Before joining Clockwise, Chuma Kabaghe managed to publish a paper that expanded our understanding of audio machine learning at Stanford by studying internet memes. Learn more about how this impressive woman got interested in AI and decided to join the Clockwise team before she was even done with her Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS).
The journey to Clockwise
After a few internships, Chuma Kabaghe began her software engineering career at Microsoft right after graduation. She worked on a variety of products, including billing for Office and mixed reality and Xbox avatars. During her close collaboration with Microsoft research she fell in love with AI and the path from idea to product. “I realized I really enjoy going from zero to one,” Chuma told me.
“I also got bit by the AI bug,” Chuma said. So back to school she went, pursuing a Masters degree in Computer Science at Stanford with a focus in artificial intelligence. Chuma was learning about audio machine learning just a few months after Laurel or Yanny had broken the internet. (If your memory for internet memes is short, or you don’t live online, it’s the audio clip that half of people thought said “Laurel” and the other half thought said “Yanny.”)
“The best part of it is if one person hears Yanny, they absolutely cannot believe the other person hears Laurel,” Chuma said. “They insist there's no way they’re hearing that thing. I was fascinated.”
Right now, humans are the source of truth for visual machine learning. Most people can usually agree about whether an image depicts an apple, banana, or orange, for example.
“A lot has been done in visual machine learning,” Chuma said. “But not as much in audio. If people can't agree on what the sound is, how do you expect machines to?”
Her research sought to measure how many examples exist of audio that’s so divisive it might complicate training audio machine learning algorithms. “Is Laurel/Yanny an outlier or are there a lot of words that people perceive in different ways?” Chuma asked.
Her team’s research, published in 2021 while she was at Clockwise, highlighted about 20 examples. “But there were a lot more that we found, which is just mind-blowing. There are many, many examples. That was really fun. It made me not trust my senses anymore, but it was kind of cool.”
Chuma first encountered Clockwise while interning at Coursera in the summer of 2019, when Clockwise launched. “Coursera quickly adopted Clockwise,” Chuma said. For Chuma, Focus Time was a problem she personally experienced and understood well. “I saw the value of Clockwise and began using it.”
While finishing her research, our recruiter Michael reached out. “I met the team. They were amazing. I honestly was very impressed by how much they had gotten done with such a small team.” Offer in hand, she planned to join after graduation in July 2020.
Then classes went online for the pandemic in February 2020. She started at Clockwise part-time in April 2020, our first all-remote onboarding cohort. After finishing school in June, Chuma joined full-time in July.
It stood out to Chuma that people at Clockwise were not just smart, but grounded as well.
“I talked to a bunch of other startups.” She kept meeting people who wanted her to know they were the smartest person in the room. At Clockwise, people were “willing to help each other grow and willing to see each other succeed.”
“Another thing that stood out was that people really cared about the product and the users. I could tell the engineers had thought through the user experience. The engineers understood that calendars are very personal. We should be careful while managing them and changing things around. I wanted to be in a place that empathizes users and realizes that ultimately we're building these products for real people in the real world.”
The third standout part of Clockwise is that we’re solving a real problem.
“In the past, you could assume that if a startup was well-funded it must be doing something that truly adds value,” Chuma said. “This sounds kinda crazy, but a lot of startups end up solving problems that are not real problems. Like, you’re really very smart. The world could benefit if you applied that elsewhere. Clockwise is solving a problem that I believe in, a problem I had experienced, and a problem that I know many people could benefit from having solved. It struck me as a problem worth solving and investing my time and energy in.”
Chuma enjoys using data and technology to help people make better decisions. “I help people in ways I believe in. I like making sure I use my time efficiently and Clockwise is enabling everyone to do that. Scheduling is hard. The mental effort to figure out what time to schedule a meeting is far too high. We're using technology to help ease that mental load so people can focus on things that are frankly, more valuable uses of their time. Do we want all these people to spend X amount of time just staring at calendars, figuring out where the empty block is? No, I think there are a lot more exciting, more productive ways they could be spending that time.”
Lastly, Chuma enjoys the challenge of working at Clockwise. "It was clear even from my initial conversations with the team that this product was technically challenging. I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy trying to figure out if there's actually a solution. Give me the hard problems. Many startups are solving hard problems. But either the hardest parts have already been solved or each engineer only works on a very small slice of the problem. At Clockwise, the hard problem was actually core to its product. We're still very much in the days where I get to work on hard problems. During my time here, I've gotten to improve the Focus Time algorithm, how we infer non-users’ working hours, and the scheduling algorithm.”
Chuma off the Clock(wise)
Speaking of exciting ways to spend time, “My favorite hobby is finding new hobbies,” Chuma said with a laugh. “I just enjoy learning about new things. I get excited about every new hobby. It's funny because every time I find a new hobby, I'm like, ‘This is it.’ I go all in and then everyone's like, ‘No, no, no.’ Soccer and bouldering have probably been the longest lasting at this point. I love to watch and play soccer.”
Her most recent obsession started with the Netflix show Lego Masters. In it, teams build crazy things out of Lego bricks, for example, a Lego bridge where teams competed to see how much weight it could hold. “It's a ridiculous amount of weight,” Chuma said. “So Lego is the next thing. I’ve been building Lego Halloween decorations and Lego Christmas decorations.
“I talked about the empathy towards customers and thinking about customers, the empathy towards teammates is another thing that shines for me,” Chuma said. “Clockwise is a fun place to work. I've enjoyed being here. I feel very much supported by my coworkers and the company.”
Interested in working with Chuma and our Engineering team? We’re currently looking for our next Back End Engineer, Engineering Manager, Front End Engineer, Infrastructure Engineer, Senior Back End Engineer, and Senior Front End Engineer. If that’s not you, check out our other open positions.