Have you completed a Code First: Girls course? If yes, when, where and which Level (Level 1 Introduction to Front-end or Level 2 Introduction to Python Programming)?
Do you have a technical background? (Did you study CS etc?)
I don’t come from a technical background. I began in STEM and transitioned to social sciences. I studied Biology and Society, a degree unique to Cornell University which equips students with hard sciences combined with perspectives from social sciences and ethics. Loving the social science aspect, I later pursued a degree in public and economic policy at the London School of Economics - a course that focused on evidence based policies which meant I had a great introduction to data science, experimentation and behavioural science as a result.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to kickstart a career in Tech who doesn't have a technical educational background?
If you don’t have a technical background and want to work in tech, the good news is that with artificial intelligence for instance, the problems in this space are not just engineering problems they are human problems. To get this right, we need diversity of people in this space, especially non-technical talent! For example, social scientists are now in demand from tech companies because knowing social processes, psychology, economics you’re in a good position to understand online communities, spread of fake news, or embedding ethics into development of AI systems. This was my entry into working in tech where I utilised my background in economics and behavioural sciences to work at an AI startup that used communities and machine learning to detect online misinformation. Most of the positions listed in the job openings were machine learning and engineering roles, but I sent an email and described how with my skills in research (quantitative and qualitative methods), UX research, project management and communications, I would add something valuable to build the community needed to help the company achieve its goals. So I would say if you’re a linguist, data scientist, economist, social scientist, ethicist - your skills are and will continue to be in demand as technology continues to evolve. Apply to positions confidently, and if no positions are open yet cold-message and make the case why with your skills you can make a contribution to the company and the tech sector.
I would also strongly advise to become involved with your local tech community. After I graduated from my master’s, I continued to learn by actively participating in a range of communities such as the AI Club for Gender Minorities, R-Ladies, and Women Who Code in meet-ups, workshops, trainings and hackathons. This not only helped me to build new skills and get practical training, but also introduced me to new networks and friends in the tech space from whom I learned about new opportunities and collaborations.
I firmly believe in continuous learning and building new skills. Thankfully you can access learning very easily online - be it Coursera, edX or more project based learning like Kaggle. Community courses like CodeFirst come with the benefit of face to face and peer learning as well as chances to get an internship or a role with the company delivering the community course.
Last, be entrepreneurial. If there’s a role you want in tech and you see that you don’t have the background, think creatively about what kind of projects or experiences you can take part in or create yourself that can give you the skills to go forth and get that role. I strongly advise on working on independent projects, exploring your hobbies, applying a problem-solving approach to kickstarting a career in tech.
What did you learn from the CF:G course? (Both technically and beyond!)
Technically, I learned to build a basic website through the front-end course and learned to create a web app with the python course. The python course was especially enjoyable as I worked with a colleague to create an employee appreciation web app which ended up winning 1st place in the end of course competition. There was a lot of teamwork and collaboration involved and I really enjoyed this practical aspect of the course.
The course also inspires a lot of problem solving. It’s very interesting to observe how students evolve and become more independent as the course progresses. In the beginning of the programme, when something went wrong in the code the immediate reaction for me was to ask for help from the instructors as I was afraid of making mistakes. But as the course went on, I developed confidence and enjoyed the problem solving component to programming.
Beyond that, I learned about curriculum design. I am very intrigued about learning processes, especially about how to translate complex information (which is something I am working on now!) So for me it was a great first-hand experience to see the approach CodeFirst:Girls takes to teach programming to people who have never coded before and then end up getting jobs as programmers!
How did the CF:G course impact your career?
CodeFirst: Girls served as the bridge when I transitioned from policy and academia to the tech world. I loved being part of the CF:G community and learning along other women also interested in starting a career in tech. It was a very supportive environment and a good introduction to the tech space. Even if you’re non-technical working in tech you still need to understand the basics and the courses I took with CF:G gave me the foundation to explore different paths in the tech sector: from working in AI to creating games and gamified learning experiences.
How did you get into AI and EdTech?
