Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 6, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Nuance Communications Canada Inc. was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018) and Montreal's Top Employers (2017):
- Nuance Communications maintains a formal incentive performance program as well as various awards to recognize exceptional performance, including an annual Values Award, for employees who best demonstrate company values, and a Patent Award, to encourage employee creativity
- As part of the company's health plan, Nuance Communications employees receive an annual wellness account of $150 as well as a health spending account for additional coverage (to $500 annually) -- the company also brings in a professional yoga instructor for regular onsite classes
- New employees receive 4 weeks of paid vacation allowance to start and can take advantage of flexible work hours and a telecommuting option
Nuance delivers AI solutions to the world's largest companies
When reaching out to your choice of airline, retailer or bank, the old phone routine no longer applies. Instead, consumers today are contacting customer service through artificial-intelligence-powered virtual assistants that are accessible not only by phone but also via mobile SMS, online chat and home devices like Amazon Alexa. Through a few natural-language commands, you can pay your bills, book a flight or check on a shipment.
In the past, you were asked your name, date of birth and mother's maiden name at the start of your call to verify you were who you said you were. Now, you can be authenticated through voice recognition, simply speaking to validate your identity, no longer needing to remember multiple pins and passwords.
Such innovations are among the solutions that Nuance Communications, provider of cognitive and conversational artificial intelligence, is focused on. Employees across the Canadian offices are harnessing the power of machine learning and biometrics to help enterprises deliver better, smarter customer service.
"The company's culture is one of excitement and pride in being part of something big -- not only for Nuance, but for society in general," says Anthony Mancini, Vice President, Professional Services. "In our enterprise division, for example, we are deploying solutions to the largest call centres and contact centres in the world."
Nuance hires mostly engineering and computer science graduates for its professional services, R&D, technical support and quality assurance divisions. It also hires individuals with linguistics backgrounds because of its work on voice recognition. "Our recruiting strategy is to hire for entry-level positions and grow the individuals into higher-end positions of more responsibility," says Mancini.
The Montreal office, with nearly 700 employees, is the global organization's largest R&D site, and second in size to the head office in Burlington, Mass. "With our growth comes opportunity for people at every level," says Mancini. "If we have a manager position or a director position open up, we will look first for internal candidates."
Among other approaches, the company grooms its employees at "Nuance University," an internal training program that allows them to add skills and keep pace with industry standards. "Nuance University has a huge list of courses for training and certification for the various Nuance products," says Jason Nico, a Principal Systems Integrator.
Nuance's internship program recruits approximately 150 students a year, but whether they are interns or permanent hires, Nuance makes a point of pairing its newcomers with a senior employee who mentors them. "In professional services, we try to assign new people to customer projects immediately, because that's the best way to learn -- on the job, with a more senior person coaching them," says Mancini.
Nuance has a strong employee referral program that pays $1,500 to $10,000 for referrals. In addition, Nuance has a popular internal transfer program that welcomes employees moving into new areas within the organization. Sylvie Djihanian, a Principal Project Manager with a degree in computer engineering, has had the opportunity of rotating through several different teams. "I have been fortunate to taste a bit of everything," she says. "For the past three years, I've been on a new team -- cloud services, where we host our products in a cloud environment. I've been learning every day on my job."
"The team at Nuance is incredible," says Nico. "There are a lot of smart, fun people who make coming to work enjoyable. The teams collaborate often, which makes you feel part of the solution, and allows us to have direct feedback into the designs of our future products. Nuance has always been there to help me grow my career."
Nuance drives the future of talking to your car
True or false: a spin-off of the old TV game show Name That Tune represents the cutting edge of the human-machine interface? The answer is "true." Nuance Communications Canada Inc., a leader in voice, language and cognitive innovation, has taken its Dragon Drive solution for cars -- currently shipping across more than 160 million vehicles -- to the next level, with a multi-passenger automotive assistant that can engage not just the driver but other riders as well in a natural conversation.
And one of the chief ways it demonstrates the new system, expected to begin appearing in vehicles by 2018 or 2019, is the game "Dragon Tunes." Andrea Schuch, a German-born software engineer who transferred from Nuance Germany to Nuance Canada and is now part of the Dragon Tunes team, says she joined the 600-plus full-time staff in Montreal -- the largest software engineering location of the Burling-ton, Mass.-based multinational -- because she wanted to work at the cutting edge of her field.
The company focuses on creating more human interactions with consumer electronics, customer-service systems, cars, health-care systems and more. "Nuance is working on natural language understanding and artificial intelligence across multiple levels of the business," says Schuch, "and there is opportunity for me within several departments."
