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Profile: Alison B. Lowndes, Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations at NVIDIA

Diversity in the AI world & how imposter syndrome is vital!

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Alison B. Lowndes, Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations in the EMEA region at NVIDIA.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Alison B. Lowndes, Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations in the EMEA region at NVIDIA.

Alison B. Lowndes, Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations at NVIDIA

After joining and spending her first year with NVIDIA as a Deep Learning Solutions Architect, Alison is now responsible for Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations in the EMEA region. She is a mature graduate in Artificial Intelligence combining technical and theoretical computer science with a physics background & over 20 years of experience in international project management, entrepreneurial activities and the internet. She consults on a wide range of AI applications, including planetary defense with NASA, ESA & the SETI Institute and continues to manage the community of AI & Machine Learning researchers around the world, remaining knowledgeable in state of the art across all areas of research. She also travels, advises on & teaches NVIDIA’s GPU Computing platform, around the globe.

Find her on Twitter:@AlisonBLowndes.

What got you interested in technology?

My big brother started computing with the ZX81 and the Oric-1 around the age of 15 so I’ve been influenced by computing from early 1980s. I didn’t get my first PC till 1996, a month before my daughter was born & neither have been far from me since!

I definitely didn’t take a standard path. I was in the US, working, when I was meant to go to university, in 1988 and didn’t make it there for another 18 years, after having my two children. In that time I’d been travelling, setting up small businesses, spent a year in China, established my charity which never fails to inspire me. I spent time in the futures trading arena before I went to the University of Leeds to study Astrophysics and then, when my children were both in high school, Artificial Intelligence.

Both robotics and deep learning weren’t on the syllabus but I had a strong desire to learn more so I did an internship to cover virtual robotics and dedicated my thesis to deep learning.

I literally battled with my supervisor to research deep learning because it wasn’t on the syllabus. He told me I’d never be able to do it. He told me we didn’t have any GPUs. He told me everything I needed to prove him wrong! I wanted to cover deep learning specifically for healthcare as my wish was to help pave the way to personalised medicine. My mother died because of this.

I don’t do things by halves so it turned out to be a “how to” on the subject, with 15+ appendices! I applied to NVIDIA’s academic grant programme because I needed a GPU and despite getting multiple other job offers I joined NVIDIA straight after handing in my research. I didn’t even do my “cap&gown” thing because I was advising clients at the time, as NVIDIA’s first deep learning solutions architect in Europe, their first technical female too (in EMEA).

Since then I’ve never looked back and every day I learn something new from this field.

I haven’t had any real obstacles. While I wouldn’t recommend divorce, it was exactly that, that put me on this path. I think of it as jumping into my current parallel universe.

After 20 years in business I’ve also been privy to every kind of bad boss there is; the bully, the pervert, the power-tripper. I’ve simply moved on from each, learning valuable lessons along the way. I’ve had good bosses too so I’m balanced and grounded but I can be a little intimidating, I’m told by close male friends! I don’t really get involved much in the gender war as my battles are tied simply to injustice. Both my children went to maths and computer science specialist schools and neither are interested in AI, except as consumers. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own passions.

My big brother has been a huge influence. He went to the University of Edinburgh, studying Computer Science and was consulting in an office in the Empire State Building by 22. His knowledge of computing,  engineering & coding has provided him success his whole life. My mother also remains my major inspiration. I lost her suddenly in 2009 but,  in the 1960s she kicked off her Italian Catholic shackles and went to work for the European Space Agency. I am writing this from a plane en route (via Norway) from consulting with ESA for 2 days in the Netherlands. It’s always humbling to go there knowing she walked their halls over 50 years ago.

A day in Alison’s life

I am in charge of NVIDIA’s AI developer relations now which affords me the ability and space to keep ahead of the game on AI. I don’t spend time deep down in code anymore as its important for me to see the strategic big picture, something that comes naturally due to my time in astrophysics. Actually, I’m still a total Space geek.

One of the first things I did in NVIDIA was help set up the independent research accelerator (FDL) with NASA and the Director, James Parr. ESA now hosts the European arm. I’m also looking at the Space Industry as a whole and potential applications for AI — there are many!

I  constantly learn, reading 5-10 research papers a week and staying up to date with the field. I look after the top research labs in Europe and stay connected. In fact, my job is literally connecting the dots, between all of NVIDIA’s resources & the global AI field. I love it. No day is the same. When I’m not travelling I’m working at home which is highly effective for me.

Both my children are in university right now. I’m proud that I can be as big a positive influence and support to them as my own mother was to me. That drives me completely. I also have a certificate from the very first FDL .. an award for ‘assisting planetary defense’.  That’s pretty cool!

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

My take is that most women, naturally, aren’t drawn to what has historically been a male environment, or engineering. It comes down to nature and nurture. Mainly upbringing. Whatever career we take, women have to stop to be a good parent, even if it’s just maternity leave, but it is no easy feat to be a working mother. Trust me.

I was a lone working mother for over a decade, almost another decade with no parents either. When you have children your priorities also change, massively, as the mother. For fathers too but they have to continue to work regardless.  Someone has to. Roles can reverse of course. Mothers have a choice. That choice is tough, any which way. Especially for the not-so-wealthy mass population. Discrimination at any level is wrong but I guess I don’t have much sympathy for sexual discrimination as no one on this planet would get away with trying it on me.  Not everyone is that strong though. If it happens in my circles of influence then I become the Chinese Dog in me. Ferocious.

There’s a lot we can and need to balance out within AI but I always counter that any woman in this field is strong enough to count as 2!

The whole world would be way more empathic if more women worked in STEM. That encompasses a lot. Don’t get me wrong .. I personally know plenty of total b#tches. For some it got them where they are, others are just not that nice, but on the whole, women are nurturing. More of us in the workplace means more will follow. We also MUST balance out behaviour and understanding. Nature has a natural balance and we’ve lost that in tech. AI makes it even more profound.

Diversity is not a simple problem but country-wide deployment of educational programmes will lead to a new generation of workforce joining the industry knowing anything other than diversity is wrong and not worth being around.

Tech is not diverse. I know because Deep Learning Indaba only just kicked off in the last 12 months. We’re getting there though.

Obstacles

A lot of people talk about impostor syndrome but in my opinion, it is a vital feeling to keep. Over confidence is bad and feelings of inadequacy just need to be handled with constant learning. If you feel you’re not up to something, learn about it, research it until you do feel you can contribute. Make the time. It’s for your own health & sanity and ultimately benefit. No one knows everything & life’s too short NOT to be content.

Tips & tricks

If tech interests you then jump right in. Especially in AI. You can do a stack of courses for free online. It will be lucrative and exciting and will connect you to absolutely every industry society has. If you’re like most young graduates and you’re not that sure then it also leaves hundreds of open doors in front of you.

I recommend you read Tim Urban’s Career guide here.

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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