Simone Larsson

Inspirational Woman: Simone Larsson | AI Strategy & Evangelism, Dataiku

Simone Larsson

Simone Larsson joined Dataiku in 2021 as AI Evangelist.

An MBA graduate of Cambridge and former AI Council Co-Chair for the British Interactive Media Association, Larsson brings 15 years of executive-level technology consulting experience to Dataiku.

She was most recently AI & ML Commercial Product Lead at Digital Catapult, the UK government and Innovate UK-backed innovation agency for championing the adoption of advanced digital technologies.

Additionally, Larsson spent five years at Accenture in Washington DC and London, where she led agile technology delivery and Phase Zero “art of the possible” AI projects. Prior to Accenture, she was a founding member of the UK and Ireland Business Transformation Strategy practice at Atos.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born and raised in the Caribbean, and I have spent my adult life living in the U.S. and U.K.

Following on from a first degree in Information Systems, most of my career has been in technology management consulting. After many years of being tech agnostic with my approach, I decided — around six years ago — to specialise in Artificial Intelligence.

My current role is as an AI Evangelist at AI platform Dataiku. In this role, I specialise in the challenges of implementing AI at scale across large businesses, AI Governance, Responsible AI, and strategic AI topics such as AI and sustainability. In addition to this, I work within the Governance and Responsible AI groups at Dataiku and I am part of the Women Leadership speaker series that will air in April within the Nordic region.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I would say that my career evolved organically.

When I finished university, I secured a position as a technology management consultant at Accenture. Over the years, I was very tech agnostic. This meant as long as I had a role with a technical element, I was passionate about it. In turn, I have gained experience in everything from ERP implementations to big data, to product, to technology strategy, all the way to technology service design.

Around 10 years ago, I became burnt out as a consultant and decided to obtain an MBA committed to forging a new path outside of technology. Halfway through my time at Cambridge Judge Business School, I was headhunted by Atos to join their newly forming Business Technology Strategy practice. In hindsight, I am glad that my time at Cambridge resulted in a return to technology consulting, otherwise I may not have pivoted to AI when I did.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

My career challenges have primarily been around microaggressions. As you can imagine, having a seat at the table at companies such as Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Atos meant that I was often the only woman and the only person of colour in the room.

Microaggression in the workplace can have a knock-on effect on confidence and increased impostor syndrome. While it took me years to overcome the effect of microaggressions, what helped was highlighting the behaviour in private to the person when the opportunity presented itself. My measured approach to addressing the behaviours meant I was able to address the issue with a clear head.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have two key achievements that I am most proud of. Firstly, I won a U.S. national award and was recognised as a Women of Colour in Technology Rising Star.

Secondly, whilst working at Atos, I led a project for the Federal Government in Nigeria on leveraging technology for Public Administration Reform. One of the outcomes of that project was being invited to present my recommendations to the Vice President of Nigeria and the Nigerian parliament.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Being strategic is one of my inherent superpowers. What I mean by this is that I’ve been able to quickly assess new roles to determine if they will add to the ‘bigger picture’ of my career aspirations. Being strategic about my career choices has been challenging in a consulting environment, so it was often a delicate balance between what I wanted and where the company wanted to place me on a project basis. Still, the battle was worth it, and I can’t imagine the alternative: being passive in my career and going with the flow.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Start by assessing where your current interests lie, find your niche, but also don’t get too attached.  A career in tech means that you will experience the birth and decline of many innovations. This means that the niche you may have found early in your career could be irrelevant in the next ten. My biggest tip is to stay hungry and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.

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Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Bias is the primary barrier to success for women working in tech. A few years ago, I was the portfolio manager for an AI programme at a U.K. Central Government Department. My deputy was fifteen plus years older and a male. When engaging with stakeholders, they often assumed that my colleague was the Portfolio Director, and I was his assistant. Such preconceptions will no doubt still linger today.

Around the same time, I participated in a panellist discussion that explored the barriers to success for women working in tech. I spoke with women (aged 55+) who shared their stories about the beginning of their career in tech during the 1980s. They noted that within this decade, there were around four times as many women working in tech at that time. I couldn’t help but imagine if those women stayed in their career and ascended to senior leadership?

To overcome this bias, men should become allies to resolving this issue. If more men supported and advocated for women in the workplace, a paradigm shift would be more possible.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

There are multiple things that companies can do to support women in tech, including initiatives such as Women in Leadership programmes that clearly define a path to leadership positions for high performers. Companies should also be highlighting stories of men choosing to stay at home with young children who then return to their careers, as opposed to assuming this is the mother’s role. It would also be great to see companies offering more workshops focused on bias in the workplace and the negative effects of ‘mansplaining’ — a phenomenon that gets compounded the more senior you are.

