Women Leading The AI Industry: “What scares people the most is exactly what I think is most exciting about AI — no one knows what the future looks like for AI.” with Marissa Ryan and Tyler Gallagher

What scares people the most is exactly what I think is most exciting about AI — no one knows what the future looks like for AI. In exactly the way that there has never been an entity like Facebook in existence before, there has never been advanced AI before, so we as a whole must remain open […]

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What scares people the most is exactly what I think is most exciting about AI — no one knows what the future looks like for AI. In exactly the way that there has never been an entity like Facebook in existence before, there has never been advanced AI before, so we as a whole must remain open to new advancements and tools, and stay open to the best ways to regulate and control them for the benefit of everyone.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marissa Ryan, Chief Marketing Officer at VisualFizz and Founding Member of Commoot. Marissa has years of experience in running agencies specializing in Digital Marketing and Media Advertising. In 2017, Marissa and her co-Founder launched VisualFizz, a digital marketing agency in Chicago, and in 2019, Marissa joined forces with the founding team of Commoot, a OOH advertising and data company. You can find Marissa traveling the world in search of inspiration, drinking strong espresso to fuel her biggest ideas, or at women in tech events in Chicago.

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 started my education in psychology, marketing, and design, and began my career in digital marketing shortly after graduating. I did not actually intend to be a “woman in tech”, but since technology is all around us and ingrained into nearly every aspect of our daily lives, being “in tech” is almost guaranteed to be synonymous with creating a product or launching a brand in some way.

My love of data and learning is what drew me into technology-based projects and opportunities. I was always deeply interested in the web and programming, and when combined with my business and marketing studies, this lead me to a path of internet marketing. I’m so grateful that my current company has really grown enough to allow me to explore other avenues of interest, such as building a marketing tool that analyzes all marketing channels on the web (this is in the works, stay tuned!) and joining the founding team of Commoot.

What really drove me to become an entrepreneur was the freedom to pursue the projects, topics, and industries that I wanted to pursue. If I want to explore an industry, I can do so relatively easily. If I want to explore my creativity a little bit, there is nothing stopping me from picking up a camera, writing a creative writing piece, creating graphics, videos, and media at any given time. This has taught me the importance of maintaining an open mind and watching out for new opportunities, regardless of the forms they take.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Other women who are interested in tech or entrepreneurship in the tech space can learn a few things from my previous experience. The main thing I recommend to women in tech industries is to find ways that help you stay inspired and smart about your industry. For me, going to really good conferences that go in-depth in my industry is really helpful in getting me pumped for the latest software release, search engine update, or global trend that affects marketing and martech. Traveling is also insanely helpful in preventing burn out and getting inspired. When I tell other women that traveling inspires me and my businesses, they complain that they have no one to travel with — traveling alone (safely) is wonderful and relaxing. It speaks to a higher point about being a woman in the tech space — if you want something, go after it, regardless of who may or may not be by your side on your journey.

I also learned early on that constant learning is incredibly helpful when pursuing a tech-based career. Even if what you’re learning is not directly related to AI or what you do for your career, getting your gears turning in that specific way can help you generate new ideas that are related. The idea for one of the startups I’m helping to found came about while sitting in traffic. Never stop learning and advancing your own brain — it will pay off in ways you might not expect.

It’s my goal to arm women in tech with all of the information they might need to make informed recommendations to their teams or companies. It’s also my goal to validate these women and encourage them to build up the thick skin that’s necessary to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Though gender bias is a hot topic at the moment, we as an industry still have a very long way to go before these biases are eliminated.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Sure! My most interesting project right now has got to be Commoot. Commoot is an Out-of-Home advertising platform that places billboard-like advertisements on the unused white space of semi truck trailers. We plan to really shake things up in both the logistics and OOH advertising industries. What’s even cooler about the company is that we’re building our own A.I. that will be able to gather an incredible amount of information from the roads that we drive on, from demographic data to the amount of foot traffic that crosses any given street, from the make and model of vehicles in an area to the number of people in that vehicle itself. This machine learning will allow marketers to make smarter, more informed decisions about their advertisements, and will allow us to learn more about the world around us in the busiest, densest areas. The more data our A.I. collects, the smarter it becomes. We’ve got a really incredible “dream team” to build up this A.I. and find all the possible ways to utilize the extremely valuable data that we’ll be collecting. This might be another instance where keeping an open mind about how to best data might come in handy!

