Linda Siperstein Adler ’73 Writes (Technically) for Robots
Being at Simmons reinforced my confidence that I could accomplish what I wanted to do, expand my skills, and be successful.
Linda Siperstein Adler ’73 graduated from Simmons with a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a concentration in Communications, Graphic and Publishing Arts. The summer after graduation, she got married and moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where her new husband was pursuing his Ph.D. After a brief stint as a consultant for a graphic designer and a series of odd temp jobs, Adler became a full-time editor at Blackwell Scientific Publications in Edinburgh, a medical textbook publishing branch of the Oxford Publishing Company.
Gaining Experience in a Small Publishing Office
“I didn’t have a strong science background,” she recalls, “I sat with three reference books on my desk all the time for the first year or so.” The office consisted of herself, one part-time editor, a secretary, and the manager. “They gave me the opportunity to design book covers and create page layouts, and I did the editing for multi-author and single-author medical textbooks for the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Those were the days in publishing when you edited a hard copy, had to label and number all the pictures by hand, and received paper galleys and blues from the printer.” [Paper galleys were proofs that showed the final typeset text. Blues were monochrome printing of the paper to check placement of pictures and text].
Adler also had to learn how to interact with doctors, all of them male. “I developed life-long skills for communicating with authors in a respectful way,” she says. “As an editor, I learned that even if you don’t know the subject matter, you can tell if there’s a disparity, a gap, or a missing link in the [text].” These books were written for students, so clarity was key. “I would just ask the question: ‘Is there something missing here? I don’t see the connection.’ That approach seemed to work well with people.”
Adler is certain that, had she remained in Boston and worked at a large publishing company, “I never would have had the breadth of experience that I was given in that tiny office. It really was a wonderful opportunity. I was surprised that I actually applied the attention to detail, the design and editing skills, and the understanding of the printing and publishing processes that I learned at Simmons!”
Becoming a Technical Editor
Upon her return to the states, Adler worked for a year at MIT Press on social science books before leaving the workforce to have her first child. She then returned to part-time contract work for a publishing company when her son was 9 months old. “I met only one other person who had a baby. It was a different time, before social media, and it was hard to connect with people in the same situation. It was very isolating.”
A friend who was also an editor connected Adler with a firm in Cambridge that created accounting software specifically for architects. “That was my first technical editing job,” she says. “After that, I [contracted with] various high tech companies until my daughter [second child] was in 5th grade. The pay was much better than at book publishers. Most of the time I was editing end-user and developer documentation for software, and creating style guides.”
She eventually worked for iRobot, writing hardware documentation. “Before they made vacuum cleaner robots, they made robots that military and police departments used. For example, these robots could be directed remotely to defuse bombs.” Writing documentation for these robots was challenging, and Adler would frequently follow the directions herself to make sure that she did not miss a step. “One step in the quality assurance testing for the robots used by the military was for soldiers to go through the documentation step-by-step at iRobot,” she recalls. “These young men were barely 20 years old. They were asked to stand up in front of technology professionals and officers. One soldier read the directions aloud as the other followed the directions to assemble the robot. We wrote the documentation at a sixth-grade level, but the young soldier struggled to read. It occurred to me that the army was probably full of people who couldn’t read. It was a very unsettling experience. It made me realize the necessity of writing the instructions in clear, simple language, and of being especially careful about sentence length and word choice. It was an eye-opening experience that influenced how I thought about what I was writing.”
Setting Audio Standards for the Amazon Echo
Adler’s experience with hardware at iRobot prepared her for an exciting opportunity at Amazon, where she was hired to help set standards for localization and transcription of the audio for the Echo. “The device was in the beginning stages of development when I started working at Amazon. I had never been involved in the beginning of a product before. They didn’t know that it would be successful — it was exciting!”
Adler started creating guidelines for transcription of audio data. Adler’s manager created a process in which the team set up a scenario to gather audio data from people all over the country. That non-identifiable audio data was then transcribed. The transcribed text was used by the language scientists to build speech and language databases for the Echo.
“It was cutting-edge technology when I was at Amazon,” says Adler. “The Echo doesn’t learn or think for itself, it can only process [data]. The transcribed audio provided sentences in the way people naturally talk. For example, children have different speech patterns and word choices than adults.” She was also involved in developing style guidelines for the localization of the audio data. “Localization is when you take that spoken language data and translate it into other languages,” says Adler. “It was really interesting, and I worked with people from all over the world.”
Remembering and Celebrating Simmons
Looking back on her time at Simmons, Adler realizes how the challenges changed her as a person. “I had always done well in school, near the top of my class,” she says. “Freshman year [at Simmons] I realized I had to learn how to study. I wasn’t automatically at the top anymore! That was a psychological adjustment. Being at Simmons did reinforce my confidence that I could accomplish what I wanted to do, expand my skills, and be successful.”
Adler drew on the communication and organizational skills she developed during her career when she chaired the 50th Reunion Committee. She celebrated her 50th Reunion in June, though planning the event began almost three years earlier. She met with several class officers, including Deborah Lerner Duane, Claudia Oppenheim Cameron, and Lauren Brisky, during the Covid pandemic. That core group solicited volunteers, and several other classmates — Adunni Anderson, Laurie Epstein, Anne Noznisky, Ruth Estrich, Joyce Greenberg, and Beth Bower — joined in their regular Zoom meetings. “Our team brought a wide range of experience, skills, and perspectives that shaped our Reunion experience,” says Adler. “Although most of us weren’t friends at Simmons, we developed close friendships while working together on this once-in-a-lifetime event. Since the reunion, we’ve kept meeting once a month on Zoom.”
Thanks to their dedicated efforts, which included online polls, emails, phone calls, personal letters, and connecting online via BrightCrowd, more than 80 classmates attended the event and contributed to a sizable class endowed scholarship. “The Reunion exceeded all our expectations,” says Adler. “We tailored the Reunion events to the interests of our classmates.”
The reunion weekend provided opportunities for informal gathering, eating, and learning how Simmons and its alumnae/i have changed. “The class of 1973 was at Simmons during a time of great societal changes, and the determination to forge our own paths is still strong,” says Adler. “We shared the twists, turns, successes, and failures of our careers. Being on campus in person and hearing from President Wooten and other administrators reinforced how influential Simmons was in our lives, and how much we want to ensure current and future generations of students have the opportunities that we had.”