Data & AI with Branko Kovač: The Beginning of a New Era

We continue to strengthen the team and expertise!

After more than a decade of experience in Data Scientist positions, Branko Kovač decided to invest his energy and further develop his knowledge in our company.

At the time of the formation and strategic planning of the Data & AI department at Quantox, we are talking with the new Director of Data Management and Artificial Intelligence.

1. Having in mind your many years of experience in various positions in the field of Data Science, how do you see the current state and development of this field in the domestic and foreign markets?

Domestic market – my favorite topic!

10 years ago, it was barely possible to count professionals in this field in Serbia. My first acquaintances with people from the world of Data Science data from 2014, and we have come a long way since then. I am especially interested in the acceleration since the beginning of Covid-19 until today. In 2022, Serbia will become the home of interesting start-up companies which focus on machine learning, while the number of companies that employ is rapidly increasing. There is certainly room for progress – if we talk about business, then it would be in the field of further development of services and products, as well as in the field of education.

The global market is generally well ahead of us, and that will probably remain the case. I believe that we can be of equal quality at the individual level, but Serbia cannot be compared to, for example, the US, because the numbers are relentless – the market, the money – everything is there. It would be great to become Israel. But it’s already a much broader story than Data Science. Israel has great colleges, a developed industry, and again – money. I hope that some companies as Microsoft will come to Serbia and that would be a confirmation that we are going in the right direction.

2. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge at the moment in the field of Data & AI?

Huge hype follows this trend – if we talk about artificial intelligence. Without a doubt, it is difficult to fight the expectations. Everyone is talking about AI, everyone is watching presentations that talk about fantastic achievements, everyone is expecting magic that will turn the business around and make big money. It is possible to realize great ideas, but it takes time, knowledge, and good data, above all…  then can we talk about the results.

From the science point of view – how to get real artificial intelligence at all?

The range of human intelligence is well-known but our brain consumes only 20 watts. Complicated neural network architectures consume huge amounts of energy and still are limited to the narrow set of tasks they can perform. Many are wondering if neural networks and deep learning are the solution to this problem at all. Without a doubt, huge progress has been made in the past 5-10 years thanks to the development of computers and cloud technology. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.

At the operational level, a major problem is the lack of people with adequate knowledge – both globally and locally. Data scientists, ML engineers, data engineers, good analysts – all these people are really in huge demand and we will have to devote much more time to education to solve this problem, especially considering the speed in which the whole area is moving.

3. What do the responsibilities of a leading person in this field in an internationally growing IT company include?

Little to no programming and much more of everything else. What is “everything else”?

In the long run, it will be necessary to create more teams within different business areas. Development strategy, operational plans and choice of technology are definitely among the tasks that come along with my position.

If we look at everyday activities this position brings – it is certainly communication with people, whether with team members, colleagues, current and potential clients or other partners. Although this is not my primary job,  I also like to help in the search for new colleagues if I can.

In the area of machine learning (“artificial intelligence“), we have already started with team development – we have several great people, and we are thinking a lot about new members. My role is, above all, to technically guide the team and help with advice whenever possible while leaving the realization to them.

4. How would you describe the main goals and significance of this pillar of business for the whole company?

The business vertical we are developing has several directions in which we would like the company to grow – data analytics, machine learning and data engineering. This is a marathon job and it will take time, work and a little luck to succeed. I know that this could sound like a phrase, but I can’t imagine that in half a year we will be able to say – we achieved everything as we wanted. I would be lucky if I am wrong!

Considering the direction in which the IT industry is moving, I am convinced that Data & AI will be an important factor in the further development of the company. The data is already all around us, their use is increasing and it would be really reckless to ignore reality and not use all the opportunities this area provides.

5. After the first month at Quantox, what are your first impressions?

Huh, the main impression is – ok, this is all new to me.

Quantox is the first “typical” IT company I work for. For further explanation – I previously worked for two corporations, with all the virtues and flaws that go with it. Nothing bad with that saying, only the fact that it is a completely different world than the one in which Quantox is located. I guess then it’s clear how much of a big change this is for me.

This job is different from all the previous ones, as well as the responsibility I have. In this short time, we have already gone through very much. Everything is progressively dynamic. From fantastic meetings to different situations on projects, communication with the local community… I can’t say that’s not exactly what I was hoping for, because monotony at work is not something I especially enjoy.

If you asked me the same question in half a year, I would certainly be able to say much more.

6. What is your main drive, motivation and inspiration in business – what drives you over and over again?

I quickly understand what and why I don’t want something, but it took me a long time to find what was interesting for me to do in my professional life. I have enough different interests privately, and Data Science is a super mix – math, engineering, processes, problems, technology, cognitive science and philosophy – it drives me really well. When I add that this business side has always been interesting to me, it is clear that I have no problem with motivation at work.