Humans of Tech with Thomas - Kik
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Meet Thomas Schmorleiz, Lead of the Moderation Squad at Kik! Thomas was visiting the University of Waterloo from Germany to finish his Masters when he attended a job fair and met a recruiter from Kik. Thomas was drawn in by the enthusiasm with which the team discussed what they were doing and he connected with how they were running the startup.
What’s your major internal motivation for doing what you do?
This is going to sound very German, but I’m really motivated by driving the effectiveness of our processes. We’re focused on taking content that’s uploaded to Kik - all content ranging from text-based to visual- and video-based - and we try to detect violations of our Terms of Service. We’re trying to find the most efficient combination of automation and human moderation - generally, this is done by asking the machine first and based on its confidence level, you then take action on the human side. Realistically, we can’t look at everything on a human level, so we have to find the best machine learning processes to automatically detect things like harassment, bullying, child abuse material. We have to measure that these machine processes are picking up the right content and we need to make sure accuracy is super high to ensure that the human moderators are looking at the things they should be looking at.
At the end of the day, being more effective means we’re addressing the things that have the highest impact.
What are your favourite aspects of what you do?
There are two sides to what I do that I love. The first is that it is extremely technically challenging. We are living on the bleeding edge of machine learning technology for safety. There’s a lot of volume and we have to make sure we find what we need to while meeting or exceeding industry standards. The second is the high level of collaboration needed to be successful. Internally, moderation only works if you combine machine learning with human moderation because, at the end of the day, the machine can only mimic human behaviour. You need to be able to combine both the technical and the human.
Also along the lines of collaboration, I love getting to participate in the Technology Coalition. We work with other companies - often larger competitors in our field - and we all openly share challenges we’re facing, give feedback to each other, and try to generate solutions. I love the spirit of willingness to openly share experiences and processes to create safe user experiences. In fact, Kik has been a leader in this area, spearheading new tools such as our Kik Key Frame technology for video moderation. It’s amazing how a Kitchener-Waterloo company like Kik can drive a profound impact on the larger ecosystem.
What’s been the most surprising part of your journey?
I was really surprised that I would pick a company because of the people, but it was the community spirit that Kik has along with their ability to handle an app at this scale that drew me in. We’re able to face challenges with a small group of people and we stick together as a team. It’s more soft skills focused than I had expected from myself.
What are you most proud of professionally?
I’m really proud of what my team and I have been able to accomplish with building our Key Frame technology - a video moderation service at scale. We can detect illegal content and now we’ve enabled other companies to implement the same approach. As far as I’m aware, we’re one of the first to automate looking at videos at scale - even if the video is dozens of minutes long.
What do you find the most interesting about the Waterloo tech ecosystem?
I’m relatively new to the community. Even though it's still quite young it keeps growing. We’re in a sweet spot right now where it’s still a small and intimate community but what goes on here is still impactful.