TVNewsCheck’s 2017 Technology Women to Watch Award honoree Yvonne Thomas is an engineer who prefers to think like a user, mediating between clients and developers in her role as a product manager for Arvato Systems. Her latest work for Arvato’s media asset management system has her on the cutting edge of machine learning and cognitive computing.
Thomas Mines Machine Learning For TV
Yvonne Thomas’ star is rising on the strength of her work in broadcast product management, but if that goes sideways she’s also ready for a career in diplomacy.
Thomas, the recipient of TVNewsCheck’s fifth Technology Women to Watch Award, is only 32, but the product manager for Arvato Systems’ Broadcast Solutions Division is already a veteran of the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva. There, her duties included standardization activities within SMPTE, ITU, DVB and MPEG, and the politically-challenging environment was an eye-opener for her.
The goal at EBU was a standardization result that would make all parties happy while also achieving long-term sustainability and consistency. And as Thomas hashed toward it, she learned, “I’m able to bring people together. We’re able to sit together at one table and discuss things.”
That ability serves her well in her current role at Arvato, which she joined in September 2015. She works with the company’s Media Asset Management (MAM) product, where she looks to improve and enhance the searchability of the enormous amounts of data it stores for media companies. All the while, she’s assuaging clients who’ve put just as massive an amount of trust in her.
“They don’t want to search, they want to find,” Thomas says. “That’s the biggest change over the last couple of years.”
Thomas doesn’t like to use the term “artificial intelligence” to describe the changes Arvato is making, preferring instead “machine learning” toward a goal of cognitive computing. Whatever the terminology, the process is about enriching metadata to improve the assets’ findability in terms of both speed and reliability.
The new product resulting from that process, Media Portal, will make its debut at next month’s NAB Show. It will reflect a long process that involved Thomas toggling between product developers and media clients.
“Listening to people is really the most essential part and then transferring my own understanding to the developers and making them understand how I see the product in the future,” Thomas says.
With a degree in television engineering and electronic media from the University of Applied Science Wiesbaden (HSRM), Germany, Thomas has the engineering chops to wade deeply into the developing technology. Nevertheless, she steadfastly tries not to think like an engineer in her approach to work. In fact, she never had any intention of working as an engineer despite her studies.
“I loved math and physics, so I decided to go for a more technical background,” she says. “However, I think more like a user.”
The Cologne, Germany-based Thomas says that as a product manager now, what she likes most is talking with those users and going back to product developers with the goal of making people happy with what’s been designed.
Wading into the field of metadata has also turned out to be rewarding for her as well as she wrangles with the “nitty, gritty little details” along with the larger implications of artificial intelligence’s growing — and potentially usurping — role in work environments.
That Thomas is flourishing in that role is little surprise to Sara Kudrle, product marketing manager at Grass Valley, who remembers first encountering her at a conference where Thomas was putting some hard questions to an expert panel.
“I thought she was pretty brave,” Kudrle says. “She was totally sweet but very smart. She knew a lot but was interested in learning more.”
Kudrle says Thomas has a special knack for moving between technical experts and laymen. “She walks that line. She can change from being very technical and specific to turning it around on the other side and laying it out in terms anybody can understand, and that’s hard to do.”
Tom Mauro, broadcast sales manager for Arvato, is unbridled in his admiration for Thomas. “She’s young, she’s smart as hell and she’s a big asset to our team,” he says. “It was a very big thing when we stole her away from the EBU to come work for us.”
Despite the education she picked up from the EBU, Thomas is happy for the shift, too. She says she’s drawn to the job’s frequent travel, increasingly international nature (clients range as widely as Rogers Media in Canada and Al Jazeera in the Middle East along with a burgeoning U.S. market) and constant variety.
“I won’t have a day like the other,” she says.
Thomas’ ambitions center on keeping that sense of dynamism in her career, managing a creative and diverse team pushing ever deeper into product development.
Mauro is glad that Thomas is bringing those assets and energy into an industry that can be youth-starved.
“For such a young person, she knows so much about the industry and some of the newer technologies and innovative directions we’re going in,” he says. “It’s good to have somebody that smart and driven working on our team.”
Thomas will receive TVNewsCheck’s 2017 Technology Women to Watch Award during the NAB Show on Tuesday, April 25, at a 6 p.m. ceremony and cocktail reception in Room N-227 of the Las Vegas Convention Center. To RSVP to attend, please email [email protected].