Driving You with Data – Samantha Pearlson and Nugit


By Shweta Agarwala

We’re only one week away from our first workshop series for the year, where we’ll be exploring the A in our ABC of Digital Talent initiative – Artificial Intelligence (AI)! Our community writer Shweta interviews AI leader Samantha Pearlson on her journey into Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often portrayed darkly, in a future controlled by cyborgs and machines. If you let the dust settle on the Hollywood inspired scenes though, you will realize its potential. The marriage of AI with data analytics is having a great impact, improving business processes and accelerating their value. This convergence is an important development, shaping the future of how firms process big data in a meaningful way.

Samantha Pearlson, VP of Operations at Nugit, is at the center of it all. Nugit was founded in 2013, sensing a frustration in the limitations of dashboards and identified the opportunity for analytics to be friendlier and scalable across organisations of all sizes. Dubbed The Data Storytelling Platform, it offers unique solutions and value for organisations through a combination of AI, data science, scalable engineering and visual design.

Making the right moves with technology

Technology-driven businesses need not be unfathomable, in fact they should be simple to comprehend. Samantha describes how data and AI can play a bigger role for businesses through her vision for Nugit: “It’s to deliver high-impact stories to our customers about their data, so they can take ownership and control of outcomes.

Our customers should be our biggest advocates, for the value they get from the platform: which provides data visualisations, AI powered analytics, natural language generation, and data storytelling tools, to support them in being successful within their organisations.”

Samantha has a background in digital advertising, so she’s familiar with how technology can be a game-changer for companies. “Digital advertising is rooted in technology, and itself has borne many new startups. I have partnered with many interesting startups at various stages in my career.

In my previous role as head of the digital marketing division of an advertising agency, I was always looking at ways of incorporating technology to drive efficiencies and help support my teams. I worked with a Swedish tech startup to improve our media planning process – we trialled a number of workflow management solutions, all of which were from startups, and we were also a Nugit customer.

I have many brave and incredibly smart friends who have left the corporate world to either found or join a startup, and I have always been interested in their journey.”

From customer to advocate

After her first experience with Nugit, she went on to become their client service director, before taking on the VP of Operations role in December last year. When starting out she worked with a team of 8 customer service (CS) professionals, and hit the ground running with some new initiatives:

“(These) initiatives sped up the time that it takes for all new customers to get value from the platform, improved our alignment of outcomes to our existing’ business goals/objectives, improved integration with our Sales team to ensure customer expectations are being met, and provided clarity to the CS team on their individual and group delivery requirements.”

Samantha’s work is hardly one-sided, as her day shows:

“On a daily basis I am talking to our customers, using the Nugit platform to create stories for our customers, working with the CS team to ensure that we are always learning and growing, and aligning with other departments in the business to ensure nothing is operating in silo.

Second to my work with the CS and operations teams, I probably interact the most with our CEO Dave Sanderson. He is a great sounding board and always offers up interesting approaches to a wide variety of scenarios.”

New ways of working for real change

All that communication is key to fulfilling the vision of client services but there are still challenges, as Samantha elaborates: “From a professional perspective, adoption of any new technology can be a challenge. Change management is not always easy.

For example; despite having senior stakeholder backing, I have found that often the people who will use our platform on a daily basis are so accustomed to doing things in their older, more manual, ways that they can be reluctant to change – even though the change will help them.”

She takes it in her stride though, and ensures the change is beneficial – as she puts it: “Nugit empowers our customers to move away from the traditional ways of working – data silos, manual and low level grunt work – so teams can focus on high value activities like strategy and execution. My vision is facilitating this shift while creating advocates along the way.”

She’s seen positive change in herself too: “Something has happened a few times in conversations I’ve had since I joined Nugit, I have found myself getting animated with excitement about the product. That energy has even made the people I was talking with, comment about how content and enthusiastic I appear.

These moments leave me feeling satisfied that I am in the right place, working with the right people, on a product that I feel passionate about.”

Let’s make AI diverse

Although many feel AI has just started, it already suffers from lopsided effects when it comes to gender diversity. Margaret Mitchell, a Microsoft researcher, jokingly describes AI as a “sea of dudes”.

Samantha had this to say when we asked for her thoughts on diversity in AI:

“Fei-Fei Li, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and Director of Stanford University’s AI Lab, put this very well in a Wired article from April 2017: ‘AI is about to make the biggest changes to humanity, and we’re missing a whole generation of diverse technologists and leaders.’

Now is the time for us to get more women at the table, because if we don’t have the right representation, the technology is inevitably going to pick up gender biases, and will not represent us all.”

She definitely thinks that AI can be made more accessible to girls and women, saying: “Role models matter! We need to hold up images of women, of all different phenotypes of women in tech, for women and girls to relate to.

If girls can identify with someone that is more like them, they will be more empowered, feel included, and will go for it. A girl who sees rows and rows of men in a coding camp will be much less likely to feel like this is a field that is accessible to them.”

Samantha has one key piece of advice for girls looking to explore AI and STEM careers:

“Mentorship is very important. A mentor is a wealth of knowledge that can be tapped into, they give you a different perspective and ask questions that help you find the answers where you may not have looked before. A good mentor will help you to learn from their experience, and help you to avoid making the same mistakes while on your journey.

Purposefully seek out mentors who have succeeded despite the odds, and who will take you under their wing and mentor you.”

Keep up with Samantha and Nugit, as they move organisations from dashboards to Data Storytelling, by following them on Twitter. Meet tech and legal leaders like Samantha at our next networking event on 23rd March: GITSG @ Visa: Tech X Legal! Get your tickets here: https://www.eventnook.com/event/gitsgvisatechxlegal/home

About our community writer

Shweta is a passionate scientist with a PhD in electronics engineering and a background in 3D printing. She is involved in multidisciplinary research to try and solve real-life problems, and is an advocate for gender diversity – she hopes to change stereotypes for women in STEM.


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