AiAllies – Anne Jenkins, Valcon

anne jenkins

Anne Jenkins is a leading technology consultant who has operated across the European tech-sector for over 20 years. However, like many of today’s innovators and industry-leading figures, her early life did not offer an indication that tech was the industry for her.  

“I studied English Literature at University and when I finished my degree, I had no idea what to do,” says Anne.

But like many of the individuals to have featured as part of Artificial Solutions´ #AiAllies initiative, Anne learned how to forge her own unique path into the tech sector, which helped to provide a wealth of skills and valuable experiences along the way.

“I grew up around technology and my dad worked in IT, so there were always computers around at home. I remember the ZX Spectrum 48k being a particular model I enjoyed playing with and programming small things. I think that first sparked my interest with technology and that same interest has played a big role in my career.”

Following the completion of her degree, Anne took an approach to finding work that most graduates can relate to.

“I applied to anything and everything! I didn’t have a particular role or industry in mind, I just cast the net out. I received an offer from Accenture and just thought ´ why not?’ It also helped that I could take a year out before starting and spent a year doing whatever I wanted.  Most of my friends went travelling around the world – I thought it would be cooler to do my Masters in medieval literature!”

For nearly four years, Anne worked in different departments at Accenture where she learned about the various uses of technology and their application across businesses.

“I was able to figure out what I wanted to do and really enjoyed going to Chicago to learn about programming and basic coding – that is when I fell in love with that side of technology, which was a total 180 for me. I really enjoyed the process and because I had strong linguistic skills, I think it made a lot of logical sense to me. It’s a total fallacy that you need to be good at mathematics to be good at coding – it’s about thinking logically.”

After spending a number of years learning her trade and perfecting her skills, Anne spent time working at The University of London and for another tech company called ALFA [formerly CHP Consulting].

“ALFA was a great opportunity and a lot of fun. They didn’t care about what I had studied or what my exact background was, all they cared about was whether I was bright and a quick learner.  I got the opportunity there to experience every stage of the software development lifecycle, in a variety of different roles.”

Fast forward 15 years, covering more roles and impactful experiences across the European tech sector, Anne now works as part of Valcon Group, a European data, technology and consulting firm. One of her key areas of focus is Conversational AI (CAI), a technology that is becoming a ubiquitous part of online customer experience.

“It’s genuinely something I am passionate about because of the possibilities CAI and intelligent automation can offer. There are incredible tools like Teneo, that allows you to build complex, feature rich solutions that connect businesses and consumers in ways that no other technology can.  The whole automation tech eco-system has come on so far in the last five to ten years.  Just look at the development of Optimal Character Recognition or Natural language Processing.  Being able to basically connect everything through APIs is a great help too. Unfortunately, adoption is slow and the quality of implementations in the wider world is variable.”

“As a consequence, because there are high profile voice bots and chatbots which aren’t that great, many people in senior management positions at global businesses are nervous and skeptical of the technology.  There is expertise in designing and implementing it well (hence the variable quality out there) but if those decision makers could only see what good looks like, they wouldn’t think twice about using it. Also, many of the businesses that are using Conversational AI are not making the most of it. it’s like using a Rolls Royce to drive around the corner to the shops!”

Showing the Way for Women in Tech

Anne has enjoyed the support of men throughout her career and was encouraged to pursue stepping into management by a male colleague in one role, which has had a major impact on her success.

However, like many other women who have been part of the tech industry for a long time, she has had a few negative experiences that have stayed with her.

“So many of the engineering departments were male dominated and I was even told by one senior manager that men were just naturally better at coding than women. This person wasn’t trying to be nasty, he was simply making a statement that he believed to be true. I think many men would be surprised just how bad it was at one point. Thankfully it is much better now.”

So, what advice does Anne have for women working in the technology sector and looking to make major progress in their careers?

“I have been lucky enough to have a lot of great allies over the years, so I would definitely encourage as many women as possible to engage with the AiAllies initiative and make use of the people who are part of the campaign. Having a network of internal allies is also vital, so reach out to people in your team and company as well as across your industry, in order to give yourself the best opportunity of success and to put yourself in a position to capitalize if an opportunity arises.”

“I would also say that it’s important not to let people put you in a box. If somebody tells you that you’re not quite right or you don’t have the capability to do something, don’t automatically believe them. You know what you can do, you are capable and you can achieve what you want. Also, don’t put up with working with people like that. They are not the type of colleague you want, so don’t be afraid to work for someone else!”

“Most organizations in the tech sector are really receptive to making positive improvements and want to help their people be happy and productive, so don’t be scared to ask for support. At the end of the day, if you’re dreading Monday morning, something isn’t right and you should try to make a change.

And as an industry, Anne also believes a lot more can be done to get women and minorities into the sector.

“Every company should have a blind CV screening process. Remove name, gender and race. That is the only way that people can get a level playing field at getting to interview. Whether we like it or not, unconscious biases exist, so we need to remove the option for them to have an impact wherever we can.”

Encouraging women in tech can never start too early either, and Anne is working with the Valcon Women In Tech network on an all-female Conversational AI internal project and also looking into how conversational AI can help encourage more women and girls into technology.

To connect with Anne Jenkins on LinkedIn, click here.