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.

Written by

Head of Data

Insight & Analytics

View profile

Alex Cosgrove