Making inroads into a male-dominated world

Traditionally, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has been dominated by men. When the AI Apprentice Programme (AIAP) was first launched in May 2018, only two women took up the gauntlet. Since then, however, there has been a growing number of women proving their mettle in this field. Among them is Fiona Lim, one of 19 women who have joined the programme to date and has since graduated from AIAP .

First-hand experience

For Fiona, it all began in March 2019 when she was working as a data analyst at a consulting firm. Fiona had graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Statistics but felt the need to build a stronger technical foundation for her role. Looking around for suitable online courses that could help her, she came across AIAP, which is run by AI Singapore.

The nine-month programme presented her with an opportunity that she could not pass up – a chance to do a deep dive into AI concepts through self-directed learning, learn alongside passionate mentors and peers, and apply the knowledge to a real industry project.

The end-to-end project would provide her with first-hand experience not only in developing AI models, but also in building the data pipeline and deploying it as an application programming interface (API).

In the beginning, Fiona found the going tough especially with her lack of experience in programming. However, her knowledge of statistics came in handy. “I was able to grasp learning content quickly, and the challenges and obstacles along the way actually motivated me because ultimately, what I wanted to take away was the learning experience,” she said.

In the process of trying to understand how an industry expert thinks and finding the best model that can automate part of human work, Fiona was also introduced to machine learning and deep learning models. This stoked her interest in research.

Reaching out to more women

After completing the AIAP in Dec 2019, Fiona started work as a research assistant in the field of Natural Language Processing at Nanyang Technological University. She hopes to use her new-found knowledge to one day build a machine-learning product that can help people communicate better, especially the elderly who may not be fluent in English.

She would also like to see more women joining the field of AI. At AI Singapore, she was given the opportunity to present to visiting guests and to share her experiences with female students through community involvement projects. She has also spoken with women who reached out to her on LinkedIn to find out more about AIAP and is a member of Women Who Code and Coding Girls. These are online communities where women share their experiences and give each other tips on conducting presentations, carrying out AI conversations and how to survive in the AI world.

For women who are keen to explore the field of AI, Fiona encourages them to give it a try, and not to be afraid to seek help when they come across difficulties. “There are plenty of people out there who are very willing to share their experiences and help you out. As long as you have the right attitude, never give up learning and are always give it your best, everything else will follow.”

Link up with Fiona.

If you are keen to prepare for the AIAP, click here (Becoming an AI Apprentice – Field Guide)

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