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 first internship was at Wisconsin Public Service in the facilities department while I was still attending college. I had to keep vendor information updated for the facilities vendors, meaning the gardeners, the sewage companies, the parking lot pavers, etc. I turned up my nose to this job at first, because I saw myself in a shiny new ad agency high rise right out of college, not in the facilities department for the state. My parents encouraged me to pursue the internship, and I’m very glad that I did. I learned about RFPs and the bidding process for jobs. I learned about basic office communication, invoicing, and helping a variety of other departments so that we all could work more efficiently. I also learned just how archaic and outdated some of the more industrial areas of business are, and this has given me an inside look at the industries that I believe can benefit the most from machine learning. I’m very thankful that my parents encouraged me to pursue this internship, because without it, I would not be in the position that I am or have the attitudes that I do.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

For me, the most exciting aspect of A.I. is that it is always improving exponentially, and there’s absolutely no limit to what tomorrow brings. As a whole, what “A.I.” means today could be wildly different in just a month. Even though the concept of machine learning and artificial intelligence has been around for a considerable amount of time, It’s a little bit like the wild west out here, in the sense that incredibly helpful and innovative tools are just waiting for someone to create them. There is no wrong answer, there is no reason why someone can’t utilize machine learning to help them make smarter, more informed decisions about anything in the world. It’s incredibly exciting that anyone can come up with a concept and bring it to life, using data from machine learning.

I’m also excited that AI and machine learning are become more and more common in regular, every.day life situations. Adoption rates are a huge concern for any tech startup, so the fact that people are accustomed to hearing “machine learning” in everyday situations means that the population is that much more likely to actually utilize the tools that can benefit them.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

What concerns me the most is how concerned people are that ‘robots will take their jobs’ when they hear about developments in A.I. and machine learning. It’s a bit like having a Swiss Army Knife but refusing to use it, because you’re accustomed to a dull homemade blade that you made 30 years ago. Technology, especially machine learning, is in no way shape or form every going to eradicate the need for humanity. Jobs, requirements, and training might shift and change, but humanity would be doing ourselves a disservice if we were afraid to use the tools that were available to us and we did not also shift and change.

I also think it’s very concerning that there is so much political debating happening in the industries that need A.I. the most. For example, A.I. based environmental startups could help to offset the effects of climate change, but the lack of funding from government bodies prevents these startups from reaching their full potential.

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?

My position is that AI can really only help humanity to move forward as a smarter, more informed human race. Just like any other industry, some rules and regulations will need to be in place, and it’s extremely likely that these rules and regulations will need to shift and change as the landscape changes and grows. I think the fear of artificial intelligence from sci-fi movies makes people think that robot overlords will reign one day, but what this actually looks like in reality is much more realistic and much less scary. This means things like Alexa and Google Home, not a rogue cop saving humanity from a fleet of robots.

What scares people the most is exactly what I think is most exciting about AI — no one knows what the future looks like for AI. In exactly the way that there has never been an entity like Facebook in existence before, there has never been advanced AI before, so we as a whole must remain open to new advancements and tools, and stay open to the best ways to regulate and control them for the benefit of everyone.

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?

There needs to be a specific branch of government or legislation dedicated to learning how best to utilize technology and AI in everyday life. To use Zuckerberg as an example again, his interviews with the US government were almost comical to watch, because the people interviewing him knew so very little about the technology they were holding against him. Interviews with Google are similar; the person representing machine learning tools often has to educate the interviewer on the very basics of technology. If there were a group of official representatives that had a deep understanding of how these tools and AIs work, we could do more and advance even more quickly. More education about just how useful and non-threatening machine learning and AI is would benefit both government officials and the public alike.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

Commoot plans to incentivize fleet owners to allow us to lease out their trailers for Commoot ads. While this doesn’t seem impactful at first, it means that fleet owners are able to make a higher profit from driving. This helps to offset the huge, ever-growing shortage of drivers, which helps to offset the cost of moving freight on the road. By offsetting the costs of freight, we are helping to prevent everyday products (and even food) from reflecting the high cost of movement and shipping.

From a personal viewpoint, there are a few core women in my career that have given me the drive and power to grow and advance my career. I hope to do the same for other women that are interested in machine learning and AI. Everyone brings a really unique perspective to the table, but sometimes, we doubt our own worth or abilities. It’s my mission to show other women that you can have a successful career with what they are doing right now, and the world is just waiting for them to create something amazing.

