Impact & Opinions | Tionchar & Tuairimí

Want a Seat at the Table? Then make your own Chair… 

Want a Seat at the Table? Then make your own Chair… 

26 April 22
 | 12 MINS

Karen Conway, Director of Technology, Fidelity Investments, Ireland talks to Cois Coiribe about her career in technology, and co-designing the AI for Managers Post-Grad course.

What made you decide to pursue a career in Technology?

I did my Leaving Certificate in 1995 and back then, there was much less access to technology in family homes. My brother was completing a Masters in Electronics in NUI Galway (known then as UCG) and he recommended the B.SC in IT (Information Technology). Many of his friends had undertaken a Masters in IT, so he suggested it might the next big thing coming! NUI Galway launched 20 places in the BSc in IT that year, so I put that as my first choice. There was no previous course to judge points on so I had no idea if I would get a place or not, but as luck would have it, I got a place on the course with points to spare. That was the start of my journey in Technology. 

How do you think students view technology compared to 25+ years ago?

Students today have so much more exposure to technology; our smart watches are more powerful than a PC was back then. With the advances in engineering, there is much more specialisation now, with courses available in game design, graphic design, etc. The BSc in IT was excellent for providing the fundamentals in computer basics and programming. My first programming language was FORTRAN 77, and while it may have limited uses today, it taught me the basics I needed to program in any language.  

It was quite daunting to join the course at first. I remember sitting in the computer lab for the first time and the computer screen was off. I asked the person next to me, ‘how I do turn it on?’, and he looked at me with a smile, and said ‘I don’t know either….’. It was a relief knowing I wasn’t the only one there with no background in computing and of course, I had found a friend!  

Students today are much more tech savvy – they have grown up with technology compared to students from my generation and have opportunities to join programming classes while still in school. We still have a major gap in using technology (like apps on mobiles and gaming devices) versus understanding how it works and the opportunities it can bring.  

Industry is supporting technology learning in our education system in secondary and primary schools, however as a country, our education system still has some work to do in bringing technology as a standard subject offering in schools. We have made great progress with the addition of Computer Science to the curriculum, nevertheless schools need infrastructure and hardware investment to allow access to technology basics to all years and ages. This will support closing the gap on understanding how technology works and make computer science less intimidating to students.

We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, using technologies not even imagined.

What have you done in your career since you graduated?

My first role was developing an internet banking platform which was quite a novel offering back then. I joined Fidelity Investment in 2001 as a Software Engineer working on voice technology applications. Over the years, I transitioned from development to analysis to project and program management and have traveled to the USA, India, Germany and UK. Today I lead a division of 75+ associates in Asset Management Technology and find my development experience helps me relate to the teams and understand the challenges they face. We design and develop applications to support Investment Managers to make decisions to generate increased returns for our customers who invest with us. The applications leverage AI to enhance the processes and robotics to automate the repetitive tasks, freeing up the Investment Managers to focus on more revenue-generating activities.  

Outside of my day job, I support itag’s (Innovation Technology Atlantec Gateway) Digital Women’s Forum to promote continued diversity in STEM. I work very closely with universities and secondary schools to showcase role models in these careers and inspire others to take up a role with a STEM focus.

Tell us more about the AI for Managers Post Graduate course and how it came about….

Data is growing at an exponential rate and technology is moving so quickly. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, using technologies not even imagined. 25 years ago, we had no Cloud or DevOps Engineers, Data Scientists, Cyber Security Specialists, iOS or Android Developers. In the future, we will live in a world even more immersed in technology, tasks will be automated that we can’t even envisage, jobs will be created that we can’t imagine. Ireland can play a role in leading these changes if we prepare ourselves for these advancements. 

While the BSc in IT gave me an excellent foundation to work in technology and succeed in my career, I felt it necessary to continue my learning, especially with a focus on what AI can bring to the table. After I finished my degree, I worked in development, however now as a leader of technology teams, I have different needs from a technology course and that is how the AI for Managers course started.  

As AI becomes more prevalent, we as leaders have a responsibility to create AI solutions for the right reasons and meet the associated ethical and moral expectations. Having researched courses in AI, I found the majority of courses focused on AI development, but I had different requirements from a course. Through itag Skillnet, I got the opportunity to propose a post graduate course for Managers. The course I designed in conjunction with itag Skillnet is not centered on AI coding. It is based on the foundations of AI, where it is best applied, in the ethics and laws surrounding its development and the future of AI. Working closely with NUI Galway and itag Skillnet, we designed the course to be 100% online, with pre-recorded lectures, so it gives you that flexibility to work to your own schedule.

What would your advice be to those Managers venturing into the world of AI?

I feel with the development of this course, managers can confidently have a seat at the table to contribute to the design and creation of AI applications, ensuring they are developed for the right reasons, bringing explainability and ethics to the forefront. The course is preparing my fellow students and me for technology solutions not yet designed, nevertheless giving us the knowledge to add value to the conversation. 

Hence my advice to anyone is, if you want a seat at the table, create your own chair that gives you a reason to be there. The ‘AI for Managers’ course is my chair! 

Karen holds a BSc in IT (1999), attending the inaugural PG Cert, Level 9, AI for Managers.


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