Nicole Janssen of AltaML On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI…

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Nicole Janssen of AltaML On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI Industry

An effective team. It’s not solely about the unicorn data scientist. Unlocking AI’s potential demands more than just technical know-how. It entails assembling a diverse array of skills and viewpoints to secure adoption, instill trust, and steer the organization towards triumph.

Artificial Intelligence is now the leading edge of technology, driving unprecedented advancements across sectors. From healthcare to finance, education to environment, the AI industry is witnessing a skyrocketing demand for professionals. However, the path to creating a successful career in AI is multifaceted and constantly evolving. What does it take and what does one need in order to create a highly successful career in AI?

In this interview series, we are talking to successful AI professionals, AI founders, AI CEOs, educators in the field, AI researchers, HR managers in tech companies, and anyone who holds authority in the realm of Artificial Intelligence to inspire and guide those who are eager to embark on this exciting career path.

As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing AltaML Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Nicole Janssen.

Nicole Janssen is a highly accomplished entrepreneur and leader in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). As Co-Founder and Co- CEO of AltaML, a leading developer of AI-powered solutions, she has driven the company’s success in diverse sectors such as agriculture, finance, health and energy. Nicole is dedicated to responsible AI (RAI) and has been recognized by the RAI Institute as a thought leader in its implementation. She has received numerous accolades, including being named one of North America’s Top 25 Women of Influence. Nicole is the Director at Edmonton Unlimited.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would like to learn a bit about your origin story. Can you share with us a bit about your childhood and how you grew up?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. From the time I was a teenager my mom was working as an entrepreneur and my dad who had a career in government, retired to start two successful businesses. I always felt surrounded by the entrepreneurial mindset, and the idea of not being an entrepreneur now, is simply not an option.

Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue a career path in AI?

It was not an active decision. We were looking at our existing business Janalta Interactive Inc., a digital media company, and how AI would or could disrupt that industry. It was from exploring our own opportunities with AI that we recognized the potential for AltaML. It wasn’t an active pursuit of the AI industry — we wanted to take a chance on exploring something new because if we were one of the first movers in that space that would be a gamechanger for us.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

AltaML developed a wildfire occurrence prediction system that is used by duty officers to inform wildfire pre-suppression resource plans. In its initial stages of the engagement, AltaML analyzed historical wildfire data to uncover new insights related to fire behavior during holiday weekends, variance in fire distribution, and occurrence trends between human-caused fires and lightning-caused fires, and scheduling trends that could be improved with a better understanding of short-term fire occurrence risk. The team then built a machine learning model which predicts the location and time of wildfires by leveraging weather, geography, seasonal trends, and fire indices data. While many AI models are in their infancy phase, this one is operational in Alberta and being looked at by other jurisdictions within Canada. The opportunities to expand this project are endless as it has demonstrated cost savings and value to daily operations during the wildfire season.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My Co-Founder and business partner, Cory Janssen. He is so different than me, and approaches problems in a very different way than I would, I certainly take more risks than I would without him. Together we bring a skill set that nobody else has because you can’t be that diverse of a human being.

As with any career path, the AI industry comes with its own set of challenges. Could you elaborate on some of the significant challenges you faced in your AI career and how you managed to overcome them?

Public perception of AI is the biggest challenge. The fear around AI perpetuated by media, misinformation, and some strong voices hinders the advancements of the technology. Right now, on average only 20% of models are actually put into production because of adoption challenges, a lot of that is related to fear and that makes AI very challenging. Whereas for us, our adoption rate is about 70% and we believe the main driver for that success is the time we take to enforce and educate those we work with starting from the bottom all the way to the c-suite, and those who work for us about AI literacy and responsible use of AI applications.

Ok, let’s now move to the main part of our interview about AI. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the AI industry now? Why?

The potential of AI is so untapped. This is going to absolutely be a gamechanger for every single industry and it’s very exciting to be at the forefront of that.

The emergence of some technology like ChatGPT have really brought AI to the mind of the average person, which it really wasn’t before, so I feel like we’re at a very interesting tipping point. I would say that when I look at where I think the biggest impact will be massive for society is in health. Workflows, medical imaging, diagnosis, and even post-op care will all be impacted by AI. The way we make our health care more preventative rather than treating symptoms will really shift.

But, at the same time those non-sexy use cases will probably be the most impactful. They’ll just end up happening in the background, they won’t be things you see or feel, but they’ll be making an impact in a deep and meaningful way.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why? What should be done to address and alleviate those concerns?

I don’t think it’s the AI industry that’s the concern. The biggest concern is responsible AI and how it is so new that there is no one right way to do it. So, a lot of companies, researchers, institutes, are trying to put forward what they feel are best practices, many of them very good but I think most people feel a little bit uncertain about what path to take and that makes me concerned that people will just not try because there isn’t clarity on it.

