AFK with Pujaa Rajan, Deep Learning Engineer at Node, Ambassador of Women in AI

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Pujaa is a Deep Learning Engineer at an AI-as-a-service startup called Node. Growing up in Nebraska, she loved to read and was the state chess champion. She was first exposed to artificial intelligence when news broke that the first AI computer had beaten a chess grandmaster. She became drawn to natural language processing at Cornell because it helped me combine my love of reading with technology. 

On burnout

I burned out after my first year of working in the real world. I was excited to be part of a team building a new product and wanted to impress my boss. Everything looked like it was going well, until it wasn’t. 

I noticed I was at risk about 6 months in. I went to bed feeling exhausted and woke up still feeling tired. I never had the energy to hang out with my friends. I kept telling myself “this is my first job and the stress is part of the learning curve”. But, I realized I wasn’t actually learning what I wanted to be learning. 

I think it happened because I didn’t know how to relax after work or what my hobbies were anymore. What made things harder was that I didn’t know how to recover. After trying everything I could think of, I finally quit my job at BlackRock. I traveled, read a lot of books, figured out my mission and values, and started anew in San Francisco. 

I’m happy to get this painful experience out of the way in my first job because I’ll carry these lessons for the rest of my career.

On managing stress

I stick to a consistent morning routine: I work out first thing in the morning, then meditate, read, and write. I’ve been using Peloton’s online workout classes and Insight Timer’s meditation app. Reading is an opportunity to escape from reality and explore new worlds/ideas. I’ve been using Libby, which lets me rent e-books from the local library. I’ve created a custom diary template in Google docs, which I use on a daily basis as a gratitude journal and productivity planner, complete with inspirational quotes that keep me going. I end each day reading and writing before going to bed.

I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The premise of the book is that performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. Check it out to learn how to manage your energy and avoid burnout.

On happiness at work

I feel like I can talk about anything at work because it’s a psychologically safe environment, where I can bring my whole self to work. I enjoy creating something new and learning during the process.

I currently work on a remarkable team. My take is to first create a “psychologically safe” environment. Google’s Project Aristotle showed that this was one of the best indicators of team performance. 


On what she want to see more of in the world

Empathy.

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