. It has been vintage jewelry. Of course the coins that have stuck around. I'm generally drawn to things with history or with some romantic or romanticized idea around it.

Danu Poyner:

the old books you mentioned before. Yeah. What kinds of things do you find boring?

Cristina Huidiu:

That's a good question. I dislike administrative stuff. Sorting through things, just doing the expense report, which is like pure torture. All of the admin things, generally, just going through spreadsheets to find missing commas or extra spaces.

Danu Poyner:

So it sounds like when there's something practical to do, but it's not problem solving.

Cristina Huidiu:

I never thought of it that way, but yes, absolutely.

Danu Poyner:

And when there's something problem-solving to do, that's not practical. is that boring?

Cristina Huidiu:

That's not boring. That's just frustrating?

Danu Poyner:

Do you get bored once you've solved the problem? Yeah. So what happens then?

Cristina Huidiu:

Looking for a new one.

Danu Poyner:

So you've managed to find the kind of work that gives you new practical problems to solve constantly and people who will let you do that and be excited when you do it.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah. Isn't that fantastic.

Danu Poyner:

And the way you've described it as a kind of natural transition sounds like just not being bored and insisting on not being bored and following that seems to have got you there. Is that right?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah. I guess with a bit of luck as well, because when I applied to this particular job, I thought I have zero chances to get it. Sometimes taking a chance actually pays off.

Danu Poyner:

Definitely, but again, I feel like you may be underselling your skill set actually is.

Cristina Huidiu:

No, that's really honestly what I was thinking as I was applying. I would love to have it. I probably have 10% of getting it, but I was wrong about that.

Danu Poyner:

You mentioned an interesting example before about naive assumptions that you had to drop. Have there been any other beliefs things that you've had to change your mind about as you've gone along?

Cristina Huidiu:

tons of things. I think the most naive of all was thinking that in order to make a big difference, you needed to build something big, but sometimes it can be just the right question asked at the right time. That Can really change the way a project goes. Or an idea that you, just thrown out then you didn't think twice, and then everyone picks it up.

Danu Poyner:

you flesh out that a little bit with an example?

Cristina Huidiu:

The ones that really come to mind or some that I'm not allowed to talk about, but even if you think back at the projects that we have worked on, And it hasn't necessarily been on the analysis that we were delivering, but on how we were asking the questions, and then usually the people we were talking to would just build on top of it and give us the information that we needed to really build what was needed.

Danu Poyner:

Sometimes when it's quite an innovative product, then it's about finding and suggesting use cases for it that people hadn't necessarily considered. I imagine there's some people listening to this who are like, wow, I'd like to be like Cris she's got it all figured out. She's not bought all the stuff that we said, but I don't know where to start. advice would you give them?

Cristina Huidiu:

I wouldn't say That I've got it all figured out, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I've gotten confident enough to follow into what I want, which might sound naive or superficial, but it's what got me where I am right now. Just asking more of me. As I was mentioning earlier, we were talking about the data and technology industry, but the road for any industry is not a straightforward one. So follow what you want. Find out what you're really good at and develop it. And then surround yourself with the people that can help you grow even more.

Danu Poyner:

I'm curious to dig in a little bit more about. Something you've alluded to a couple of times about finding out what your strengths are and also what they're not. I think part of the journey you've been on has been figuring out if I understand it right, how technical you need to be and where that depth is required and where you can leave it to other people who know it better. I'm curious how you navigate that and figure that out. It sounded like with guitar, you were like, Nope, I should not be doing this, but it's maybe more subtle this. Is it?

Cristina Huidiu:

Yeah. I think with with respect stone, my career, I've had the luck of the people around me. To guide me in the right direction. I don't think I would be where I am without them. Just really guiding me in and open my eyes to trust what I know. also realized just how important it is to surround yourself with people, to help you and ask for help.

Danu Poyner:

You mentioned that learning to ask for help was quite a significant shift for you. And that seems like it's unlocked a whole lot of possibilities. How did you come to that realization or that confidence to be able to do that even?

Cristina Huidiu:

I guess it was also wrought out of practicality because doing things by yourself, take a whole lot of time, and they're probably nowhere near as good as when done together with someone else or under the guidance of someone else or just by Googling what other people have done. So I think that's where it started. And then just by seeing the benefits of it, as I move through my career probably switched me completely.

Danu Poyner:

What's the most impractical thing that you've ever done that you've loved

Cristina Huidiu:

Bots, definitely the chat bot. I mentioned, I spent probably two weeks to a month on really nothing to show because it just literally did not exist anymore. Then I really didn't want to restart it. What I wanted to solve was not get as many questions around. When is the library open and other questions that could literally just be added to the website?

Danu Poyner:

Would you say you've ever had a life-changing learning experience that

Cristina Huidiu:

that stands out

Danu Poyner:

more incremental progression of small experiences?

Cristina Huidiu:

yeah. definitely incremental experience of smaller things. Some of them are completely unrelated to my job. Back in Romania, I used to do rock climbing, which as I started doing it, I incorporated all of my trainings around people your metrics because the thing about

Danu Poyner:

yeah.

Cristina Huidiu:

is the strategy that you have into not dying.

Danu Poyner:

Yes, it's an important strategy.

Cristina Huidiu:

There are specific ways that you need to think fast and problem solve on the spot and where you put your hand or your foot next and how you keep your body straight as you go up the rock and also trust because you trust the people holding the rope for you and the trust, the people before that have put the role, unless, you veteran in rock climbing and he can do all that by yourself. But when you're not, there's a lot of trust and there's a lot of in quick thinking in rock climbing and I like it.

Danu Poyner:

Do you still do rock climbing?

Cristina Huidiu:

Well, There are no no mountains in the Netherlands. So no, I haven't been doing this in a very long time, but I would really love to do it again, not the same thing to go to the gym. I've tried. It didn't like it.

Danu Poyner:

The gym sounds in a way like it might be the same as looking for commas in an Excel sheet. It's very routine and it's a solved problem.

Cristina Huidiu:

Yes. And also you can look at the wall and you can see where you can put your foot next. so really takes the fun out of it. you still have the trust in you. You still need to go up and down so that the physical activity is there,

Danu Poyner:

okay. If you could gift someone learning experience, what would it be and why?

Cristina Huidiu:

Rock-climbing

Danu Poyner:

Rock climbing. Okay.

Cristina Huidiu:

yeah, definitely. I haven't tried any of the extreme yet safe sports, like diving in Alaska. Rock climbing is definitely safer. Exciting and can teach you a thing or two.

Danu Poyner:

Good answer. When I asked this question to people I'm always surprised by the answers. It's great. So thank you for that. What are you focusing on in your role at the moment?

Cristina Huidiu:

there's quite a bit of learning going on. There are definitely things that I need to pick up on, both in actual skills but also in everything that surrounds me. In terms of processes and how things work in, why things work the way they do. So there's quite a bit of learning and quite a bit of handholding on the part of the people that I'm working with. as I transitioned out of that, I will get more and more time to the projects by myself.

Danu Poyner:

excellent. What a great place to be?

Cristina Huidiu:

Lots of fun.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, that's the main thing. It sounds like it's all going really well and I'm so glad to hear it. I look forward to hearing more. Maybe we can revisit down the track. Thank you so much for making the time today, Cris, it's been great hearing all of your insights pleasure to have you here.

Cristina Huidiu:

Thank you.