Leveraging Linguistics

October 01, 2015

Dr. Wei Li has been recognized as one of SFU's 50 Inspiring Alumni as part of SFU's year long 50th anniversary celebrations. Dr. Li returned to the SFU campus this September, nearly 15 years after he completed his PhD in Linguistics in 2001. Li, now Chief Scientist at Netbase, spoke to a group of attentive Linguistics undergraduate and graduate students about how to use the extensive training received through studying linguistics at SFU in the job market.

Dr. Li described how the job market for computational linguists was not mature when he began his career, but with the explosion of big data - a term used to describe extremely large and complex data sets - the industry is far more mature and many unique and interesting opportunities are available to those trained in both computing science and linguistics. Engineers create the architecture to archive, store, and retrieve information, but storage and retrieval is not enough; it takes computational linguists to create applications using natural language processing (NLP) in order to analyze, organize, and extract meaning from the data.

Li designed sophisticated technology to mine public opinions from social media platforms for big clients including Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Proctor & Gamble - clients who are spending millions of dollars a year to use the system that Li and his collegues developed. Because social media platforms are global, linguists are essential to the process of creating multilingual applications to investigate opinion and attitudes about a product or topic.

With over 20 years of industry experience behind him, Li has seen the role of trained linguists become more valuable. Job titles include data scientist, knowledge engineercomputational linguist, computational grammarian, computational lexicographer, linguist engineer, language developer, linguist annotator, linguistic consultant, NLP specialist, and domain specialist in languages. Having personally recruited and hired linguists himself, Dr. Li uses linguistlist and campus contacts to fill such positions.

The job postings linked in the above paragraph were retrieved from linguistlist on September 28, 2015. Additional job postings can be found here, or search on linguistlist.org.

If you missed the presentation and would like to learn more, download Dr. Li's presentation.