Making lives better – Meet Gillian and learn about the future of tech ethics

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Gillian Armstrong is a Solutions Engineer at Liberty IT. She was recently interviewed by Sync NI on the ethical impact of tech and the future and featured in Silicon Republic’s list of 20 women doing fantastic work in AI, machine learning and data science

Gillian was one of the organisers of Serverless Days Belfast which took place back in January – you can read more about that on this website and in Sync NI too. She also helped organise AI Con (the first all-Ireland AI Conference) at the end of last year.

At AWS re:Invent last December, Gillian was recognised by Amazon as an AWS Machine Learning Hero and she spoke at a session on content moderation and compliance with AI.

We thought it was about time we had a virtual chat with her! She told us, ‘I’ve been in LIT for a long time! The thing I’ve enjoyed most is getting to work in lots of different areas within the company. There’s always new challenges and new things to learn.’

So we’ve asked her about some of those challenges in the context of Covid-19 working from home and the wider long term impacts it might have.

How are you working differently during COVID 19 and what are you learning from new ways of working?

I have worked on teams spread across different geographical locations and time-zones my whole career, so in some ways many of the ways we are working are the same. We’ve always had a very flexible working from home policy, so I was used to that as well, and am fortunate enough to have a dedicated workspace set up at home. The only thing that has changed there is that I’m now sharing our study with my husband (so still getting a tiny taste of open office life!).

The most difficult thing is not having the option to meet with people in person. Previously I would have traveled a lot, both to meet with people we were working with, or to speak at conferences or events. Recreating those casual organic conversations (and friendships) that happen when you are ‘just hanging out’ with people is tough. It’s even harder to work out how to meet and connect with brand new people – for instance at a conference I might have met someone because I just happened to be sitting beside them in a session. I think the whole world is trying to figure out how to keep those sort of connections going.

How do you think the current situation might impact on tech, ethics and how we work going forwards?

Working in software development I can fully do my job from home, so not only do I have a job, I also have one that isn’t putting me on the front lines. It’s pretty humbling to see what a privileged position we are in working in the tech industry. It’s been good to see that the industry is trying to step up and help as much as it can. I love the fact that the current situation is teaching people who were previously very technology-adverse all sorts of new skills – from ordering groceries online to video calling their friends!

However, as great as that is, I do hope on the other side of this we appreciate the value of human-to-human interactions in ways we didn’t before. Ultimately it’s people and not technology that make the difference. Technology shouldn’t be used just to replace people – it should be there to make people’s lives better. As an industry I hope we collectively get better at putting people first.