The answer to some of the most concerning uses, like the bad actors, could use AI for. The solution is actually with the AI in being able to identify those particular uses as false, whether it’s identifying deep fakes or whatever it might be, so my concern is that because of the potential risks, the pressure to just stop using AI is actually listened to. The bad actors aren’t going to stop, but the people who could come with a solution to this with AI would probably be the ones to follow the rules to stop, so let’s not tell them to stop.

For a young person who would like to eventually make a career in AI, which skills and subjects do they need to learn?

Any career you have, you need to understand the opportunities and risks of AI because it will be a part of every career. Some of the best people on our team come with a background in something else because that’s very applicable to the work we do. You have to understand the problems of other industries for AI to be effective.

As you know, there are not that many women in the AI industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women in the AI industry?

It goes all the way back to early on. It’s very hard to choose a career as a data scientist later in your life. But if we’re encouraging girls to pursue interests in STEM those who would have an affinity to it hopefully will carry that forward and reduce the perception of certain careers being classified as female or male. I see that shifting, and that’s promising, but it’s not something that we can make a massive change to unless we start when they’re young. But we can change the narrative, helping women succeed is up to all of us. The path forward for women to rise to the top is often more difficult, but we can most certainly do it and do it well. It’s crucial that we have that seat at the table. We need to help inform big decisions and shape the future for the next generation.

Ethical AI development is a pressing concern in the industry. How do you approach the ethical implications of AI, and what steps do you believe individuals and organizations should take to ensure responsible and fair AI practices?

AI presents the biggest opportunity for Canada of our lifetime, but ethical AI development is a massive topic and not one that everyone understands. It’s not just about data bias. The principles of responsible AI and ethical AI depend on education, sustainable development, fairness, transparency and explainability, safety and security, responsibility and accountability, and privacy and empowerment. Regulations are popping up around the world and the time is now to establish rules and a sound framework around the use of AI systems that are high impact, aligned, and ensure regulations are written clear enough to eliminate uncertainty. Anyone that works for AltaML or that we work with, is trained in the importance of RAI, and empowered to enact the principles through the development and deployment of AI solutions.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share the “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Understand that the biggest challenge for AI today is adoption and understanding what gets in the way of adoption.

There’s massive support in cast in making AI functional and effective. If you’re good at change management, if you’re good at software development, product management, project delivery, there’s so many things, but if you understand the potential and the risks of AI, you’re setting yourself up for success in the industry. The idea that you must have a technical background is in my opinion, false. I didn’t have a technical background when I got started. People need to be more open minded and aware of AI, and the opportunities for a career in AI will be there for them.

2 . Understand other industries.

It vital to understand pain points and challenges in other industries as it allows you to develop AI solutions that are specifically designed to address those issues. By understanding the unique needs of different sectors and organizations, you can create a more effective and impactful AI application that can ultimately lead to more opportunities.

3 . Take small bets.

The AI landscape is complex, and applications don’t adhere to a universal formula. By engaging in thoughtful experimentation, you can assess fresh concepts and technologies without an initial heavy investment. This approach will foster confidence, team buy-in, and nurture expansion through those small but invaluable wins.

4 . Continuous learning.

The AI domain constantly undergoes swift evolution, a fact that’s evident through the regular emergence of novel techniques and technologies. By embracing continuous learning, it will enhance your decision-making by keeping you abreast to the latest progressions and iterations. Expanding your knowledge and skill set is always valuable, we all have room to learn more.

5 . An effective team.

It’s not solely about the unicorn data scientist. Unlocking AI’s potential demands more than just technical know-how. It entails assembling a diverse array of skills and viewpoints to secure adoption, instill trust, and steer the organization towards triumph.

Continuous learning and upskilling are vital in a dynamic field like AI. How do you approach ongoing education and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the AI industry? What advice do you have for those looking to grow their careers in AI?

I recommend prediction Machines as well as a Coursera course called AI for Everyone as it’s an approachable way to introduce yourself to AI and ML. As for myself, I’m constantly reading newsletters, blogs and thought leadership articles from industry leaders within the tech space to stay up to date on what’s taking place within the sector and how it could apply to our operations.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.” -Richard Branson

It’s all about what works with my life. I really like to work Sunday afternoons; I like the feeling of starting a Monday morning with less in my inbox and feeling ready for the week but that’s just me. I don’t have any expectations that anybody else works then. And if I want to be at something that’s during the workday then I will be there and I encourage all of my team to do the same. It’s about outcomes not about hours worked or time of day that you’re doing things.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Nicole Janssen of AltaML On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.