Software Development

Aug. 6, 2020 9:30 am

How this Abridge engineer landed in an unexpectedly fulfilling machine learning career

Senior machine learning engineer Sai Prabhakar shares his journey from college student to ML professional.
The Abridge team.

The Abridge team.

(Courtesy photo)

While wrapping up his degree in mechanical engineering at IIT Madras, Sai Prabhakar had a revelation: Over the previous four years, he’d been so distracted by his fascination with machine learning and robotics, he wasn’t prepared to look for jobs as a mechanical engineer.

Undeterred, Prabhakar quickly shifted gears to follow his passion for robotics. Immediately following his decision, he began packing for America.

“There were not a lot of jobs in robotics at that time in India,” said Prabhakar. “Carnegie Mellon University was the best robotics institute in the world, so I applied to its master’s program.”

The career move played to his advantage. Now a highly trained technologist in machine learning and a resident of Pittsburgh — the ever-growing hotbed of tech innovation and robotics expertise — Prabhakar was fielding offers from multiple companies as soon as he graduated.

Ultimately, it was the cofounders of an emerging healthtech company, Abridge, who captivated his interest and led him to join as the first employee. Led by CEO Dr. Shiv Rao and CTO Sandeep Konam, Abridge develops an app that gives patients more power over their healthcare by recording and demystifying complicated medical conversations during doctor visits.

Sai Prabhakar. (Courtesy photo)

Initially, Prabhakar was drawn to the work itself — building a challenging product from scratch at an inspiring new startup was his dream. It wasn’t until after he came on board at Abridge that he felt the emotional power of the company’s mission.

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“When I first started, it was more about the technology,” he said. “As I learned more about the patients who use our app, speaking to them and learning what the product really means to them, I got goosebumps.”

As a senior machine learning engineer at Abridge, Prabhakar’s core responsibilities are twofold.

“First, it’s about doing research on how we can extract meaningful and important information from the conversations patients are having with their healthcare teams. We use our massive (fully consented, de-identified) dataset for the research. It is probably the largest of its kind anywhere. We also collaborate with some research labs in CMU and publish in academic conferences,” he explained. “Second, we come up with strategies to turn that research into a functional product.”

In what he calls a collaborative, transparent environment, the goal at Abridge is to create a truly patient-centric product. And it’s an interesting product in that, in a crowded market of healthtech innovations, Abridge is developed for patients and not clinicians.

Currently, at 13 employees total, Prabhakar says the company takes the hiring process very seriously, looking for people with an intense drive and genuine fascination with how to deliver value to its patients.

“When you’re small, it’s challenging to make hires — but in a good way,” he said. “Every person you hire is important. Everyone needs to be a rockstar in their expertise.”

Adapting to the parameters of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Abridge team recently added new telehealth features that support patients while they shelter at home. The company recently announced a new partnership with UPMC, a 40-hospital system, that will positively benefit a much wider audience of patients.

For Prabhakar, the ability to continually do research, to learn and to adapt the product to patient needs has become more fulfilling than he expected.

“I’m young,” he said. “I haven’t been to hospitals much. This kind of product wasn’t something I even thought about. Now that I see how it affects patients’ lives, I am deeply invested in the value of our product.”

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