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Ayelet Sapirstein: The Art of a Growth Mindset

Ayelet Sapirstein, an algorithm developer at Nova, discovered just a few years ago how passionate she was about art. It was only natural for her as a mathematician that she created a series of paintings that I called: Portrait of a Mathematician.

Give us a little background about yourself

I’m Ayelet Sapirstein, an algorithm developer at Nova. I joined the company six months ago after working at several startups in the field of computer vision and machine learning. I have a bachelor’s in math and computer science from Ben Gurion University and a master’s degree in computer science from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

From your background, it sounds like Nova is a bit of a change for you professionally

Yes, I agree. I feel like I made a huge leap professionally when I joined Nova. The majority of algorithm experts here have a background in physics, actually, most of them have a Ph.D. in physics, and that was a challenge for me at first. But now, I can see that there are numerous benefits to my background in computer science, and I contribute fresh new perspectives to the team. I quickly learned that each field of expertise has its advantages.

Working with people who studied physics and the way it’s applied to physical products is a big difference from my training, and I’m intrigued by it.

What helped you feel welcome?

The team! Everyone here is so supportive.  My onboarding mentor helped me immensely during my transition to this new role which made me feel comfortable as a new member of the Nova team.

During the onboarding process, I was introduced to each of my team members, as well as to other teams. I received both a personal and professional introduction. This was helpful, giving me a full picture of how each person fit into the larger Nova puzzle.  Because of these introductions early on, I had a good grasp on how everything and everyone was connected, so I felt more confident determining who I should turn to when I needed my questions answered. Learning about each team member’s unique point of view on the product, technology, challenges, and solutions also gave me a broad organizational and functional perspective, which supported my acclimation at Nova.

So now that you’re six months in, how do you feel about working at Nova?

The first thing that struck me is that the algorithm team is comprised of almost 50% women. I’m inspired daily by so many women in my team. It’s refreshing to work with people I really appreciate both on a professional and personal level. This is real girl power, and I have a lot of role models here, which is something you don’t always see, especially in the science and tech fields.

What would you say is your superpower?

My creativity, especially through art. For example, I once completed a series of paintings that I called: Portrait of a Mathematician. The paintings applied the mathematical theorems that mathematicians developed. It actually started out as a joke. I took a drawing class where we were given an exercise to draw something without taking our hands off the page. There’s a mathematical theorem called the Euler method, which basically says which line drawings you can create using each edge of the graph only once. With this method in mind, I thought, “well, I can create a painting analysis by thinking ahead, planning, and drawing something in one line.” So, I made a portrait of this mathematician using one continuous line, meaning I never took my hand off the page.

After I successfully completed this painting, I thought about other mathematicians I could draw by applying their theorems. And that’s how I started. And when I posted my work on Facebook, my friends suggested ideas, and I created several additional portraits.

One day I saw a call for mathematical drawings for an exhibition, and I sent in my work. The curators of the exhibition saw it and told me how I can improve them and make them more suitable for the exhibition. So, I worked on upgrading them and they were exhibited!

That is amazing!  

Yes. And then I even created a lecture about it.

Ayelet Sapirstein Art

Have you been painting since childhood or is it something you picked up over the years? 

It’s something I picked up when I was around 27 years old after I took a course. My parents encouraged us to take up science and sports. They didn’t really encourage us to pursue the arts at all, so I had never really done it. I was pretty much taught that you either have talent or you don’t. But then, from the people around me I learned that it’s a bit more complicated than that. They showed me that to be a successful artist, you have to work at it, and it’s not about being born gifted. I started with a drawing class, and I realized very quickly that I wanted to draw my ideas instead of trying to copy reality, so it evolved into creating illustrations.

Talent is not something that is innate or that you’re necessarily born with. You can learn things and enhance your skills. Practice is the key to getting better. This is an approach I’m trying to embrace in all I do, as it represents a growth mindset.

What are you working on now?

I’m involved in a project that pairs elementary school students with illustrators. The students make up a monster–they either draw it or compose a description of the monster, and then the illustrator draws the monster. I’m now working on a monster, and I’m looking forward to meeting the kid creator. 

As a child, did you know that you would study computer science, or did you have other dreams?  

When I was young, I thought I would be a psychologist when I grew up.

When I was young math came easy for me, yet I did think of studying psychology at college. But then, in my early twenties, I met a friend who studied math, and he encouraged me to do the same. I was intrigued, so I took one math course. This opened a whole new world to me.

I loved the challenge that came with math. There were some difficult problems to solve, and sometimes it would take hours, but then there was an AHA! moment where suddenly things connected, and I cracked the puzzle. The moment it all comes together–that to me is a moment of creative inspiration, and it’s so much fun.

You are a member of the Baot Online community. What part did it play in your life? 

Baot is the largest Israeli community of women software engineers, data scientists, and researchers in the tech industry. Baot offers women developers professional assistance and promotes women developers in their careers. It’s a very authentic approach created and run by women who understand exactly what other women are going through because they were in the same place not long ago.

Baot also helps its members create their own personal and professional brands through writing professional blog posts, attending conferences, and lecturing at conferences around the world. They encourage us to pursue our dreams and provide us with inspiration to create new ones.

I received their support when I was looking to make a career change, and they actually introduced me to Nova, for which I’m grateful. Now it is my turn to pass it on, and I am mentoring women in Baot in their job search.

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Ayelet Sapirstein: The Art of a Growth Mindset