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Mahla Nejati

Robots research fellow

Mahla Nejati

Mahla Nejati’s early love of programming came from robotics competitions at school and now she loves solving real-world problems with algorithms

When Mahla Negate was a child watching her dad teach science, she always figured she’d end up being a chemist.

“I really wanted to study chemistry because I was seeing and reading all of my dad’s books and I was fascinated by the drawings of equipment in the labs,” Mahla says.

But after joining a robotics competition and learning some programming at high school, Mahla realised she was good at software engineering – and that has driven her career ever since.

“It was a soccer robotics competition where I learned programming languages like Linux and C. And I’d already been playing around with HTML and PHP,” Mahla says.

Today, Mahla is programming some seriously advanced robots using AI in the agriculture sector to help improve crops.

“At uni I loved learning about algorithms because it meant solving real-world problems with mathematics,” she says.

Her expertise is image processing: teaching robots to recognise things using AI, like the fact they’re picking a kiwi fruit as opposed to an apple. She says programming AI is like teaching a baby to walk.

“It’s really interesting because it’s not abstract. You do some coding and straight away you see the results,” Mahla says.

Her work means she gets to tackle big challenges alongside other engineers, including mechanical and electrical, and also with the help of biologists who understand how different crops thrive.

Mahla’s advice to students considering a career in technology is to try a lot of things: “I thought I was going to be better in another major, but because I tried other things early on I realised what I was good at and was able to spend more time on those things. “Just trust yourself and give it a try.”

Mahla Najati’s study and career path

  • Bachelor of Computer Software Engineering, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
  • Master of Artificial Intelligence, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
  • Teaching assistant, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
  • PhD in Computer Systems Engineering, University of Auckland
  • Head graduate teaching assistant, University of Auckland
  • Research fellow, University of Auckland

This profile first appeared in Careers with STEM: Technology 2023.

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