Today we have an interview with Kaitlyn WonJung Chang who is the COO at Kobza and The Hungry Eyes and also one of the founders of Women of Vienna.
We had a lot of amazing women from this community who were participating at the AI Congress and decided to talk with Kaitlyn about diversity in tech, impressions and favourite topics from the congress.
Kaitlyn, could you tell us please a bit about your initiative Women of Vienna, how/why have you started it?
Women of Vienna is a non-profit community of over 16,000+ women* living in or near Vienna, Austria, with the mission of making Vienna accessible, bridging communities and encouraging women*-led change. It started completely organically about four years ago as a Facebook group, but then has grown over the past few years to an amazingly active community and network of both international and Austrian women. Apart from the main Facebook group, we have 12 diverse subgroups and host about 15 offline events per month on a wide range of topics.
Also you have one of the subgroups, Women in STEM of Vienna, right?
Yes, one of these subgroups is WoVSTEM (Science, Tech, Engineering & Math), which was initially proposed by Ekaterina Fokina, who is herself a mathematician teaching at TU, and is currently one of the co-leads of the subgroup. She posted in the main Facebook group about being frustrated at seeing so few female colleagues in the conferences she goes to and got hundreds of comments from women in STEM fields who had felt the same frustration all their careers – and thus the subgroup was born.
Sounds great! How was the overall experience for your members who were attending the AI Congress?
We were absolutely thrilled to be able to host a ticket giveaway for the AI Congress! Our members from diverse STEM backgrounds ranging from space scientists, mathematicians, molecular biologists, software engineers, digital marketing experts, startup entrepreneurs and of course data scientists were able to attend the congress, be inspired and also network with others. We really appreciated the effort for diversity WeAreDevelopers showed us through this giveaway, and found ways to connect with each other through the Women of Vienna platform.
Kaitlyn, what do you find interesting/fascinating/scaring/etc about AI?
I personally find AI the most fascinating frontier of technological advancements today, and the black-box aspect of deep learning fascinates me even more, specifically because of that unforeseeable aspect.
I find AI fearmongers (“Robots will take all our jobs!”, “But what about privacy?”, etc.) similar to those who were opposed to the dangers of first automobiles and preferred the ‘safety’ of their horses. AI will be the default way of engineering in the near future, and I think we will soon start seeing more and more of “approachable AI” – making it easier and more DIY/intuitive for industries and companies to integrate AI into their businesses.
Which talk (or talks) were the most inspiring for you at the AI Congress?
There are so many! I really liked the talk by Sebastian Amsüss from Ottobock, a company that creates hand prostheses that are trained using AI. This talk was so inspirational that we even had people commenting words of encouragement and support (instead of questions) on the Slido Q&A section!
I also liked Milan Todorovic’s talk regarding DIY AI for iOS, specifically because I also firmly believe that the industry will grow more in this direction soon. Navid Rekabsaz from Idiap Research Center’s talk was also very interesting, because he did a wonderful job of explaining and visualizing how word2vec and word embedding models work in general, and thus showed us how easy it is for AI models to include an inherent bias.
What do you think about the current situation with f/m ratio in tech? How do you think it can be improved?
I recently finished an MBA program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the WU and TU in Vienna, where I wrote my thesis about the problem of gender ratio in the tech startup industry. It goes without saying that the female ratio in tech is overall much lower than in other industries, and there are entire bodies of research already done on why that is so – which happens to be a mixture of macro and micro societal and industry factors.
A very interesting stream of research suggests that one of the big factors at play are the stereotypical portrayal of tech to be existing for tech’s sake, or software engineering viewed as a domain of “cold, individualistic tasks”. This in general appeal less to women and ‘turn them off’ even before an interest to pursue a career in the field has really blossomed. This is highly unfortunate, because there is no industry that does not benefit from diversity. Diversity enables more clash of different perspectives and ideas, which always propels innovation forward.
A stronger emphasis on the purpose of the tech’s applications, or the societal impact of it, could be one of the many ‘remedies’ for tech companies who are looking to recruit more women. Communicate more in depth about the problem you’re solving with your tech and the impact it will have, instead of laying out 30 dry (and boring) skillset requirements on your job ad.
Understand that if you’re currently a male-dominated environment, you need to stop expecting your female colleague to conform to the working culture or value sets you’ve created, and instead keep communicating with them to optimize your workplace for less bias, less unintended discrimination and more gender equality.
If you can give an advice for a person who is interested in tech but doesn’t know where to start what would you recommend?
Go to conferences like AI Congress! Haha. But seriously, I think conferences are one of the best ways to get a crash course on an array of different topics, and to better gauge your own personal interest fields. Because when you’re at a point of thinking “I’m interested in tech”, what even is tech? There are so many countless different verticals and jobs within “tech” and I believe conferences and events like the ones WeAreDevelopers host are a really great way to get a sneak peek into the countless diverse opportunities there exist in tech.
Also, get to know people who are already in the field of your interest. Talk with them, understand their dreams and also their struggles. Start trying out small projects together with some of them to see what are the topics you naturally gravitate to more, or what you’d like to learn more of. Participating in casual incubator programs like Lemmings I/O for instance, where I’m a mentor at, could also be a really good way to start getting to know people in a more relaxed way.
Thank you Kaitlyn for your time and your answers!
Thank you Natalie!
Also, the talks from the AI Congress that Kaitlyn mentioned (and all the others) are already available on our youtube channel so you can grab your coffee and learn something new about AI, NLP and the future 🙂