Women in Tech: Soyean Kim

Soyean Kim is Leader of Research and Analytics at Technical Safety BC, Chairperson at Accreditation Committee Statistical Society of Canada, and a mother of two boys. A professional statistician (P.STAT) with over 15 years' STEM experience, she’s worked at FortisBC (formerly Terasen Gas), PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the Department of Analytical Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU). 

Soyean is passionate about the ethical use of data and algorithms to contribute to the betterment of society, an advocate for “Data for Good" and a speaker on the topic of real world applications of artificial intelligence (AI). Here she shares her experience working in tech and her views about diversity in the industry.

Your role touches on many technologies and processes throughout the business. What would you say has been your most interesting project?

The interaction and interface between people and technology is fascinating. Technologies these days are designed to establish a more personal connection with their users.  For example, Alexa Skills App, which my team developed, allows users to interact with the systems through voice to find safety information, as opposed to searching for a piece of information on the website. As the interaction becomes deep and more personal, ethics becomes more important. We have to think about the impact, ethics, privacy, and security of the system, and design the system around those aspects. When we’re designing systems we ensure we are doing it for the people – improving the quality of life for the people we serve. Technology advancement is important but it’s useless if it’s designed without thorough understanding of, and buy-in and support from, the end-users.

You are very passionate about data, algorithms, and people. Where did this interest stem from?

Data Scientist W. Edwards Deming once said: “Without data you’re just a person with an opinion.” The quote speaks to the power of data – it’s concrete and objective. I’ve always been attracted to that.

It wasn’t until I started building AI and machine learning into systems that I realized its impact could be huge. The power of AI and machine learning opens up a whole world of possibilities and at the same time creates a huge amount of uncertainty. Data and technology gets amplified and changes so fast. When things are changing so much it’s very hard to see beyond three years. The only thing you can do is to continuously learn and keep up.

Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?

The gender gap in tech is a problem and it’s no secret – we’ve seen the stats. What’s ironic is that this wasn’t always the case. Various brilliant women pioneered computer programming as we know it now. The first computer programmer, the first ever algorithm, was created by a woman – Ada Lovelace – in the early 1800s. At the time these women lacked profile and over time, men, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, were appearing in the media and personal computers started taking off. The stereotypes about the field shifted to the point that computer programming was seen as a job better suited for men than women.

To address this gap, computer science needs a better strategy for diversity and inclusion. The industry as a whole needs to adopt and embrace diversity and inclusion, and understand the value diversity can bring whether it’s a women or a different race. The reason the industry has not whole-heartedly embraced diversity and inclusion is that there’s a lack of culture and respect for diversity. The industry is dominated by loud charismatic men, and the quiet thinking type has been pushed out. We let this go on for too long.

Now the industry is slowly changing by promoting women to work in the field, and coaching and mentoring women. It’s a social change so it’ll take a while. It cannot happen overnight.

What advice do you have for other women in tech?

When I first started my career there wasn’t much support or understanding of diversity and inclusion, so I tried to fit in. I didn’t vocalize my thoughts and stand up for myself. I remember being in meetings, surrounded by white males, hearing foul language and I thought: “I’m tough, suck it up.” Women nowadays shouldn’t and needn’t do this. There’s more support and understanding of the value diversity and inclusion brings to the workspace. Seek that support, don’t try to fit in. It’s a much easier battle to fight if we all be ourselves as it shows the value we can bring.

My advice to women entering the field is to: have a vision, dream big, and fearlessly execute it. BE FEARLESS.

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