Create your own chance at bat — Do your homework and be ready to share your ideas and back them up. The best prepared person in a meeting often gets the floor.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tatiana Mejia, Head of AI Product Marketing & Strategy, Adobe. Tatiana leads product marketing and strategy for Adobe Sensei — the company’s AI and machine learning technology focused on solving digital experience challenges across creativity, marketing and digital document realms. She has more than 15 years of experience in machine learning, digital marketing, social marketing, and SaaS. Tatiana was also recognized by Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2018 as one of the “top Silicon Valley women in AI” and holds a MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
After college, I went into consulting. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a broad view of many industries and the challenges they were facing. In many ways, it felt like an extension of my formal schooling. When I went back to Stanford for my MBA, I had context and curiosity. After taking an ecommerce class during my first year, I decided to pursue a career in technology. The Internet was changing everything, and I wanted to be a part of it. I joined Adobe as part of a path-finding group in what is now Adobe Document Cloud. It was a heady time. I launched nine online services in three years including a digital office suite, a streamlined personal web conferencing service, and “Creative Review” — a pre-cursor to what is now Adobe Creative Cloud. I learned a lot about the work and opportunity in marketing online services with data-driven marketing. When Adobe made two key acquisitions (Omniture and Day Software), I joined the newly formed Digital Marketing Business Unit (which now runs Adobe Experience Cloud). A few years later, AI and machine learning was beginning to change the game once again. To broaden my horizons, I left Adobe to pursue a series of AI and machine learning startups, only to return to the company in 2016 just prior to the launch of Adobe Sensei, our AI and ML technology.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
Have a North Star and embrace change. The next step in your career may not be immediately obvious, and in some cases it may not exist — yet. That is true now more than ever. What matters most is clarity of vision, curiosity and perseverance. My passion lies in the intersection of relationships and technology. That was as true when I wrote my thesis on the use of online support groups for managing chronic pain, as it is today when I am thinking about how AI and machine learning can help brands create, deliver and optimize digital experiences.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Adobe Sensei, our AI and ML technology, is purpose-built for digital experiences and focuses on three intelligence domains: creative, content and experience. Today, it is powering dozens of features across all of Adobe’s products, but I am most excited about what is coming next. For example, we are working to infuse AI into new mediums like augmented reality (AR). Last summer, we hosted the Festival of the Impossible where dozens of creative artists used AR with other creative tools to convey their vision. One of the artists described it as a “collective hallucination” and I agree! AI is the key to enabling AR to interact with the physical environment in a multidimensional way — bridging the analog and digital worlds. Object recognition and tracking, gestural input, eye tracking, and voice command recognition combine to let you manipulate 2D and 3D objects in virtual space with your hands, eyes, and words.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for the guidance and mentorship from Professor Haim Mendelson at Stanford. I took his ecommerce class during the first quarter of my MBA program. I remember a lecture where we talked about the broad impact of the Internet on retail — from offers to inventory to shipping costs and how the impact all came back to customer lifetime value. While technology was changing everything, the goal remained the same. I have never forgotten that.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
(1) Democratization of creativity — I recently read Big Magic and one of the things that Elizabeth Gilbert discusses is how many people stop taking risks or don’t stay with something long enough to bridge the gap between what they see in their mind’s eye, versus what they have the skill to create. I believe AI is going to make it easier to create, experiment and ultimately inspire more of us to be creative.
(2) Healthcare — Advances in detection of disease are giving many people a second chance through early detection. That same kind of accuracy to all kinds of imaging, including the everyday X-rays, will improve the quality of care.
(3) Document understanding and summarization — The Internet gave us access to the world’s information and high-quality search helped us find what we were seeking. AI is going to help us understand it and learn from it.
(4) AI for disaster relief — Everything from crowdsourcing translation for emergency response to identification of epidemics.
(5) Self-driving cars — It’s hard to live in Silicon Valley and not be fascinated by the Waymo cars calmly navigating our narrow, offset streets at random hours.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
(1) Perpetuating bias through lax standards — Machine learning is trained on data. Which data sets we use, how the data is labeled, and how representative it is — this is something we need to constantly review and discuss.
(2) Unseen implicit tradeoffs and lack of transparency. — As we use technology to improve our lives, we need to understand how the underlying decisions are made. The industry push is explainable AI brings this to the forefront. For example, in digital marketing, ideally the practitioner is able to set the goals that a model is optimizing towards, choose which variables are used, and understand what is driving a particular recommendation.
(3) Underserved populations — What happens to our language and cultural diversity if AI only represents dominant world languages? This is where approaches that use crowdsourced training give me hope.
(4) (Re)training of the workforce — As AI and machine learning help us streamline or automate repetitive tasks, the jobs of tomorrow will be more about problem solving, strategy and creativity. As a professional and parent, I’m thinking about education approaches and technical literacy.
(5) Robots in conflict situations — How do we ensure that humans are making the ultimate decisions when human welfare is on the line?
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
AI is a tool we developed and, as a community, we are responsible for guiding how it is created and how we use it. The technology in and of itself is neither good nor bad.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
At Adobe, we talk about our AI serving the creator and respecting the consumer. We are closely examining issues and implementing processes and guidelines for data privacy, data governance, data diversity, and more. This is where it starts — with education, transparency and an open, ongoing dialog. We also occasionally introduce experimental AI-powered technology “sneaks.” This is where we can share new potential features and capabilities, some of which never make their way into products, so that we can get real, immediate feedback from our customers and community about what those innovations mean to them — what’s useful, what can be improved, and what can be more impactful and meaningful to creatives and marketers.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I mentor young professionals. In many ways, I am a testament to the American dream and to the many people who believed in me. I kept in touch with my seventh-grade math teacher, Ms. Elena Pesola. When I was a high school sophomore, she bought me a PSAT review book and paid for my test registration. She saw something in me that I did not. That standardized test changed everything. I was one of eleven National Merit Scholars that year and suddenly my dreams got a whole lot bigger. I hope to pay that forward by believing in others.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
(1) Create your own chance at bat — Do your homework and be ready to share your ideas and back them up. The best prepared person in a meeting often gets the floor.
(2) Define what success looks like (for everyone) — While AI may be about technology, we are applying it to a problem. Determine the user requirements and go from there.
(3) Failure broadly defined is part of the process — Learn from setbacks. Figure out what needs to change to get you or your project to the end goal and iterate. This is a marathon; resourcefulness and grit are everything.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
Representation. The topic of women in the AI industry is part of the conversation of increasing diversity in STEM. We need to continue creating opportunities and mentorship especially in emerging technologies.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
My favorite life lesson quote is actually a poem by Antonio Machado. One translation is:
Wanderer, your footsteps are the road and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.
Walking makes the road, and turning to look behind
you see the path that you will never tread again.
Wanderer, there is no road, only foam trails on the sea.
This poem inspires me when I am at a crossroads to go forth. I read it when I was a girl getting on a plane to emigrate to the United States from Colombia; when I moved to California to attend college at Stanford; when I left corporate America to pursue my startup dream even as a single-income family. That fist line has become something of a mantra for me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One of my favorite AI-impact stories is about a cucumber sorter that a student built for his father’s farm using TensorFlow (an open source machine learning framework). My point is that people will create amazing things that are tailored to their communities’ specific needs when they are given the tools and knowledge to do so. I would not so much start a movement as I would continue to participate and support the ones already underway. Open source technology and online learning platforms are critical to putting AI and machine learning into the toolkits of the masses…even a cucumber farmer.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!