Creating teams. Shaping futures.

Dive into Data: A Career in AI

In the context of our Dive into Data initiative, we aim to change the misconception about what it takes to break into and build a long-term career in the data industry.

In this part of the series, we’d like to feature the background and career journey of Rob Griffiths, AI Technology Consultant at BJSS. Our chat here, to feature a real-life example. How to get into data and how a career path within that field can unfold….

ADLIB: To summarise, what are your main responsibilities as an AI Tech Consultant?

Rob Griffiths: I help clients identify potential applications for the latest speech and text processing, computer vision and intelligent process automation technologies. Then for each project, I assemble a mixed team of software engineers, data scientists, business consultants and human-centred designers to bring the idea to life.

For example, last week we finished a three-week AI innovation project with a UK television channel. We developed the idea with them, then built a working prototype to test desirability (‘do the users actually want this?’), feasibility (‘is this technically possible?’), and viability (‘does this cost more than it makes or saves?’).

Most organisations have hundreds, if not thousands, of potential AI use cases they want to explore so our AI consultants tend to work with clients over a long period of time. My priority is making sure we’re working in an inclusive and considered way, with a particular focus on designing for, as well as providing training to, existing staff.

ADLIB: What’s your background, what has been your career journey so far leading you to where you are right now?

Rob Griffiths: I started my career in the voluntary/not-for-profit sector, specifically within campaigning and membership organisations. At various times I had responsibilities for policy analysis and development, marketing and communications, and membership engagement, among other things.

The UK voluntary sector is a great place to gain experience. The variety of work, the opportunities for progression and the ability to make a difference on real social issues every day all make it worth seriously considering. However, my personal experience was that I wanted to develop the technology aspect of my career, for which the opportunities (budgets) were limited.

Having now made the jump from the voluntary sector into the technology sector, I often find myself reflecting on the similarities between them, particularly given how industry and the workplace more broadly is changing. Platform ecosystems, subscription models, more networked than hierarchical structures, social enterprises, and open source communities are surprisingly familiar territory for people who have experienced the hustle of campaigning and membership organisations.

ADLIB: What attracted you to the artificial intelligence aspect of data?

Rob Griffiths: In 2017 I joined an interesting startup called CognitionX.

They have a mission to bring clarity to the world of AI. They are best known now for an annual festival of AI and advanced technologies called CogX. I worked with a roster of amazing clients to deliver bespoke research services including vendor assessment and procurement support. I helped with a bunch of policy and influencing work too.

AI is such an amazing space to work in because the distance between ‘lab to live’ is incredibly short and getting shorter. In many cases, the technologies our clients are deploying have just come out of a research lab. It can be shocking that systems we quickly come to rely on were not actually possible six months before.

What’s more, new technologies seem to become commoditised almost immediately, so they can be disruptive in an unprecedented way. Startups and challenger brands make use of cutting-edge solutions that in a different time would have been reserved for the very wealthiest companies. There’s a lot of hype out there to wade through but in some places AI really is a bit of a Wild West. And – to stretch the metaphor – people are making real gold out of it.

ADLIB: What do you see as the top 3 skills it takes to become an AI Consultant?

Rob Griffiths: There are a number of quite different routes into AI. A general technical understanding is useful, but you don’t have to be a developer to be a valuable addition to an AI team.

Every deployment I’ve seen has needed a blend of roles:

  • Human-centred designers – who focus on the user needs and social context
  • Business specialists – who focus on tailoring the product to the specific commercial environment
  • Data scientists – who focus on sourcing data and fitting the right models to it
  • And full-stack technologists – who can build out a solution suitable for enterprise-scale deployment.

The competition out there – both in-house and agency-side – is to be able to deliver this blend most effectively. In fact, the focus of BJSS’ AI investments are in exactly this: making sure every AI project can access a rainbow of skills without having to employ a small army of people and, in the process, blow the bank for the client.

Like many companies in this area, we’re also interested in how to add value beyond job descriptions. For a start, the whole technology sector has a duty to engage people with a diverse range of experiences and identities in the design and build of solutions. And the acuteness of the issue when it comes to AI is well-documented. We’re putting a lot of work into getting this right for our clients and for society at large.

For prospective job hunters, I’d also say this is also an interesting time to turn an existing specialism towards the AI space. I’ve seen quite a few people start to carve a career in this way. As just a few examples, I have come across service designers-turned-anthropologists, ethicists-turned-business-analysts, and artists-turned-conversation designers.

