Each month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned. This month we had the great pleasure to virtually sit together with Nicole Büttner. Nicole is co-founder and CEO of MerantixLABS, a leading AI solutions company and member of the management board of Merantix, a machine learning based venture studio. She is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and was nominated as Young Leader by the Aspen Institute. Nicole trained as an economist and econometrician at the University of St.Gallen, Stockholm School of Economics and Stanford University and holds a MA in Quantitative Economics and Finance.
Tell us where you’re from and what your background is
I grew up in a village near Karlsruhe in Germany and studied Economics and Econometrics (M.A.) at the University of St. Gallen, Stockholm School of Economics and Stanford University. Now I am CEO and Co-Founder of Merantix Labs, a machine learning solutions provider, and board member at Merantix, a machine learning based venture studio.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
Responsibility, empathy, love for life. I am grateful that my parents showed me early on that if I see things I want to change I can take responsibility and change things. That has always given me the feeling of empowerment and agency and has inspired me to work hard to have impact. At the same time, they taught me it’s important to keep in mind the people around you and how your actions affect them and to always be grateful for the beauty, music and fun in life!
How did you become interested in tech?
I started my career in finance and first started working on software development at a company in Palo Alto, Auctionomics. There we designed complex auctions, built software and also employed machine learning methods. Working with the scientists and software engineers, I immediately clicked. I loved the way to approach problems and building products.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I am proudest to be part of my team. I work together with exceptional people and am grateful to be part of this exceptional set of people from whom I learn something everyday and who are just a bunch of fun and kind people that I enjoy spending time with.
What drives you at work?
I am driven by my curiosity and the motivation to have real impact. I love to learn new things and the field of deep learning is fast-evolving and there is still so much to achieve to translate this technology into useful and impactful applications in the real world.
You are working in the field of artificial intelligence – are there any topics you think more people should know about?
I am a tech optimist and I often feel that AI is displayed in a very dystopic one-sided manner. 99 out of 100 films end with “an AI” trying to kill all of mankind. I think it’s important for people to know that we are presently building models that operate within human-made constraints. Machine learning is a tool we can use to tackle the challenges of our times – be it for individuals, businesses or society as a whole. It’s up to us to put it to good use. Of course, every new technology can also bear risks and we need to discuss them and find common rules on how we want to use this tool.
Is there anything you wish you had known earlier or would advice your younger self?
Life doesn’t go according to plan and it ends up being the best thing that ever happened to you.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Probably similar advice that I would give to men. The industry is still forming and there are many opportunities to use this technology to create solutions for current challenges of people, companies and economies. So, if you are interested in the domain it’s still a great moment to join, dive deep and have impact.
Are there any books, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?
I love reading fiction in my free time, I could for example recommend “The Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson. I also enjoy listening to stories of entrepreneurs, e.g. on the podcast “How I built this”.
Who is your role model and why? and if you had the chance what question would you ask her?
I am sorry to say, but I don’t really have a professional role model. I find that almost everybody I meet I can learn something from.