Interview

Yokozuna Data CEO Africa Perianez on a career in machine learning and a company where half of the engineers and all the data scientists are women

Yokozuna Data CEO Africa Perianez on a career in machine learning and a company where half of the engineers and all the data scientists are women

Today is International Women's Day and to mark the occasion we'll be highlighting some of the incredible women working in the games industry across both PocketGamer.biz and PCGamesInsider.biz. You can catch all the profiles on PocketGamer.biz here.

Here Yokozuna Data CEO Africa Perianez details the opportunities for women in tech and why she decided to quit her job and devote her career to bringing game data science to the forefront of the machine learning revolution.

Perianez will be a speaker at Pocket Gamer Connects Seattle, which takes place on May 13th to 14th.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Africa Perianez: I am the founder and CEO of Yokozuna Data, a Keywords Studio based in Tokyo. I lead a team of data scientists and data engineers who build a state-of-the-art machine learning platform that predicts the individual behaviour of video games players.

My goal is to push back the frontiers of data science in the gaming field. Using cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques, I aim to obtain a thorough understanding of players' behavior and to accurately predict their actions in order to contribute to the data-driven development and personalisation of games.

What did you study (if anything) that helped you get into games? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals interested in your areas of expertise?

I am a theoretical physicist with a PhD in Mathematics (with specialisation in ensemble learning), which allows me to have a deep understanding of mathematical methods, in particular those behind machine learning models.

On the other hand, my long experience working as a data scientist in different fields, from academia to various industries, helped me develop a strong intuition on how to solve data-related problems. As a result, I can usually anticipate which algorithm will be useful to cope with a certain business problem.

The video games industry has recently experienced a paradigm shift - now games are always connected to the internet, so developers are able to collect vast amounts of data in real-time - and this allowed me to get into games and put my background and skills to good use.

I decided to quit my job and devote my career to bring game data science to the forefront of the machine learning revolution.
Africa Perianez

Concerning professionals interested in data science rather than any educational courses, I would recommend them to acquire hands-on experience.

Work with as many different kinds of data as you can, participate in competitions and contests (such as those organised by Kaggle) that allow you to test your skills and face real-world problems. And try to get a thorough understanding of the math behind the models you apply in order to have full control over the quality of your predictions and recommendations.

Where did you get your start in games and how did you progress into what you're doing now?

I took my first steps at the Japanese video games developer Silicon Studio. In fact, Yokozuna Data originally started as a spin-off of this company.

I was already in Tokyo, conducting research on satellite data at RIKEN (one of the largest academic institutions in Japan), when I came across this opportunity to work in the video games sector, analysing player behaviour.

I was really intrigued about the huge potential of player behavioural data from the data science and business perspectives, so I decided to quit my job and devote my career to bring game data science to the forefront of the machine learning revolution.

Is this something you ever imagined yourself doing?

I would lie if I answered 'yes'. But this is one of the great things about data science: as it is relevant to virtually every knowledge area and business sector, you can work in different fields and gradually find your own path.

In hindsight, the video games sector looks like an ideal fit for me: I enjoy both working with high quality data and playing games, so I find my job truly fulfilling and rewarding.

What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?

I really enjoy the mentoring part: working closely with young data scientists and engineers and seeing how they quickly improve their skills and come up with innovative ideas.

Many think it is a man's job. However, we are here to disprove this notion: a company led by a woman and where half of the engineers and all of the data scientists are women.
Africa Perianez

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

Definitely. For instance, there are many stereotypes about the people who work in the AI and gaming sectors.

In particular, many think it is a man's job. However, we are here to disprove this notion: a company led by a woman and where half of the engineers and all of the data scientists are women.

Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?

Sometimes I feel the games industry is somewhat conservative concerning advanced usage of data.

In my experience, some developers only feel comfortable with the information they already know, being more reluctant to accept and assimilate new methods and analytical results. And for a data scientist, this might be a bit frustrating.

What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

Be focused on solving business problems and keep on thinking how to get new relevant predictions. And most importantly: stay true to your vision.

Is there anyone in the games industry (or anyone else in general) who inspires you?

Demis Hassabis' (founder and CEO of DeepMind) great vision and impressive results have always inspired me.

Outside the industry I really admire Jane Goodall for her infinite curiosity, passion and determination which led her to defy social conventions and overcome countless obstacles - including gender barriers.

You can read more profiles of some of the incredible women working in the games industry right here.


Senior Editor

Craig Chapple is Senior Editor of PocketGamer.biz and InfluencerUpdate.biz. He was previously Deputy Editor at Develop and Online Editor at Nintendo of Europe.

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