Growing up in a place called Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, you might imagine a childhood filled with long walks in nature, camping, foraging and summers spent on the lake, all of which encapsulate the childhood of NLP Research Scientist, Cheyanne Baird. It was a very rural existence and because Dover-Foxcroft is so far north, Cheyanne and her family would often camp across Maine and Canada. School field trips even crossed the Canadian border to Quebec City and Montreal.
When Cheyanne was young, she wanted to be an astronaut, owing to her interest in space and planets, and a fascination for exploration of the unknown. “It was the exploration of space that interested me the most,” Cheyanne said.
The marriage of creative pursuits and scientific proclivities began for Cheyanne at a young age. Her family is artistically inclined, from her great-great-grandfather, whose portrait paintings are currently housed in the archives of the Smithsonian, to her maternal grandfather, whose illustrations graced not only the covers of her grandmother’s books, but the posters around Cheyanne’s school. Cheyanne spent a lot of time with her grandfather growing up; making art, playing guitar or computer games.
“We always had creative hobbies, we would always be doing something artistic around the house,” she said.
Cheyanne’s first job was working on a farm, something a lot of kids from her town also did, and she worked for her dad building houses. Her mother had a business creating custom stamps and Cheyanne worked for her as well. Cheyanne had many creative outlets growing up, many of which have continued to this day, including a love of cooking delicious food. Cheyanne’s paternal grandmother ran a small pie-making business out of her home and Cheyanne would assist by picking fresh rhubarb or apples for her grandmother to bake into her pies.
By now you should have the sense that Cheyanne is enterprising, creative, and smart. You may even want to curl up with a slice of pie and one of her grandmother’s romance novels with her grandfather’s illustration on the cover. Alas, our story continues. By high school, Cheyanne’s favorite classes were English, supported by a love of literature, computer science, and art.
For her first year of college, Cheyanne attended Warren Wilson College, a small college in Asheville, NC, where students worked at the school and engaged in community service in addition to their academics. During her year in Asheville, Cheyanne grew to love bluegrass and attended as many live shows as she could. Her love of literature took precedence, however, and Cheyanne transferred to NYU for the remainder of college.
Between Asheville and NYU, Cheyanne took a semester off so she could spend time in Mexico rescuing sea turtles. “I spent a few months saving up for the trip by working at a potato farm and a Christmas tree farm in my hometown.” To save the turtles, Cheyanne would wait on the beach at night, watch for the turtles to lay their eggs, and then collect them to move them to a hatchery.
While she studied literature at NYU, Cheyanne worked part-time at a radio station, WNYU, as a PSA Director. This position gave Cheyanne plenty of opportunities to attend concerts and shows. She was immersed in the music scene in New York, her fondest memory of that time.
After NYU, Cheyanne got a job in Boston working at a small marketing firm. Her job consisted of studying conversational texts; her first foray into the NLP space. While she was working, Cheyanne enrolled in a graduate program at Simmons for gender and cultural studies. The same year she moved to Boston, Cheyanne met her partner, Shane, who was attending Harvard Medical School at the same time as her grad program. Cheyanne often spent weekends with him in the labs or at the library.
During her grad program, Cheyanne joined another small company that had a linguistics department as a linguistic analyst doing social media analytics, and then moved onto SAS to focus on sentiment analysis. “This was a great way for me to get into NLP,” she said. “This was really getting into the world of NLP, which I was interested in.”
Somewhere along the way, Cheyanne picked up a banjo for the first time and hasn’t stopped playing since. What began as an appreciation of bluegrass back in her days at Asheville has turned into a passion for folk music. Not only does Cheyanne play the banjo, she also studies its history and finds source recordings from the early-to-mid 20th century.
Cheyanne would go on to work on Alexa at Amazon, where her creative side melded exquisitely into the scientific. As a Language Engineering Manager, she was able to create things that people would actually use and would better their lives, launching French Alexa and managing Italian and Spanish language programs. “You have to run experiments and be scientific but it’s a very creative process.” She left Amazon and took some time off, becoming a mom at the height of the pandemic and stayed home with her daughter for nine months. “Staying home was a blessing but a necessity at that time. I really valued that time, it was a positive experience that came from the negative,” she said.
As her daughter was getting older and ready to be around other kids, Cheyanne knew it was time to go back to work. She ended up having a conversation with Michelle Fullwood who she had known for years from a Python programming meet-up in Cambridge. Michelle approached Cheyanne with the opportunity to join Posh, an easy decision because of the work the NLP team was doing and Michelle’s positive experience. Cheyanne was especially interested in the chatbot and conversational AI aspects of what Posh does, as well as our involvement with credit unions. “I like that we work with credit unions and community banks. I love the community aspect,” she said.
“I really like that we’re creating something that makes people’s lives easier. I love how Posh lets us experiment and do research. You have the room to do experiments and follow the thread of any ideas you may have. Everyone here is open to new ideas and reinventing things and not set in our ways. We’re always thinking about how to make something better–experimenting with that goal in mind,” Cheyanne said.
Posh is family-friendly. Being a mother who works full-time is not easy, and Posh makes it very doable. “Posh is very supportive when it comes to balancing your family and work. I feel lucky this is my first job after returning to the paid workforce as a full-time mom,” she said.