The phrase “life’s work” is one that seems to be fading into obscurity with each passing year. The ideal of seeing a finish line and giving your all to get across it sometimes seems romanticized — until you meet someone like Fil Alleva.

“I started working in the speech area in 1977,” explains the affable Partner Group Engineering Manager. “I’m coming up on 40 years now working on this.”

Alleva was planning to be a chemical engineer in his undergraduate years at Carnegie Mellon University in the late ‘70s when he befriended Professor Raj Reddy in an introductory programming class. Soon after, he found himself taking a $2-an-hour job programming computers, if only because it was a better gig than working in the school cafeteria.

“Raj was a pioneer in AI and speech recognition,” Alleva says of his mentor, Reddy, who won the Turing Award in 1994. “He taught me everything he knew; we worked together for seventeen years.”

Alleva began dreaming of a day when people would interact with technology the same way they primarily interact with each other: verbally. Since bringing his efforts to Microsoft in 1993, he’s applied his life’s work in countless applications that were inconceivable when that dream began — and he works for a company that puts him in the position to impact the lives of countless people all over the world.

“Cortana is what we consider to be the killer application for speech. It’s the agent that ultimately is going to be one of the key ways you interact with communications and computing capabilities — services, applications, data analysis and more,” he explains. “Doing machine learning and speech processing for Cortana, it is clear that we are one of the few companies that has an opportunity to build a product and then put it in the hands of hundreds of millions of users who really need it to do productive work on a day-to-day basis.”

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