Connecting the Dots

GWC Students Meet With AI Thought Leaders to Learn About Their Career Paths

Panelists discuss their AI careers.

Panelists discuss their AI careers. From left to right: Microsoft Program Manager, Inclusive Learning Courtney Hodge, BSA Director, Policy Shaundra Watson, SAP Senior Director Winter Casey, Adobe Director, Associate General Counsel Amanda Perrot, and Autodesk Director of AI Research Dr. Tonya Custis.

With artificial intelligence growing in recognition and interest, organized a panel of AI experts to explain how they became involved in AI and how their careers led them to their current roles.

Girls Who Code participants had the chance to listen to five women who have paved their own way to excelling in AI policy, research, and more.

BSA’s AI policy expert and Director, Policy Shaundra Watson moderated the discussion with Microsoft Program Manager, Inclusive Learning Courtney Hodge, SAP Senior Director Winter Casey, Adobe Director, Associate General Counsel Amanda Perrot, and Autodesk Director of AI Research Dr. Tonya Custis. The speakers spoke to their background and how their education experience impacted the way that they were able to break into the AI field.

“I began my STEM journey in college by getting a degree in mathematics, and I used that to go teach mathematics in high school,” Hodge said. “Now, I help make sure that everyone has these all-important skills in AI and technology as we move forward in a new era of technology.”

The panelists discussed how career paths aren’t necessarily linear and advice for getting into the various aspects of the artificial intelligence sphere. Dr. Custis has researched AI for 15 years and graduated from college with a degree in music performance and then a PhD in linguistics. Connecting all of these interests is the commonality of patterns, which is one of the reasons why she turned to AI after she learned how to program.

“AI is inherently interdisciplinary,” Dr. Custis said. “There are jobs for every personality and job function.”

Casey discussed throughout the conversation how enthusiasm about the potential of innovation is a key to success in pursuing a job in AI.

“It’s critical in the US and worldwide that students are trained to do these jobs of the future, and the more of you learn about AI, the more equitable jobs will be,” Casey said. “I wasn’t naturally trying to find technology jobs — I was interested in government and international politics at first — but it allowed me to creatively package my skills.”

Watson prompted panelists to think about how they overcome an obstacle women face in the workplace. Some speakers pointed to unconscious bias as a reason why women might think that certain people’s opinions are more worth hearing in meetings than others and encouraged the students to honor their intersectionality and make sure their opinions are heard.

“Sometimes the biggest obstacle is ourselves,” Perrot said. “We sometimes silence ourselves because we don’t believe in ourselves, but having trusted mentors and peers can help us overcome this.”

Students asked engaging questions about artificial intelligence current events and learned about being a woman in the workplace, as well as how to achieve success through different career paths.

Check the Connecting the Dots blog for recaps on the partnership sessions during the Girls Who Code 2023 SIP.

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Gideon LettGideon Lett
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Gideon Lett serves as Vice President & General Manager of the BSA Foundation, overseeing the Foundation’s programs, operations, and outreach.

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