Thanks to AI advances in hardware and software, we will soon see self-driving and self-flying vehicles. I believe these will yield profound benefits for our society. Many lives will be saved that are lost today. Traffic jams that lengthen travel times will be reduced or eliminated. Non-productive driving time will become valuable work / leisure time.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing, Paula Sanders, Vice President of Global Customer Enablement at ABBYY, a leader in content intelligence solutions and services. Paula is responsible for a global team of presales engineers who work directly with Fortune 1000 companies to build AI-enabling point-of-concept projects. Paula and her team apply their deep technology, industry and product knowledge in support of ABBYY’s dedicated sales organization. Their mission is to help close deals and ensure new customer success.
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?
I began my career in the banking industry during the 80s. I initially worked with word processing workstations as they first entered the enterprise. I was doing setup, configuration, and training that enabled our organization with both word processing and imaging functions. I had a natural talent for understanding how products and technology worked and developed strong relationships with colleagues and customers. From there, I evolved to working with and selling software that digitized documents and automated business processes.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
I would say two things: First, in the technology arena it helps to have a “need to know” sense of curiosity about how things work. Second, and this is true for all careers, an interest in people and developing inter-personal skills in order to build business relationships.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I’m very excited about the Remote Process Automation capabilities that ABBYY’s solutions help to enable. This area of AI is really taking off and I get to enjoy working with several early-adopters and vendors. I am also pleased to be in a position to influence ABBYY’s future product development because I am able to ensure that our engineering teams view their work through the lens of our end-users’ needs.
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?
There are two people without whom I would have never been successful. First, I am grateful to my mother who pushed me to teach an adult night school class in Electronic Word Processing. Having that credential on my resume lead to my first full-time IT job. Next, I am forever grateful to the late Charles Madenford — an outside software sales professional who took me under his wing. Charlie was a wonderful mentor and educated me in solution selling. Over the years we worked together at multiple companies and closed many deals. I attribute much of my reputation to my friendship and partnership with this remarkable man.
What are the things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
There are 3 that I am most excited about:
- Thanks to AI advances in hardware and software, we will soon see self-driving and self-flying vehicles. I believe these will yield profound benefits for our society. Many lives will be saved that are lost today. Traffic jams that lengthen travel times will be reduced or eliminated. Non-productive driving time will become valuable work / leisure time.
- Speech and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are continuing to evolve and enhance the ways in which we interact with technology. We can now “talk to” our computing devices (smartphones, PCs, etc.) rendering them more efficient for tech-savvy users — but more importantly, more accessible to non-technical humans. Several Virtual Assistants are now household names such as Siri and Alexa, and the list of home devices to connect and interact with them continues to grow.
- AI is creating new technology jobs and revolutionizing how enterprises meet their IT needs. Fueled by a six-fold increase in venture capital investment, the number of jobs requiring AI-related skills has more than quadrupled since 2013. Machine Intelligence is giving rise to Low-Code and No-Code development platforms, enabling “citizen developers” to build professional-grade applications with little formal software developer training.
What are the things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
On the flip side, the 3 I’m most concerned about:
- Avoiding another “AI Winter”. An AI Winter is a period of declined interest, funding, research and support for artificial intelligence and related areas. AI has suffered two such downturns since research first began at Dartmouth College in 1956. Much has been written examining the root causes of these past experiences and a number of these causes have been overcome (such as insufficient computing power and funding issues.) My opinion is that enterprise adoption will ultimately decide whether the current surge persists long enough to avoid a future chill.
- Socio-Economic Impacts. No doubt smartphones and social media have demonstrated how rapidly emerging technologies can influence our society. Yet, we are still working to understand all of the nuances of those specific impacts more than a decade after their appearance. By comparison, AI promises an impact far greater. For example, some researchers have estimated that 49% of jobs will be rendered obsolete by AI within the next 20 years. More worrisome perhaps are the types of jobs expected to be most affected — lower-end, relatively un-skilled workers. What will become of these people? How will federal, state and local governments deal with what might become very high unemployment and significantly reduced revenues? How will societies deal with a widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”? This is just one of myriad issues being explored within the Transhumanist ideology / philosophy. The risks are real, non-trivial, and complex.
- Staying relevant as a technology worker. The velocity with which AI technologies are evolving and in some cases deploying and maturing, the need to be familiar with the AI domain in general, and at least one or two sub-specialties in particular, is a technology worker’s imperative. The job that goes to AI could be your own!
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?
As I mentioned previously, I believe the potential pitfalls of advanced AI are the socio-economic impacts. How will societies deal with radical shifts in the job market and a widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”?
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?
I think we can learn from what we’re seeing with Social Media. Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube have disrupted how we communicate, socialize and interact. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) has said that he sees some level of government regulation as “inevitable.” The challenge will be implementing any regulation deemed necessary very slowly and carefully. Otherwise we risk “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I financially support many charities and donate my time to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America. But truly I feel that working in technology brings goodness to the world. The solutions I’ve sold and delivered over the years make people more efficient and effective in their work — allowing them to accomplish more value in less time. And this, in my view, is good.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
· Continue to dive deep into your company’s products and services as well as those of your competitors and adjacent industries.
· Look for ways to be a valuable contributor to your company beyond what you’re paid to do.
· Be willing and prepared to be hands-on with products and technology. If possible, work directly with customers and support your colleagues.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
There’s a significant body of research that suggests that, in general, women gravitate toward professions involving people and relationships more than those that involve “things” like software and hardware. Developing and establishing relationships is very much an important skill in the tech/AI industry.
For tech companies hiring for a technical position, it’s very common to appeal to the candidate’s love of tech by describing the cool products and technologies they’ll be working with. In order to attract more women into tech jobs, one approach I recommend is to highlight the people and relationship aspects first, before getting into the tech aspects. For example, if hiring a developer, talk about the agile methodology and team-focused processes. If hiring a sales engineer, describe the prospect, customer and sales rep relationships.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” There have been many times in my life that I felt unsure of my abilities in one area or another. This is a natural consequence of personal growth. As we progress through life and career we must learn to step outside of our comfort zone. It helps to look for and form relationships with mentors who can guide you.
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. 🙂
I would choose a movement that works to re-imagine our K-12 education system. Much of the current system arose from the industrial revolution of the late 19th century. It’s high-time we account for our 21st-century realities whereby everyone has a powerful computer at all times and online access to what might be characterized as the “whole of human knowledge.” The need for memorization of facts and figures is obsolete.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on LinkedIn:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!