Telling Our Stories – Marjana Prifti Skenduli

Each year we meet wonderful women at womENcourage. This year was no different, and in the rest of the year, we will have womENcourage participants telling their stories in blog posts. This month’s blog post is by Marjana Prifti Skenduli. She is a full-time lecturer of Computer Science and a Computer Science PhD candidate at the University of New York Tirana (UNYT). 

Let’s hear from her. 

About me

I define myself as an enthusiastic Computer Science educator and a passionate Information Technology professional, who takes great pride in being a mother to two wonderful daughters. Perhaps I am a lucky person, for being able to combine my daily job with my passion and translate it into a bold mission: that of getting people of all ages and backgrounds excited about the immense possibilities of STEM education.

My research interests and work revolve around opinion mining and sentiment analysis of natural microblogging text. It is aimed at modelling, engineering and optimizing artificial learning systems for emotion recognition and prediction in low resource natural languages. Most of my research work builds upon the solid foundations of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep neural networks, yet it constantly seeks inspiration in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science. As a result, I find myself increasingly drawn to the research conducted at the intersection of AI and Social and Behavioral Sciences, in my pursuit to solve real-world problems and understand cognition, language and social behaviour manifested especially in social media platforms. 

Prior to all this, I spent almost 11 years in the international 5-star hospitality industry, attaining an exceptional career track. Throughout my tenure as Information Technology Manager of Sheraton Tirana Hotel-Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc.®, I’ve built a reputation for expertise with Information Systems Management, Risk Management, Internet Security, Database and Systems Administration, Online Marketing, Project Portfolio and IT Auditing.

But how did it all start?

I am thrilled to be given the chance to share with you my journey into the world of Computer Science, hoping to get all of you to embark on this later, amazing “spaceship”. In fact, my journey started as the humble journey of a kid born in the mid-80s, in a small country called Albania, located in Southeastern Europe. I dreamt big, oooh I still do! 

Computing technology was introduced to me back in 1997, through my first TV game console – I remember endless hours spent inside the virtual fascinating realm of the Mushroom Kingdom and how fast I moved from being the best family player to chasing the truth behind that fancy plastic – “black box” (the console). It took me two more years until I opened my first email (by the way, it was a yahoo account) and another year for what I call the most remarkable introduction in my life so far: I was to meet and discover the first personal computer and what coding looked like. 

My sister’s friend, at the time graduating in Computer Science, was working on a project on Graph Transformation – which I never understood at the time. She offered to show and explain to me how Windows 95 operating system looked like, and moreover how amazing and empowering was coding. I remember I was starstruck by those unpredictable, mysterious coding lines in Pascal (a procedural programming language) that can return the right answer to complex mathematical equations and others, and produce perfect black and white shapes on the screen at the cost of a few seconds. I felt it was way more exciting than simply solving complex math problems on paper.  I can confess that a 1-hour long demonstration marked the start of a new chapter in my life. Suddenly, that childish passion evolved into a goal, a love and a mission that I never stopped working for and dreaming about: the love for Computer Science.

And I am pretty sure you also dream! Let me guess: you probably dream of travelling the world, fighting climate change, or perhaps simply pursuing a solid career in the 21st century. Some of you have already made a choice and have set clear goals to be achieved over the next 5 years. But, chances are that some others are still hesitant about making the choice whether to step into Computer Science or not… whether to join academia or industry?  Are these dilemmas familiar to you? Well, …love what you do, and decisions will be less hard and far more rewarding! Despite Computer Science maybe sounding too difficult to conquer, or challenging, I encourage you to consider this choice! Why? 

To start with, the tech industry has seen exponential growth in the past ten years, and we never imagined social media, wireless communication, smartphones, intelligent personal assistants or advances in medicine and robotics would take over our lives at the pace they did. Technology is here to stay, and there is no way to ignore it, instead, we should embrace it and grow along with it. How? By studying Computer Science! 

Let me be clear: CS is a vast discipline that opens up many avenues of study and paths in life. It is open to anyone equipped with the enthusiasm and the will to become part of the information revolution! CS is an interdisciplinary science that perfectly accommodates people with backgrounds in Math, Engineering, Economics, and lately, Psychology, Medicine, Linguistics, Ethics, Law, Education, Entertainment, Security, … It intertwines with many other sciences at the point of unleashing immense rewarding career opportunities.  

Whether you seek for innovation, intelligence, problem-solving skills, creativity, strength or beauty of ideas, the best outcomes will arise from a discipline that combines a diverse set of perspectives that only Computer Science can bring together in the most appealing way. Furthermore, CS is definitely the most exciting path to follow, considering breakthrough advances in scientific projects and avenues that promise to revolutionize and better our lives. Thus, this is a call for you to make the difference and positively impact people’s lives through your job.

And if you still feel overwhelmed or have fears, I’ll share with you the dearest quote from Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”!  

About womENcourage

Conferences have always been a big part of the research culture. They do not simply represent a place to showcase your own research work and catch up with the cutting edge technologies, but more importantly, they are celebrations of communities that instil in you the sense of belonging, where you meet like-minded people, and share experiences with those who managed to break barriers in the quest to grow, shine and carve out a better future through Computer Science. 

I cherish every opportunity I have to attend international conferences but I am particularly proud of attending womENcourage twice, in 2018 and 2020. There is something amazing about the womENcourage celebration, and that is exactly the sort of synergy produced from the vibrant, mindful and growing community of Women in Computing and the powerful messages echoed globally to every single human in STEM. 

2020 was a difficult and tumultuous year, but in spite of that, womENcourage 2020, was a great example of resilience, dedication and tenacity; not only did the organizers quickly pivot to online settings, but they also managed to reach broader audiences. On a personal level, it was an unparalleled opportunity that helped me reinforce important professional connections I established back in 2018, discuss and attest my research work and more importantly develop new research ideas to pursue in my future endeavours. 

With the hope of a better year ahead, join us for a memorable #womENcourage 2021 in Prague! 

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