At this year’s Women of Silicon Valley conference, Dr. Amanda Stent, one of the leading figures in natural language processing, gave a talk titled ‘AI, Society, and You’, to our attendees. Artificial Intelligence is affecting our society more today than we could ever have predicted ten years ago, and Dr. Stent spoke to hundreds of aspiring women in tech about what AI could mean for their careers.
We talked to Dr. Amanda Stent about how she was promoting diversity in her workplace, and asked her if she had any advice for women wanting to pursue a career in tech.
What are you actively doing to promote women in tech?
In my opinion, the single most important thing any technical woman can do to promote women in tech is do her job fearlessly and to the best of her ability. I find Bloomberg an exciting place to do technical work due to the variety of AI-related problems; from core machine learning to time series analysis, to NLP and beyond.
In my spare time, I am very involved with the Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), a volunteer organization dedicated to increasing opportunities and improving the working environment for women and all underrepresented group in computer science and engineering.
We offer mentoring programs for women at all stages of a research career ‒ from undergraduate programs through to programs for senior women ‒ as well as a community of individuals following similar career paths. We collaborate with NCWIT, ACM-W and AnitaB.org (previously referred to as the Anita Borg Institute). I find the connections I've made through CRA-W to be professionally and personally rewarding.
What is your company doing to promote women in tech?
I personally believe that the more voices we have in the room, the more likely companies will be able to innovate and succeed. Within IT and computer science overall, we need more diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and background. It is a shame that such a small percentage of the population makes decisions about the future of technology in our world.
At Bloomberg, for only the second time in my career outside of academia, I find that I’m not the only woman in the room. It’s also encouraging that the company supports a healthy work-life balance for everyone, allowing us time to attend tech meetups and conferences, and to further our education.
What are the biggest misconceptions about working in tech and how can we dispel them?
Even now, I think many people have the impression that tech careers are isolating and very high-pressure vocations, as opposed to more 'traditional' jobs for women. My personal observation is that the reality is actually the opposite. Tech can be an exceptionally flexible and stable career, as well as an intellectually interesting and exciting one. Tech jobs tend to pay well, offer flexi time and remote work opportunities, whilst providing excellent benefits. In addition, the opportunity is always there to make a difference in people's lives through outreach, as well as through transformational product ideas and technical solutions.
Did you have any role models growing up? How important do you think they are to promote women in tech?
One of my role models is Susan Brennan, a cognitive psychologist. She looks at human language from a slightly different perspective than I do. Like me, Susan is fascinated by how humans communicate. She is an incredibly productive person who has made fundamental contributions to science and is also someone who is genuinely interested in being a great mentor.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in tech? Anything you wish you knew?
Sometimes you have to be ruthless. The world is full of people who will tell you what you can and should do (and what you cannot and should not do!). But you are the one who has to live with your decisions. So don’t blindly follow the herd. You have probably read The Road Not Taken a poem by Robert Frost; I have made many life choices that were “the one less traveled by,” and it is true that “that has made all the difference.”