Finally, companies should be offering men and women in tech flexible working and incentivising working parents to partake in this benefit.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would say bias but also recognising the inherent differences of men and women and why increasing that number will always lead to a positive impact on the bottom line. Women think and manage differently, and harnessing these differences is what we should strive for.

We can’t have a deep change without getting out of the issues of bias. Otherwise, we will continue with small initiatives and patched solutions, rather than dealing with the root of the problem.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I don’t listen to many podcasts. After a long day, I prefer to unwind with a good book. This could be non-fiction, sci-fi, or whatever my alma mata Cambridge University’s book club is reading.

Online publications I would recommend include: Harvard Business Review, The Verge, Wired, and MIT Technology Review.

Networking events are always great! I would recommend CogX, AI Summit London, London Tech Week, Big Data Week, and South by Southwest in the U.S.

women in tech, soft skills featured

Inspiring Women in STEM this International Women's Day

Article by Noha Badawy, Data Scientist at Dataiku

women in tech, soft skillsInternational Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the fantastic accomplishments of women around the world.

Some of these female role models may have what seem like unobtainable achievements or almost unimaginable skills and talent, however, all of these women started off just like you and me.

As a career path and as an industry, data science and its associated opportunities are growing at such an unprecedented rate, that it can often be difficult to keep on top of everything that is happening, as well as every new technology popping up. However, as quickly as the sector is progressing, there’s a divide in that women data scientists are not entering and moving up through the field at the same pace as men.

Encouraging more women to apply for data science roles and transition to data science as a career is something I am very passionate about. It may seem an intimidating field, but what’s amazing is the number of people who came to data science from other fields: after all, we’re all consuming and interacting with data science at a much higher level than we probably realise.  I hope my own journey into data science can inspire other women to consider whether it’s a career for them, and that they receive the same motivation and encouragement I have received from my team along the way.

The Wakeup Call I Needed to Pursue a Career in STEM

As I started my studies, I thrived on studying anything that was put in front of me, however, when it came to choosing a degree and a career path, I initially put my interest in computer science aside and chose a business and accounting role. However, while working in project coordination for senior executives, which involved following up on some data projects actions and progress, I asked one of the team members for advice and they responded with information I didn’t understand. This was the wakeup call I needed to pursue a career in STEM.

It was in this moment that I realised that there was nothing stopping me from retraining as a data scientist and becoming the person who could understand what my colleague was trying to explain. Computer science had always been my original passion, and I decided that now was the time to embark on the master’s degree that would give me the knowledge and the skillset I needed to pursue that passion.

I already had basic knowledge of statistics and maths, but the evening classes for my master’s degree went much deeper. I grew up in Egypt, so the maths and statistics I covered in school were in Arabic. It initially felt like starting over and relearning from the beginning, but eventually it clicked. I graduated with a master’s degree in Business Intelligence and Analytics, which covered statistics, mathematics, data mining, machine learning, business and risk modelling.

It was from here that I shifted my concentration to more of a data science focus and began teaching myself Python, before beginning a full-time data science role. Now in this role, I focus on training and coaching. This not only includes demonstrating to others how to use the platform, but also teaching the art of data science. For me, this includes simplifying the concepts that I need to explain and finding relevant examples to help people understand. I also motivate participants to have the belief that data science isn’t out of their reach.

My own learning did not stop there, though. With the advancement of new technology, it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape. However, diversity in the data science industry is not necessarily advancing at the same pace. Most applicants for data science roles are men, which shows that many women are reluctant to take risks and apply for roles that they do not feel 100% ready for. More women need to be encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and to pursue their passion or a career that they did not initially consider to be for them.

One way to encourage more women into STEM roles is to cut out the negativity and noise that questions whether women can code, or if something is too technical. Many people are positive and helpful when it comes to women in data science, yet a large portion can still fuel the negativity and stereotypes around STEM being a male-dominated industry.

Because of this, it’s important to be relatable. For those looking to enter a data science – or similar – role, it is helpful to recognise that even the most experienced STEM professionals don’t fully understand new concepts first time around. Sometimes it takes watching several tutorials before the information is digestible.

Attending events and joining discussions can help to break down those barriers and to show women that there are many role models out there. My key piece of advice for a woman looking to enter the STEM sector is for them to recognise that they are just like everyone else with a passion to learn and develop their skills, so it is best to follow your intuition and ignore the sometimes negative and dismissive opinions of others.

About the author

Noha started her career at Barclays bank in Cairo as a Customer Banking Business Support Manager before progressing into a Data Visualisation and Data Science Role. At Dataiku, Noha is an accomplished Data Scientist with training in Machine Learning, Operational Research, Big Data, Business Simulation, Data Mining and Python.

In addition to her own achievements and challenges encountered in her career to date, Noha is passionate about giving advice to companies on building inclusive environments and how to best address the main difficulties encountered by women in tech today.