Schuch was one of three Montreal employees who travelled last fall to the U.S. to test Dragon Tunes in a car, which demonstrates how Nuance's speech, language understanding and automotive-signal technologies work together to engage multiple passengers simultaneously. "You could really imagine how people on a long, boring drive would enjoy it."
David Ardman, Nuance's Vice-President of Mobile Speech Research & Development, notes that Dragon Drive was a CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Innovation Award Honoree in 2015 and 2016, with this latest version of the system receiving positive feedback from all who experienced it. "Why can't the person in the back seat ask to play music while I'm, let's say, talking to my wife on the phone," Ardman asks, "and why can't the kids in the back play a game with an AI-powered automotive assistant while their parents are engaged in a conversation?"
Interns, one of the strengths of Nuance's Montreal office, have been very involved in Dragon Drive's development, says Joumana Ghosn, Director of Natural Language Understanding and AI Research. They work on all kinds of challenging projects, and many get full-time jobs.
Ghosn also notes that the company benefits from proximity to renowned universities in the Montreal downtown core, including University of Montreal and McGill, both world leaders in academic research in the AI and deep learning fields.
Recognized as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2017)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 2, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Nuance Communications Canada Inc. was selected as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2017):
- Nuance Communications employees can participate in "Engineering Excellence", a program to support the professional development of Nuance technologists -- the program offers live and recorded sessions, videos and blog posts on technical and non-technical topics, and skills development recommendations to support technical learning
- Nuance Communications provides students with unique development opportunities through an internship program and hosts executive lunch and learns specifically to allow interns to meet the company's senior executive team -- additionally, the company offers workshops to help interns build their resume, prepare for an interview and maximize use of their LinkedIn account
- Nuance Communications encourages employees to cultivate creativity through innovation challenges -- employees work in teams to address a known challenge or opportunity and present their final product, solution or improvement (with winners chosen by a panel and by popular vote)
Nuance is paving the future for chatbots, AI and more
Here's some gossip: a lot of tech people around the world have a thing for Nina. You may have spoken to her yourself, or exchanged messages with her. She helps out at a lot of banks, telecom companies and even Domino's Pizza. And if you join Nuance Communications Canada Inc. in Montreal, you can work with her directly.
OK, full story: Nuance Interactive Natural Assistant, or Nina, is the first intelligent virtual assistant for customer service. Nina responds to natural language conversations to answer customers' questions or to help them reach the human that can - on the phone, on the web or, increasingly, in text messaging apps.
And that excites young developers like Jean-Francois Ethier, part of the global team that is constantly improving four-year-old Nina. "Chat bots are very hot these days," he says. "So we are working on a project to help clients integrate Nina into their social network profiles, like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp and WeChat. The beauty of Nina is it can be integrated into any app and taught to perform tasks related to any domain."
Nuance Communications Canada prides itself on offering young people the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of technology, especially projects like Nina that include artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each year, the company hires more than 100 interns over the course of three academic terms.
"We have a beautiful office here in downtown Montreal, right above the subway, but the real difference is that at Nuance we are building really cool stuff," says Benoit Dinello, Senior Manager responsible for the Virtual Assistant platform in Research and Development, Enterprise division.
Part of Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance Communications Inc., Nuance has four major market areas - Healthcare, Enterprise, Mobile-Consumer and Document Imaging. Some 560 of its 750 staff in Canada are concentrated in Montreal, the global company's second largest site and its biggest software engineering location. Developers draw on Nuance's decades of experience in speech, natural language understanding and artificial intelligence to create easy interactions with consumer electronics, customer service systems, cars, IT networks and more. There are also Nuance offices in Waterloo, Ont. and Ottawa.
Ethier joined the 30-strong Nina team in early 2016 after studying computer science at Montreal's École de technologie supérieure. "Because Nuance is a large company, we get to work with a wide variety of technologies and computer languages," he says. "And we get to be part of the full life-cycle of the development process - planning, design, implementation, testing and deployment."
He and Dinello stress that interns are fully engaged in the process. "They are part of the discussions, part of the meetings," says Ethier. "They are not in some dark corner working on simple scripts - they get to work on new features that are going to be part of the project."
Although there are a lot of young people at Nuance, Ethier notes that they get plenty of mentoring from senior developers. The team also participates in hackathons like Concordia University's ConUHacks and McGill University's McHacks. And they collaborate with Nuance colleagues and clients - like Domino's - all over the world. "We build teams from across the globe," says Dinello. There are also opportunities for travel and to work in other offices.
Dinello notes that Montreal staffers get transit reimbursements for subway or parking costs, as well as tuition support for continuing education. But one of its key attractions may be the international leadership role that the group provides for the company. "Montreal is a critically important location," says Dinello. "It's our largest software engineering office in the world, it's our largest professional services office in the world. It's not just a satellite location - it's a very high-performing office for Nuance."