PyDev of the Week: Alessia Marcolini

This week we welcome Alessia Marcolini (@viperale) as our PyDev of the Week! Alessia is a Python blogger and speaker. You can check out some of her work over on Medium. You can also see some of her coding skills on Github. Let’s spend a few moments getting to know her better!

Alessia Marcolini

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

Hello everybody, my name is Alessia and I’m 21. I come from a little town near Verona, a beautiful city in the north of Italy.

I’ve been living in Trento (Italy) for 2 years and a half now. I moved here to attend university: I’m currently enrolled in the third year of a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

In 2017 I started working part time as a Junior Research Assistant in the Bruno Kessler Foundation, too. FBK is a research foundation based in Trento, working on Science, Technology, and Social Sciences. I’m part of the MPBA unit which focuses on novel applications of Deep Learning from complex data: e.g. Precision Medicine, Imaging and Portable Spectroscopy in industry processes, Nowcasting on time-spatial data. I’m currently working on deep learning frameworks to integrate multiple medical imaging modalities and different clinical data to get more precise prognostic/diagnostic functions.

When not coding, I love dancing and listening to music. I have also been part of a hip hop crew until 2017.

Why did you start using Python?

Well, this dates back to the very first years of my technical high school. We had a teacher who, going against the opinions of many other computer science teachers in my school, decided to teach students in my class Python as the first ever programming language. So, it wasn’t really a choice I made. However, after these six years, I realise how lucky I was to have had that teacher (joking, I realised it even before, I still love that teacher and we are on the best terms but perhaps I did not understand the impact he would have on my future).

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

It’s difficult to say whether you “know” or you “don’t know” a programming language. I can say that Python is my most practiced language, since I’ve been using it every day at work for three years now. Apart from it, I had the opportunity to practice also Java, C and C++ at school and at university. I also took part in the Italian Olympiad in Informatics in teams for a couple of years and we were required to write our programs in C++.

Anyway, Python is definitely my favourite programming language: it is easy to learn, the syntax is intuitive and with Python you can accomplish tasks with much less code than with other languages. It’s very handy for writing scripts, but at the same time it’s powerful and it gives you the possibility to write an entire object oriented application end-to-end. It can serve multiple areas of application, from web development, to desktop development, to data science.

They say you “Come for the language, Stay for the community”, and this is really one of the aspects I appreciate the most about the Python environment. My experience with the Python community has been awesome and that’s why I always encourage people to come to the Python world (more on this later).

What projects are you working on now?

One of my longest running projects at work is the AI & Open Innovation Lab: I am the co-Director of a tech lab jointly organized by FBK and Istituto Artigianelli (TN, Italy) with the aim to introduce high-school students to data science and to develop new applications of Deep Learning combined with art and design. I started three years ago, teaching students Python and Deep Learning; we also applied design thinking methodologies for projects management. The 2019-2020 edition challenge is to develop a smart packaging solution for the wine business, to ensure product integrity and product traceability during the production and manufacturing process. It is cool because I get to work with students from diverse backgrounds (ITC high schools, lyceums, universities) and of different ages (from 17 to 25) and the team can establish a direct link with companies and clients (we are now partnering with a packaging company and a sparkling wine company).

From the research perspective, I’m currently working on Deep Learning algorithms for Digital Pathology and for Radiology. Regarding Digital Pathology, I’m optimising a reproducible deep learning framework to predict clinically relevant outcomes on pathological tissues and studying the effect of overfitting caused by data leakage.

Considering Radiology, I’m evaluating the prognostic capability of radiomics and deep features in cancer bioimaging through an integrative deep learning framework, applied to a combined dataset of PET-CT scans.

Additionally, I recently started working on Hangar. It’s a pretty young project (born in April 2019), but in my opinion it is very promising. It basically provides support for versioning your data in a smart way. It is designed to solve many of the problems faced by traditional version control systems, just adapted to numerical data. I think this was a missing piece in the data science tools puzzle.

In particular, I started developing new tutorials and use cases for the library.

Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?

NumPy and Pandas, which are the core libraries for scientific computing in Python. One of the most powerful features of Pandas is to translate complex data operations into mere one or two commands.

How did you get into organizing Python conferences?

Wonderful question. When I was 18 I had the great opportunity to get accepted into WebValley 2016 International, a summer school about data science dedicated to 17-18 yo students coming from all over the world: 15-20 students for three weeks in a small village in Trentino to work on a research project tutored by FBK researchers. There I met those who would become my mentors: Valerio Maggio and Ernesto Arbitrio. Fellow Pythonistas, they started to get me involved into the organization of PyCon Italy. Also a special mention goes to Carlo Miron, one of the founders of the PyCon Italia Association. I’m grateful for the trust they placed (and are still placing) in me. We’ve already started to work on the next year conference: PyCon 11, May, 2nd-5th 2020, Florence! It’s going to be a lot of fun (as always! ;)) Here is a short recap of the last edition:

What is the most challenging thing about organizing a conference?

When you have a team that is supportive, caring and friendly, organizing a conference is not that difficult. The keyword is teamwork. Although, organizing a conference and always being on the ball can be time-consuming. The team behind the scenes of this kind of conferences (usually) consists of volunteers and sometimes it’s hard to fit meetings and calls in everyone’s agenda (we organize a public call once every two weeks – from October to May).

Anyway, being an organizer (and attendee too) is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve been having thanks to all the relationships I’ve made and the love shared around a programming language.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

The bad news: nothing is permanent.
The good news: nothing is permanent. – Lolly Daskal

Thanks for doing the interview, Alessia!