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By Cecily Motley, CEO and co-founder of Harriet 

When I tell someone I work in AI, they immediately think I’m a tech whiz with advanced coding skills. This is simply not the case. In fact, I used to work in jewellery design. But I’ve now built a workplace AI tool and the most important skills I use daily (and where my talents lie) are soft skills like adaptability, creativity, and critical thinking, not coding.

The persistent “tech skills” fallacy is also why many believe working in AI is not for them. This must change, especially since the rapid expansion of the industry is making it one of the biggest growth areas for job opportunities. Not to mention that the majority of roles across every industry will involve an element of AI in the future.

For those coming from non-tech backgrounds who are looking to capitalise on the career opportunities available in the sector, it’s important to remember that technical abilities like fluency in programming languages or expertise in data modelling can be learnt.  The wealth of experience and transferable skills you bring to the table will be just as crucial if not more so, to help you succeed within the industry.

Plus, working in AI doesn’t mean having to be a machine learning engineer or a data scientist. Like any industry, there are a plethora of other types of roles needed to ensure AI companies can thrive. But what they all have in common – whether you are a data analyst or a marketing assistant – is the need to possess strong transferable skills. Here are the three that my experience has taught me are the most crucial to thrive in AI, and why.

Tech skills are important. But soft skills are crucial to thriving in an industry that’s all about innovation.

1. Adaptability

AI’s capabilities are expanding rapidly, so being adaptable to keep up with the pace of change is crucial. The AI a company builds, uses or sells will likely evolve. The way it’s used and who is using it could change, too. That’s why being agile and staying informed with the latest developments and use cases is crucial. If you’re in a sales role, for example, you’ll need to be able to understand new markets quickly, and pick up the vernacular of the sector easily, to sell to customers new industries. An AI engineer needs this same skill. They need to be able to adapt approaches in line with new capabilities, techniques or research around what the tech could do. Plus, the tech is the copyable bit really. It’s harder to copy brand.

2. Creativity and originality

Creativity is essential for working in AI; it’s an industry that’s constantly breaking new ground.  For those in leadership roles like myself, you need to be able to think outside of the box to spot new opportunities for growth and new ways the tech could be used. I also find inventiveness is key to marketing in AI. It takes creativity to find effective ways to communicate the benefits of a type of tech which many people still feel confused or scared about. It also takes creativity to make something complex, simple.

3. Critical thinking

No one knows for certain exactly what’s coming next for AI, which makes working in the industry exciting. It’s also why it’s an asset to be able to critically evaluate current trends, predict what’s coming next, and come up with strategies to evolve your work in line with potential developments. Critical thinking can also help you to address risks and develop solutions and safeguards to ensure your AI is responsible. Whether you are a developer or a founder who needs to convince investors of the long-term success of your offering, being able to think critically and problem-solve will stand you in good stead to succeed in AI.

Likewise, interdisciplinary thinking and an awareness of AI developments in various fields including enterprise, health or education is invaluable. Being able to see things through a completely different lens, will help spark ideas which can make your own work better. Like taking an AI use case from manufacturing and considering how a similar approach could be adapted and used in marketing.

Tech skills are important. But soft skills are crucial to thriving in an industry that’s all about innovation. They certainly have been for me.


For more information about Cecily read her inspirational woman interview.

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