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. Attend Educational Events and Conferences

There is nothing like hearing from experts in your industry (the one(s) you really like!) to get you excited and reinvigorate your passion for what you do. While there are plenty of conferences out there that likely aren’t worth your time, you’ll probably be able to find some gems with a little research. If high conference ticket pricing is a concern (I work for myself, so I know the pain!), try reaching out directly to the conference to see if they have pricing options. You may be able to become a speaker, an exhibitor, a conference volunteer, or they may at least be able to extend a discount. I was recently at Collision conference in Toronto, and they extended a severely discounted ticket to me for being a woman in tech.

Attended events related to what you’re passionate about also shows you how many people there are just like you. Sometimes, when you’re the only female on a team, seeing other females kill it in their careers gives you the confidence to kill it in yours.

2. Stay Open to New Paths and Change

Keeping an open mind in regards to your career and goals is an important factor in the tech space. There are hundreds of ways to approach the same problems, and there really is no wrong answer as long as you are advancing your career and growing in a way that makes you happy. A great example is my manufacturing experience. There is nothing sexy about industrial blades, logistics, machinery that removes chemicals from the air, or asphalt paving, b[1] ut a deep knowledge of machinery and industrial-based brands has allowed me to find opportunities to innovate in these spaces.

Don’t be nervous about having less than glamorous brands on your resume and under your belt. Often times, these are the industries that need smart, innovative people to utilize tech to improve them.

3. Prioritize Your Side Projects

Athletes and coaches recommend cross-training your body for peak performance, and I recommend the same when it comes to your brain and professional development. Side projects and side hustles don’t have to be just other ways to make money. A side project can be a book you’ve been meaning to write, a mission you’ve been wanting to support, a volunteer program, anything. Too many times, I’ve started something creative or fun or innovative, only to have it fall by the wayside to my daily grind. Choose one day a week (or even 1 hour a week) that you commit to prioritizing your side projects. You’ll feel more complete and proud of what you’re doing, and you’ll be able to prevent burn out.

4. Exercise

Confidence is absolutely key to succeeding as a woman in the tech space. Confidence in yourself will shine through into nearly every aspect of what you’re doing. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your professional development is to exercise regularly. Don’t worry about “staying in shape”, or “losing weight”, your appearance is not nearly as important as taking care of your health, body and mind. Find a form of exercise that allows your mind to relax and is fun and engaging for you. The confidence you’ll find, in addition to the added endorphin boost, will help you go into your industry with that much more passion, drive, and authority.

I highly recommend yoga and/or meditation for everyone, but especially for those in high-demand tech positions, and especially if you’re a women in this space. We deal with a constant bombardment of extremely frustrating situations, and having a longer fuse means you’ll be able to outwit and outsmart the people causing those frustrations.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Trust and mentorship. If you’re a male in the tech industry, you need to trust that the women around you are just as capable as you are. Men can help the inequality of women in the workplace by encouraging their ideas and allowing them to have a seat at the table. This means saying “What are your thoughts, Megan?” rather than saying “does anyone have any input?”. This means if a female colleague brings an idea up, you should say “let’s test it!”, “let’s give it a shot”, “can you explain your thinking further during a meeting with the team next week?”, etc. Give your female coworkers space to perform, intentionally and consistently.

If you’re a veteran in your industry, look for opportunities to mentor and nurture those who are newer to the industry. Chance are, you had help in getting to where you are, so send the elevator back down and encourage those who show potential (and give women a chance to show that potential!).

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

One of my favorites is “The trouble is, you think you have time.” I find this motivating to do the interesting, cool, or exciting things that you want to do now, because life is short and humanity is made better when people take advantage of their time right now.

Another quote/phrase I love is “You’re ready now.” Too often, we put things off because we aren’t ‘ready’ to do them. In my life, if I had waiting to move to a new city until I was ready, I never would have ended up in a city I love. If I had waited until I was ready to switch careers and build my own business, I never would have started. Just start, just begin, and the rest will fall into place.

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 love to get a chance to speak to the AI team at Google. I’ve worked in SEM and SEO for the majority of my career, and they are doing some really incredible things with machine learning and AI.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on twitter at @marissaryan25, or Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/marissaryan1/! Say hello. 🙂

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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