AI: After LSE I became an active participant in the tech community in London - there was so much happening and I carved out my niche by becoming involved with several communities and meetup groups. After attending a design thinking hackathon where social enterprises pitched problems, we came together as a cross-disciplinary team of eight to design potential solutions and prototypes. The issue posed had to do with algorithm bias in the news industry. Even after the hackathon, keen to work on this particular issue I began thinking creatively about how to work in the space. This took me to the MIT Media Lab where I explored research coming from different groups (e.g. Civic Media, Scalable Cooperation) and learned more about how they applied tech and creativity to solve social issues. Upon returning to the UK and actively searching for early stage startups that worked on this specific issue, I luckily found one I was drawn to. A cold-email and several interviews later, I joined the team and began working on how to design systems and processes to combine human expert judgment with machine learning to detect misinformation online.
Edtech: When I first moved to London to study applied economics and policy at the LSE I was beyond excited for the opportunity. During this time the referendum results in the UK changed a lot of things and suddenly what was going on outside the classroom was a lot more interesting to learn. In my mind I questioned whether the traditional classroom model for learning was working. So I went on a little adventure to look at ways of communicating and delivering complex subjects, e.g. economics, that was relevant, useful and interesting to learn for people. This took me to the world of theatre (from participating in immersive theatre in Edinburgh Fringe to volunteering to advise on an economics-related interactive theatre that later played at the Barbican). Living in London is quite remarkable in how it serves as a source of inspiration and I was introduced to the gaming community which is quite vibrant here. Putting together the pieces I decided to go on the entrepreneurial path and create a venture where I could use these very engaging mediums (theatre, gaming) to translate meaningful but often complex content to make it more accessible.
Why are women so crucial to the continued growth of the tech sector and what advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in Tech?
Diversity of perceptive is crucial in the tech sector. Be it an algorithm or a product a team is building, having more women and minorities as decision-makers and as part of the process is instrumental to building inclusive products and services. Tech impacts everyone and we need more diversity of voices in order to ensure we look at problems we haven’t looked at before, come up with different and new set of solutions, and ensure the continued growth of the tech sector doesn’t leave people behind.
Having support networks and community is important for fellow women who want to pursue a career in tech. When starting out, the AI club for women and minorities was so encouraging, supportive and full of mentorship to help me begin a career in tech. I belong to a variety of communities similar to this where women support other women creating a safe space to ask questions, receive advice and help each other succeed. Mentorship is also key. Finding a mentor who can offer advice and help guide you at critical steps in your career, be it when finding your first role, trying to get a promotion, or starting your own venture.
I would also say, let’s continue to be bold. We have bold ideas, ambitions and career goals. Tech belongs to everyone, so let’s be bold and not be afraid to enter this space… this happens when we elevate each other.
What do you love most about working in tech?
The problem solving, the collaborative nature of the work, and the creativity involved in bringing ideas to life.
Working in tech weaves together so many fascinating worlds. Especially in gaming where you combine the creative worlds of design, art, filming and writing with the technical side of developing the game. In this process you have to communicate between different “worlds” and become a translator. I love this.
Coming from academia, I also love that hypothesis testing, running experiments and validated learning are key parts of building successful products and company.
With developments in AI we are asking important questions about how the world works, how society works and how humans works. So it has been a social scientist’s dream to work in tech.
Are you working on anything exciting at the moment that you’d like to share with our readers?
I run AI Townsquare that brings together engineers and social scientists to train them on what developing ethical AI really means. My co-founder is an engineer, so together we created a 10 month curriculum with key readings (topics include fairness, explainability) and facilitate monthly series of curated conversations where we do a deep-dive on a single topic. We are currently running the series in London and plan to grow to the rest of the UK to train more professionals working in tech. My goal is to bring more diversity of people and backgrounds into the conversation on AI, so do join us in an upcoming series! I will also be at MozFest this year in the Web Literacy space where I will be running a role-play/simulation on (Un)fair Algorithms. This will be a test to see whether the simulation is an effective method to convey complex topics to the broader public as I would love to grow AI Townsquare from training professionals working in tech to launching an initiative to train the public on AI.
I am also working on my gamified learning venture to make learning about complex topics (beginning in economics) accessible, useful and engaging. Everything from a visual newsletter as a way to learn Econ 101, to pop-up economics games in unique venues around London, to developing narrative-driven serious games on economics phenomena. If this is something that intrigues you do get in touch!
Code First: Girls