Industry Leaders in Signal Processing and Machine Learning: Dr. Yang Lei

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Industry Leaders in Signal Processing and Machine Learning: Dr. Yang Lei

Dr. Behnaz Ghoraani

Member Highlight
Dr. Yang Lei, Principal Research Engineer,HP Inc.

Josiane Zerubia

Dr. Yang Lei is a Principal Research Engineer and Tech Lead at HP, leading the efforts of developing computer vision solutions for computing products. Her work has been applied to various domains, including video conferencing, life science, digital manufacturing, education, etc. Dr. Lei is the author of 22 patent applications and has published and presented more than 16 articles in the field of computer vision and image processing. She is the winner of the 2021 Eaton Award of Design Excellence. Her work on detecting circulating tumor cells won the HP Reinventer Award, the highest award recognizing innovations at HP. She received her BS degree from Sichuan University and PhD from Purdue University, both in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Dr. Lei is an IEEE Senior Member and active volunteer in the community. She currently sits in the IEEE Women in Signal Processing Committee, and is the Chair of the Grade Elevation, Nomination, and Awards Subcommittee. Before that, she was the Chair of IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS), Santa Clara Valley (SCV) chapter in Silicon Valley, one of the largest and most active SPS chapters.

We approached Dr. Lei to learn more:

1. Q. Why did you become a principal research engineer?

Two career decisions lead me to where I am today. The first one is going into the industry. When I first started my Ph.D. study at Purdue University, I wanted to become a professor. To me, professors are knowledgeable, they do cool things, and they give back to the society by nurturing the next generations. I still believe in these and have deep respect for people who choose that career. It is an internship that changed my trajectory. For one summer, I worked as an intern in a R&D team at HP. At the end of the summer, the team launched a disruptive product. Everyone who worked on it signed their names on a piece of that product, including me. It’s such a fulfilling moment, watching something you built in people’s hands. That motivated me to choose the industry after graduation. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity of joining HP Labs as a research scientist.

The second decision is to leave HP Labs and join the product team. I spent 8 years at HP Labs, and it was fantastic, working on cutting edge technologies, with world-class talented researchers. There are always new things to learn and new ideas to explore. I think it has the best of the academic and industry. About a year ago, I got an opportunity to move to a product team. I decided to take it. It’s not an easy decision because the work environment is completely different. I have to make new connections and catch up on the work in the new team. These cost time in my career. For me, it’s worth it because I always remembered that fulfillment from the internship experience, and the new team offers possibilities that match my career aspirations. That’s how I got here today. 

2. Q. How does your work affect society?

I use technology to make people’s life better and easier. During my career, I had the opportunity to apply computer vision to various domains.

One example, separate circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from patient's blood sample is a type of liquid biopsy test to find cancer at an early stage, plan treatment and monitor if cancer has come back. Our team at HP Labs developed a solution that can not only separate CTCs but also automatically count and classify all cells in the patient’s blood sample using AI and computer vision. This data provides therapeutic insights to the doctors about the effectiveness of the patient’s treatment plan. It is less invasive and offers more information, with lower cost than traditional biopsy. This will make cancer tests more affordable and accessible for patients.

3. Q. What challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

I would say the biggest challenge is to get my voice heard. The reasons behind it are three folds. First, I’m an introvert and a good listener in nature. When I speak, I want to make sure I’m adding value. Also, I grew up in a culture that values doing over talking. In the US, expressing yourself and talking about your work is equally important as the work itself, if not more important.  At last, as a woman, a minority in the table, it gets more challenging.

What worked for me is to get motivated of being heard. It’s not just about expressing myself. I have good ideas and the team will benefit from hearing them.

4. Q. What advice would you give to scientists/engineers in signal processing?

I encourage you all to get involved in society activities, and volunteer if you can. For me it’s been a very rewarding experience. It feels good to give back to the community. In the meantime, I get to meet new people, learn and practice leadership skills, and found role models and mentors.  It’s also a good differentiation for me, because not everyone has the experience.

5. Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to share a few things I learned from my mentors. Try to expand your network beyond your immediate team. Interact with different people will give you different perspectives. Also don’t put yourself in a box. If you feel stuck or do not see a path forward, make sure you’re not putting imagined constrains on yourself.

Thank you for the opportunity to share. I hope everyone who sees this interview has a fruitful and fulfilling career! 



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