What has been the most interesting discovery you have made about your job?
Once upon a time, I figured all careers followed logical paths. Along the way, I discovered my story doesn't have to make sense. SSSAS taught me first: You can follow any passion you want at all. You can pivot. It's fine. You don't have to be just one part - you can be all parts.
In high school, I would say I was an art geek and math geek. I studied neuroscience and visual art at Duke under a humanitarian impact scholarship and had no idea that would lead me to work in Artificial Intelligence and tech product management. In college, I was focused on fulfilling a very different dream - going from a pre-med program to living across Spain, Panama, and Argentina, then landing a real job in Latin America. I was obsessed; there was a period of time where I stopped speaking much English. I joined big tech companies and began working on emerging technology, first at Nokia then Google in California and Mexico. The dream was: office job, foreign languages, palm trees, and empanadas, to free the soul a little and work on a project that would affect millions of people...at the time that was spreading the mobile internet. After living in Mexico City for a few years, I met a woman who told me: “Go fulfill your next dream!” so I left to work as a Creative Director in Tel Aviv, thinking of hilarious ideas for YouTube videos in Israel. That was my job. There was a war going on that summer; I didn't stay. I had fallen in love. I definitely left my heart in Tel Aviv - so much imagination and energy there. I went back to school to study Engineering Management and Innovation at Stanford, then came to London to lead business development projects in A.I. for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa working to help build the Google Assistant. I'm married now (to a Brit - we got married last year in Sicily) so whatever's next will probably be about raising kids. I left the U.S. eight years ago. One of these years I'll finish my “big semester abroad” but it was worth it.
Now, success is a zig-zag. When life forces you in a new direction, success is *making* it a blessing in disguise. In your 20s, the best you can do is follow your heart and set yourself up expansively - slow down later. Life is fast, but life is long. We have a lot of chances in life to start over if we choose to and to walk away from anything that becomes stagnant or toxic. I had no idea about any of this when I was in school. I speak a lot at conferences about the lightning pace of societal change. Just like business can change as quick as the wind, you can radically transform yourself many times, and it often will happen whether you like it or not, so embrace change and be more true to yourself with every step.
What do you believe is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Building virtual teams is hard, it's isolating: computerized human communication is a terrible replacement for face-to-face time, period.
In the era of machine intelligence, human empathy, instinct, and emotional intelligence is more important than ever. Machines are tools, but not themselves the answer; what we need to look for now is how to nourish people and protect the basics for society in this new environment.
How does a generation get past this type of isolation? Look into the past - radically scrape away the noise. The physical world is not the default for a lot of folks. We have to re-train ourselves to live without technology to stay balanced. Build physical things with people we care about.
More and more I admire people with physical, manual, or face-to-face influence skills; old fashioned, local, artisanal jobs. After you work in big tech for over ten years digitizing everything, there's a point when you wake up and realize that all that matters is the basic stuff - fresh food, community, family, sense of hope, and safety.
I get homesick! All this time invested into becoming a foreign me, “Alicia”, and I end up missing the American South like none other - there's just nothing quite like being part of a local culture and community. So I make cornbread at home and got a banjo for days when I'm craving that American feeling. I'm also grateful to have a great husband who keeps me grounded.
When not using the Google browser, what is your second favorite search engine?
The Google Assistant! We are at the brink of a shift towards conversational computing where conversation will be the primary means of human-machine communication. Thanks to advances in natural language processing and speech synthesis, you can just ask to get things done and the data can be dynamically assembled to respond in context or take actions on your behalf. A lot of industries are about to be disrupted. The whole idea is to ask things naturally and get things done - tech should be way more intuitive for everyone. It's still early days but we are learning how to engineer AI in a way that helps people in their daily lives (getting the right train to work, finding things to do on a weekend, or helping kids get off their phones and do some exercise) - if we do our jobs right, the goal is to let humans be more human. There are some things we have to be careful about and pay attention to though (values, above all else) so we don't get it wrong.
What do you love most about being a part of the SSSAS community?
The characters. So many classes stuck with me - I remember a lot of details from Norton Anthologies ("Whan that Apryll..." ...anyone?) and Medieval history class. I still remember most of the sermons too. There was so much bravery and maturity among the students too - so many people knew who they were at a young age and had a lot of swagger and a strong sense of identity, which is admirable. The faculty were thoughtful with ideas and critical thinking, particularly in the liberal arts. I am proud to be a Saint and I admire so many people I went to school with who have gone on to follow what makes them happy whether it's fishing or parenting or helping run the world.
Please find me on linkedin or instagram at @azimm, would love to connect!