At Transcendent Endeavors we are a community of innovators dedicated to achieving transformative social impact through technology-enabled solutions. One of our current products in development is Polli: an interactive e-book reader that helps parents and teachers turn storytime into a fun activity for learning a new language. For this month’s staff profile, we talked to Ethan Wilcox about his role at TE as a Computational Linguist.
Ethan has been with TE for four months. He grew up in New Hampshire and is a recent transplant to New York City. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Symbolic Systems and Russian Literature from Stanford University.
TE: Tell us a little bit more about your education.
EW: My Symbolic Systems major is a confusing one, it’s basically a computer science minor, plus a linguistics minor, plus a few philosophy and psychology classes thrown in. For my Russian Literature Major, I wrote my honors thesis about the history of the Esperanto movement in the Soviet Union. I also was in a residential education program freshman year in which I read the entire Western Canon.
TE: Describe your work history before coming to TE.
EW: I completed an internship at Palantir, which is a corporation that does data management and discovery in the security space. I was a product quality engineer, so I wrote automated tests to make sure the front-end of their product worked. I also completed an internship at Omixy in Paris, France. Omixy is a healthcare startup where I worked as a front-end engineer right after graduation. I also work as a translator. I translate novels, plays and articles from Russian to English with my good friend from high school. We own a translation company and partner with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
TE: What drew you to TE and why did you decide to start working here?
EW: A few different reasons: I wanted to do linguistics, specifically computational linguistics, I did some research on TE and I was happy with what I discovered which is that it is a mission - driven company, helping people in need. And, also, the company is located in New York, which Heather Nannery described as the best city in the world. I’m starting to agree.
TE: What has been your favorite project or moment while working at TE?
EW: Doing research for the XPrize application about multilingualism in America. I had always assumed that we were just an English-language nation, and it's been incredible to have that belief dispelled. 1/5th of Americans speak a language other than English at home. And the number of non-English native speakers is growing at close to seven times the rate of English speakers in this country. It just really goes to show how important the technology that TE is developing is going to be for the future of a healthy America!
TE: What do you think makes working at TE different than from working at other similar organizations?
EW: TE is really mission driven. We're all about helping underserved communities, and we often talk about what our users need and factor that into a lot of our discussions. We’ve also won multiple awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so it's this cool interface between the public and private sector.
TE: What’s your favorite thing about living in New York?
EW: I hear three different languages almost every day on my way into work. You can’t say that about just any city.