By Isabel Wong
Women in tech has been a popular discussion topic in big and small conferences around the world for some time. Discussions often revolve around there being not enough women in the tech sector and the lack of female tech professionals representation.
But another key problem to be tackled, according to Sudha Jamthe, is that there are not enough female role models in the tech sector to encourage girls to choose being a tech professional as their career goals.
As an acclaimed author, CEO of IoTDisruptions.com and a global thought leader on the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous vehicles, Jamthe has also mentored leaders of companies such as PayPal, Ebay, Tesla and more. The Stanford Continuing Studies instructor believes the development of female tech leaders should begin from a young age, and the presence of more female role models can help encourage girls to work in tech.
Lynk caught up with Jamthe for a chat about all things IoT and AI as well as what needs to be done to close the gender gap in the tech sector.
L: Lynk | S: Sudha Jamthe
L: 2020 is the year when the world will see artificial intelligence applied in more aspects of our daily lives, but what are some of the real impacts AI can bring to the world?
S: Artificial intelligence is already in our lives in the forms of virtual home assistants such as Alexa or Google Home, facial recognition systems in airports, decision-making support for doctors in diagnosing diseases, and making recommendations for lawyers.
What is not obvious is how pervasive and invisible AI is in many areas that improve our daily lives. AI could be spam filters in our emails and social media, it is also generating appropriate recommendations on our search engines and shopping sites.
I often see self-driving cars around me in Silicon Valley, and that reminds me of the future of digital mobility driven by AI which will help keep our roads safe. AI is getting integrated into our lives in such a way that blurs the boundary between humans and computers. With AI and augmented reality technologies that improve in-vehicle experiences such as Alexa Auto and Ask Mercedes, I see that the big change brought about by AI in the coming years is not that we are going to learn to humanise AI but accepting it as part of our lives in the near future.
L: Can IoT help with the coronavirus outbreak in any way possible?
S: The biggest disruption from COVID-19 is the disruption of the supply chain when China closed off Wuhan and many factories were put on a production halt. This has a ripple effect across multiple industries globally as they are stuck and unable to fulfill customer orders.
Since IoT is being incorporated in the global supply chain already to track production status and locations, it is possible to accurately estimate when supplies get held up and when they are moving again. This is particularly important as IoT will be able to track where medicines or protective gears are held up when hospitals around the world are experiencing shortages of supplies. While this cannot move the supply chain, it can create transparency to help measure the risks for companies to develop mitigation plans where possible.
Another important area where IoT can help is in the use of drones in China and airports for temperature checks to screen potential infected cases.
L: You’ve been in the IT industry for over two decades, what prompted you to choose this career path initially? Were there any challenges you had along the way as a woman in the industry?
S: I loved Physics in high school and attended a seminar introducing the power of computers which ultimately prompted me to study Computer Science Engineering. I am so lucky with my career path because the technology industry is full of innovation and opportunities to make an impact on people’s lives.
Throughout my career, I have seen the Internet boom, introduction of smartphones, and now connectivity enabled by IoT, which will ultimately create a “Driverless World”.
It is true that the technology industry has some gender issues, and there are less women in tech compared to men. I have had good mentors along the way and had many amazing male colleagues who were respectful and supportive of women. I believe these colleagues have helped shape my confidence when I faced occasional issues caused by gender biases.
I have also been part of some women in technology groups including WITI and participating in these communities has helped me connect with a tribe of women leaders for inspiration and support. I volunteer and teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes for girls, and hope to help young girls who aspire to have a technology-related career to advance in their journeys ahead.
L: Is the IT industry currently a friendly place for female talent after all? What is the industry doing differently to enable a women-friendly environment?
S: There is a growing awareness in the Information & Technology industry about being proactive to make the environment more women-friendly and attract female talent. I am seeing more tech companies offering programmes such as “returnships” that retrain and hire mothers returning to work.
What I find most fascinating is that women are not waiting for anyone but helping themselves by organising local and international communities to help each other. Some of these groups are Women in Big Data and Women in AI Ethics (WAIE). WAIE publishes an interactive online directory of women working in AI ethics, and has opened several regional chapters to work with companies, education institutions, research and government agencies to make sure AI is built ethically.
Women are also self-organising groups to educate each other on current technological topics. The organisation Women in Data Science runs an annual conference at Stanford, and also has hundreds of satellite events led and run fully by women, while Women in AI runs global events called WAITalk.
L: As an experienced tech educator yourself, what are your views on some of the most pressing issues in education for girls, and what challenges will need to be tackled to facilitate the development of female talent in the tech industry?
S: Educating girls is fundamental in improving their lives, it can also make the whole society smarter. We need more programmes to inspire girls to study science and tech from middle school. If they see less of their peers going into tech, they will tend to skip science and maths for college.
Also, there is still a lack female role models in leadership positions in the society. But it does not mean there aren’t amazing and tenacious women around. We need to make an effort to bring visibility to their work so they can serve as inspiration to young girls. With that said, I teach professional development courses at Stanford Continuing Studies and DriverlessWorldSchool for free with the hope of encouraging and developing more female talent for the tech sector.
This interview is a part of Lynk Elite Expert Women interview series, click here to learn more about the initiative.