AI is a fast-paced market ripe for Hybrid Jobs, and my experience is that employers are rarely looking for a one-trick pony.

Thanks for sharing Rob!

Here at ADLIB, we like to showcase the many avenues into Data, far beyond the perception that it’s all about being a genius in maths, engineering and science oriented qualifications and how data brilliance is also fuelled by creative and business orientated minds.

If you’d like to get involved please get in touch – we’d love to chat through how we could join forces to spread the word far and wide.

Life as a Principal Business Analyst

Have you ever wondered what life as a Business Analyst is really like here in Bristol? What does it take to become a BA and to stay top of the game?

In this context, we caught up with Paul Ketchlove, Principal Business Analyst at Nationwide to give you a little more insight – if you are considering a career within the Analytics industry or are planning on adding an expert to your team – you can find some first-hand perception right here.

ADLIB: In approx. 30 words what does your role involve?

Paul Ketchlove: Leading multi-disciplined analysis and architecture teams to translate business propositions (using the most appropriate methodologies) into cost-effective re-useable solutions, whilst ensuring alignment with Business and IT strategic roadmaps.

ADLIB: What has been your career highlight so far?

Paul Ketchlove: Tough one! A lot of personal successes, but overall my highlight has been witnessing the continued development of my teams at NBS. A fantastic group of practitioners that really took on board the coaching/mentoring opportunities available to them. Watching them grow and expand their capabilities has been truly inspiring and personally rewarding.

ADLIB: In a nutshell, what is a typical day like for you? (…if there is such thing)

Paul Ketchlove: There is no such thing as a typical day. Every day brings new challenges! It can range from evaluating pre-inception propositions, through to supporting implementation. Analysis and Architecture really do run from ‘cradle to grave’!

ADLIB: What do you like most about your role?

Paul Ketchlove: The collaborative nature of the role. BAs need to work collaboratively with a wide spectrum of stakeholders, from business SMEs through to the dev teams. If you think of yourself as a ‘people person’, there is no better role.

ADLIB: What do you see as the top 3 skills it takes to become a Business Analyst?

Paul Ketchlove: Observation, Collaboration and Articulation.

ADLIB: What top tip would you give someone to ensure that their skills and knowledge as a BA remain top notch?

Paul Ketchlove: Keep learning and evolving! The role (and sometimes title) of the BA is constantly evolving with new methodologies. Continuous development in line with these new tools and techniques is a must if you want to stay at the top of your game.

Thanks so much for sharing!

True Diversity: Collaborating with the Care Leaver Covenant

During our Diversity Consultancy conversations with clients and also at events, we notice that the thoughts tend to quickly jump to the “gender pay gap” and gender balance within businesses. But there is so much more to achieving and contributing towards true team diversity within your business, as well as within our region.

We’d like to feature some of the local organisations that we work with to help businesses and clients build inclusive teams. First up, we’d like to shine a spotlight on the Care Leaver Covenant.

Who they are and what they do

Simply put, and in a nutshell, the Care Leaver Covenant is a promise made by private, public or voluntary organisations to provide support for care leavers aged 16-25 to help them to live independently.

When we caught up with Kirsty McQueen, Senior Engagement Advisor at the Covenant, she shared some background information that the Government published: ‘Keep on Caring’ to support young people from care to independence. A key policy commitment in the paper is a strategic pledge to introduce a Care Leaver Covenant.

Why it matters

All young people who leave care at 16, 17 or 18 are provided with statutory support which includes, for example, help in the transition to living independently; support with finding accommodation and with any costs of participating in education, training and employment.

However, in order to provide a greater level of support at this crucial stage during the transition of care leavers to adulthood, wider society also needs to play a part, which is where the Care Leaver Covenant comes in.

How we got involved
It seemed an obvious one for us to share our knowledge and insights to support the people they work with into employment and to help them further their career. We are one of their signatories, offering Creative, Data, Marketing and Technology Career Workshops where participants can find out more about career paths within the sectors we operate, as well as routes in. We also offer practical help with CVs and are on hand during the sessions to answer all the career-related questions they may bring.

How you can get involved as a business or potential employer
Just like us, you could think about how your business can craft an offering to support the Care Leaver Covenant on their mission and you may even be able to offer Apprenticeships specifically, working with the team there to shape the offering so it ties in and is of real value to the young people.