10 August 2023
It was the virtual clothing fitting mobile app that Data and AI technical specialist Libby Lavrova developed when she was in Year 12 at Kamo High School in Whangārei that first launched her career in computing, and has taken her on to a coveted role in AI at global tech giant, IBM.
Libby was one of three winners in Unitec’s mobile app competition for girls with her clothing app back in 2014, along with a three-year scholarship to study computing systems at Unitec Te Pūkenga.
Libby says she really enjoyed the practical side of her coursework, including software engineering, hardware and networking. She was also introduced to the concept of agile working, and being part of a team to take an idea from conception to development.
“The practical experience I gained at Unitec gave me a really well-rounded perspective of what I wanted to do with my degree after study,” she says.
“It provided me with a great launchpad into the world of work, and I don’t think I would be where I am today without that.”
While she was in her second year of study for a Bachelor in Computing Systems, Libby was selected as one of 13 students to join IBM in their Digital Practice NZ internship programme.
After nine months of part-time work, she moved into a full-time role at IBM as a business transformation consultant. In that role, she developed her skills as a cognitive engineer by designing and developing virtual assistants for New Zealand and Australia clients in the telecoms sector, drawing on the hands-on experience she’d gained from work and study.
Four years later, Libby is a technical specialist for IBM, assisting business partners with Data and AI portfolio needs. Her remit covers everything from virtual assistants and generative AI to data governance and financial planning and forecasting.
She says IBM is an incredibly supportive and inclusive employer, providing a collaborative and nurturing environment where employees are encouraged to keep learning.
“I’ve learnt something new every single day over the seven years that I’ve been at IBM,” Libby says.
“There’s a constant stream of support and encouragement from my colleagues -- whether it's escalating a problem that a client might be having or just opening my mind to what's out there.
“I have a lot of fun every single day,” she says. “At the moment, there’s a lot of buzz around generative AI with the release of chat GPT, which is awesome.
“A lot of people come to IBM requesting demos, and I help them with how they can use technology to change their organisations, which I find really inspiring.”
Libby encourages anyone wanting to study computing to go into it with an open mind, and think about the changes they might be able to make using technology.
“You can use a computing degree as a good foundation, and specialise from there as you grow and learn using your workplace experience,” she says. “Take a leap of faith and have fun with it!”
Libby says that she’d like to see more females in the tech sector, and she’s doing her role as a way of showing others what’s possible.
“I’d like students to look at me and see themselves – and know they too can get there one day.