Always say yes when everyone else says no: I spent eight years at BMC, where I started as a sales engineer and ended up running a $324 million book of business. That’s a pretty big progression in eight years. The only reason I managed this is that every time something would come up, someone else would say, ‘no, that’s not possible,” and I’d always say that we could at least try, there’s some way to do this, and I’d get it done. Saying yes when everyone else says no can be a huge advantage.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Tierney, the vice president of strategic sales at Symphony SummitAI, a leading provider of AI-enabled IT service management solutions. She joined the company in July 2018, having previously worked for WhiteHat Security, CyPhy Works and BMC, among others. Symphony SummitAI is a portfolio company of SymphonyAI, a group of companies that provide leading AI-centric solutions for transforming the business enterprise by driving revenue growth and operational excellence.
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?
When I was 9 years old, my neighbor got a Vic20 computer, which was pretty cutting edge at the time. We were playing Pong on it and I thought, “I bet this could do something different, something more.” I asked her dad if I could borrow the manual, and I went home and read up on BASIC programming. The next day, I went to my friend’s house and wrote a little program that would put my name across the screen over and over and over. That was sort of “it” for me in terms of technology. I was hooked. There was also a conversational AI game back in the 1980s that just recorded things and would try to simulate human conversation. I wish I could remember the name, but I loved that game, and it was my introduction to the most simple of artificial intelligence.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
I went off to college and got a degree in Management Information Systems. I started programming for a living, and I built some really cool things. I was part of that first generation of programmers who were out there building client-server technology. Then I got married and I had my first daughter, and I retired. I was a stay-at-home mother for six years, which I absolutely loved. And then I had the opportunity to get back into technology again with a company called nGenera. What I think my story shows people is that there isn’t one traditional path you have to follow to succeed. You can take that time to be a stay-at-home mother and still have a successful career in technology. You just have to have the passion and the desire to make a difference.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
At Symphony SummitAI, we’re working on tackling the problem of cold start in AI and that’s an exciting place for us. When you tackle that problem, you make AI “real.”
And this month, we’re launching the latest version of our AI-enabled service management suite. SummitAI Alps includes our new digital agent, CINDE, to help with auto-resolution of tickets and much more. It’s an exciting time.
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?
My dad is the person who has consistently believed in me. When I was a little girl who wanted to learn to program, he was there supporting me. Every time something positive has happened in my life, he’s been there cheering me on. Every time something negative has happened, he’s been there to help me up. He instilled the work ethic in me that has helped me achieve my personal and professional goals.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
First and second, AI has the opportunity to reimagine the way that people live and work. We’ve already seen this kind of thing in history. We saw it happen with the automobile. We’ve seen it with the television and with Netflix. And of course, we’ve seen it with the Internet. AI just takes it a step further, with all of the data that’s been collected over the years being leveraged to make people’s lives better and more enjoyable. That’s huge.
The third thing is that AI is really opening up opportunities for innovation that we simply didn’t even comprehend five years ago, much less 30 years ago. New ways of making products, new ways of developing new technologies, etc.
Fourth, and this is the biggest, AI is changing the world in ways that we can’t even always fathom today.
And I’d say the fifth thing is the opportunities that AI presents for improving the computer-to-human interaction model and creating a structure where we truly have digital colleagues.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
1. Top of the list is #aiwashing. Companies will claim they have AI-enabled capabilities when they really don’t. This makes me concerned that it will become harder to tell truth from fiction.
2. Potential for misuse: Like any technology, there’s the risk that this technology can be used for nefarious purposes.
3. The idea that it will rule the world and take people’s jobs: I think this fear is unsubstantiated. That’s not the way it will happen. AI will enhance people’s jobs and open new and different opportunities.
4. Lack of education: I’m concerned we aren’t educating high school students or even college students enough about AI, to the point where we are going to have a shortage of people in the workforce who can actually leverage these technologies.
5. That it will manipulate the way people think: AI doesn’t mean people can stop thinking for themselves and relying on machines. It’s a complement, not a substitution.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
In my role as a leader, I have the opportunity to influence the lives of many people, both men and women. One of the things I pride myself on is when my team is successful, when they get promoted and get raises, they are happier in their jobs because we all share a common goal.
I also volunteer to review resumes for women who are in cybersecurity to help them get the job interviews — and the jobs — they’re going for. And I love sharing my story because I have a non-traditional background — people don’t realize that you don’t have to have a linear path to success. The journeys with unexpected turns are often the most interesting and rewarding.
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. You don’t always have to follow the same path — there are other ways of doing it. I think a lot of women feel like they aren’t going to get into tech careers if they don’t follow one proscribed path, but that isn’t true.
2. Always say yes when everyone else says no: I spent eight years at BMC, where I started as a sales engineer and ended up running a $324 million book of business. That’s a pretty big progression in eight years. The only reason I managed this is that every time something would come up, someone else would say, ‘no, that’s not possible,” and I’d always say that we could at least try, there’s some way to do this, and I’d get it done. Saying yes when everyone else says no can be a huge advantage.
3. Don’t let anyone else’s attitudes or expectations get in the way of what you know is right.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
I think the biggest thing is that there need to be more opportunities offered, and there need to be fewer preconceived notions. As a whole, the industry must recognize that there isn’t a single path to success — different experiences bring different expertise. We also need events (trade shows and conferences) to be more egalitarian. It’s great to see tech events specifically for women, but what we really need is to promote more women getting involved in the big events — not just establishing special women-only ones. That will just make the divide worse.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!