Christopher Phipps

Career profile: Tech sector

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.

Phipps photoThere is so much to be said about work in the technology sector, but one of the very best things that I can do to actually plug you into resources that you need if you want to educate yourself is Lousy Linguist, the website of Christopher Phipps.

Chris was a graduate student in cognitive linguistics when he was offered the opportunity to lead the Linguistic Complexity in Translation effort as part of the FBI’s Language Testing and Assessment Unit. As part of this job, he designed a method for determining translation complexity of a foreign language document based on linguistic features and identified key linguistic properties using morphology, syntax, and pragmatics in ten languages.

This job started Chris off on his now more than ten years in industry and he is going strong!!  To me, one of the most exciting things about working in this sector is the degree to which your expertise is so actively being sought, you actually seem to be able to blog your way into a job! In fact, as I have watched Chris’ career develop over the past ten years, I often talk about him as an example of someone who has blogged his way into a job. When I sat down to recently to talk to him about his career path for Career Linguist, he says that he sees it instead as using his blog to prove that he knew what he was talking about.

The story
As Chris put it “When I read a magazine article in the Atlantic about the federal government’s metaphor program just starting out, I thought ‘that’s an awesome job, I’d love to work on applications of metaphor. How would I possibly get that job?’” As he shared with me, drawing from his own background in working with the Federal Government, he knew that the work was likely going to be “bid out” meaning that they were going to send out a request for proposals (RFP) to which various contractors would respond, asking that they be hired to do this work. To Chris, this meant that there was going to be absolutely no way to know who would actually be doing the work, or to whom he should actually send an application. This meant that he would have had to cast a wide net, and blogging about topics that he knew recruiters were likely to be searching for was precisely the way to do that.

In this case, blogging landed him a job as a Technical SETA for IARPA’s Metaphor Program, for which he reviewed technical details of teams building NLP proto-types designed to automatically detect and categorize linguistic metaphors in English and several foreign languages.

Then a few years later, Chris blogged his way into his most recent job for IBM, working with Watson. Click here to read more about the Linguistics behind IBM Watson.

Why do I say he blogged his way in?

Well, in their correspondence with him, they mentioned that his resume had been sourced to them (i.e. found by a recruiter) and they used the e-mail address that he only shares on his blog.   He used blog posts to respond to their initial inquiry to support his sustained interests in the topics that they were recruiting him for, and his blog informed the conversation during his job interview, so yeah, I say that he blogged his way into this job!

Chris blogs regularly about a range of topics at The Lousy Linguist, ranging from book reviews to Why Linguists should study math to career advice for students. Follow him on Twitter @lousylinguist.

Whose work questions are you interested in researching? Could you use a blog to join a conversation / share your findings?   Who might you want to find you? How can you make sure that they do?

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