As I was growing up in India, among all the humdrums and daily chores of life, I was sure of one thing – I wanted to be in technology. The world around me was evolving every single day -from landlines to mobile phones, from finding the stock price the next day in the newspaper to that stock price being telecasted 24hrs on the TV – everything was improving! For some, it was a source of confusion or short-lived hype, but for me, I saw technology as an opportunity to get out of my town and contribute to this rapidly changing ecosystem.
There was one problem: I didn’t know where to start. There was no “technology community” to reach out to – and being a woman made it even harder. I started on my journey, making use of every opportunity that came my way. I was raised in a household with five younger sisters. We shared rooms and household responsibilities. This made preparing for college entrance exams extra challenging. I persevered and made it to college, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Finance Management (yeah, Finance!) followed by a Master’s in Finance. This gave me good exposure to how the world of finance and money worked. I spent five years at Nomura learning the financial markets and investment banking.
Then life carried on. I got married and my husband had the opportunity to come to the US with Walmart Global Tech. I left my job to support and be with him as he started his new career here in the US. I will admit it was a rather lonely world for me as he went into the office and I was stuck at home. At that time, the US immigration program was not supportive of spouses of immigrants to find jobs here in the US. The only way for me to get a job was if I went back to school to get another degree. Luckily, I had time on my hands, so I decided to do a career switch. I enrolled myself in a Masters of Engineering Management program and learned about different aspects of technology. It’s through this program that I was exposed to the fascinating world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). I studied hard and learned as much as I could on the power of AI, what it is capable of, and what it means for the future. Once I graduated, I had trouble finding employers who would screen my resume for a career in AI. Why? My prior work experience was all in finance and I had no AI experience or training in a real-world setting.
Thankfully, the Walmart Path Forward Associate program offered me hope. It gave me my chance to enter the technology world formally. After all of these years, I finally had a shot at doing AI for THE Fortune One company! I was hired by Walmart’s Merchandising Data Science group. It was a rather unique role – where the intersection of AI algorithms with humans (merchants) was equally important when compared to underlying algorithms. There was a gap in skillset on the team. The team wanted someone to take all the good and amazing work that data scientists had done and execute it across our stores through merchants. My job became using AI to solve challenges like what items should Walmart carry and how can we automate intelligent markdowns (price reductions and replenishment). On a daily basis, I would work with the scientists, engineering team, product managers, and business partners to develop a strategy to know when to roll these algorithms. The complexity and scale of our business requires a robust operational plan for AI to succeed. For my contribution on building this operational excellence roadmap for Walmart AI group, I was awarded the Edelman Laureate Medal by INFORMS.
As I look back at my career, I see that my journey follows the exact same way AI algorithms are trained. Just as in AI, each data point is important, in life each experience helps you become better. All you have to wait for is convergence. My advice to anyone, and especially to women in any field is: the world of AI is not just about algorithms or coding. Successful implementation of AI in real world requires expertise from various fields – from how AI will interact with humans, to thinking through all the edge cases on where AI might not be able to perform, to scaling challenges of the underlying algorithms itself, the opportunities are limitless. It doesn’t matter what your expertise is. You can get started and involved in AI! All you need to succeed is passion for AI, determination that you will find your north star, and a little bit of luck.
Learn more about Walmart Global Tech here.