Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!
I grew up in Hamburg but completed almost all my higher education in the UK. Today, I’m a political philosopher focused on tech ethics and work in the research department of IBM.
As I studied in the UK, my credo has always been that what I study doesn’t have to be geared towards my profession (an unusual perspective in continental Europe). It’s why, for example, while studying politics, philosophy and economics and, later, political philosophy (at the University of York, the University of Oxford, University of Zurich and Columbia University), I also worked in management consulting, at a health care company, for an international development corporation and led a blockchain start-up.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
To listen to and follow my intuition. For example, after my MPhil, the career consultant suggested that the perfect company with my background and aspirations for me to work in would be Rolls Royce. He was very insistent about me applying there, but I knew that this might’ve been ‘the right’ choice rationally, my intuition told me it wasn’t. And I must say I’m very happy how things turned out instead. Although Rolls Royce certainly is a great and innovative company, it wouldn’t have been right for me to embark on such a straightforward, traditional career path at the time.
Both of my parents are true role models in not following traditional career paths, they led by example.
How did you become interested in tech?
I was at the intersection of tech experts and non-tech experts in each different position that I held. I enjoyed being in this role as it allowed me gaining a deeper understanding of various technologies, from blockchain to software architecture to now AI and quantum computing. All while still making sure that I could “translate” these concepts to non-tech experts or people who aren’t intrinsically interested in tech, or may even skeptical towards it.
I stayed in tech and in this unique role because on one hand, I noticed that my perspective was different, and that my critical questions were appreciated and, on the other hand…
What drives you personally to work in the field of AI and quantum computing?
The work and research happening around AI is inspiring as it allows us to use classical computing in the best ways possible and to significantly accelerate, e.g., scientific research, by enabling scientists to quickly scan through information in hundreds of PDF publications.
Quantum computing, however, is shifting the paradigm of computing altogether. It enables us to address problems that we cannot explore with classical computers such as precise molecular simulations.
Both technologies enormously impact how we apply the scientific method to address our most challenging problems, such as the climate crisis or a pandemic.
However, I’ve noticed that there are many misconceptions around these technologies and their impact. Thus, seeing their potential is the key driver for me to work with clients and the general public to dispell misinformation and have a constructive discussion on the potential and risk of AI and Quantum Computing.
What decisive steps significantly influenced and shaped your career?
I enjoy being out of my comfort zone. To the extent that I seek contexts that I’m unfamiliar with and jump right in. This has led me to work in many different industries as well as to study and work in different countries around the globe – from New York City to Phnom Penh.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I would not want to restrict this to my work but generally that I have followed my path. I didn’t succumb to the many (!), often older, skeptics who would have preferred to see me follow a “traditional” career path like the one the career consultant at my old University proposed. Instead, I chose to work in areas I did not know anything about; first, the health care industry and, later, the tech industry.
What drives you at work?
For example, now my profession allows me to explore with different partners and clients how we can use future computing technologies to solve some of the most challenging problems of our time, such as drug development and climate change.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?
The speed at which these two aspects of our profession change is simply too slow for my taste.
How does digitization impact your and other women’s career opportunities?
This is difficult for me to answer as I’ve never experienced the professional world without digitization. One great advantage of digitization that might be particularly relevant for women is that it has allowed greater visibility for role models and made it easier to connect.
For instance, I find that professional networks online are very useful to help us see that there are no ‘straightforward’ career paths and to understand the stages behind very successful woman (and man). Seeing Online networks allow one to reach out to people one finds inspiring and ask them about specific positions or common interests. This level of insight and easy way to approach someone is uniquely facilitated by digitization.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
There are two things I wish everyone would take to heart: First, speak your mind and stand up for yourself. If this becomes a challenge reach out to any of us and connect. There are very supportive and inclusive networks for women in tech.
Second, please don’t listen to people who tell you that you should study or do XYZ so that you can work in ABC in the future. Times change and ‘unusual’ career paths will become the new norm. What truly counts is your passion for a given topic or job.
Are there any books, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?
There is a relatively new podcast by the NY times called Sway. Cara Swisher interviews influential people (mostly in tech) and asks them the all-important question: how do they use their power. It is an exceptional podcast in that she doesn’t easily let her interviewees off the hook, and you learn a lot about the personalities shaping the tech industry.
The other must-reads are Invisible Women and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.