“Earlier this year, I spoke at the Women in Technology International Summit in Silicon Valley. After speaking on a panel about future careers in AI and machine learning, a senior web developer at Stanford approached me to ask about an AI apprenticeship that I had mentioned. The apprenticeship was perfect for her, but she asked several times if I thought she was qualified. I assured her that she was, then followed up after the conference to share the application and encourage her to apply. I hope I gave her the encouragement she needed to put herself forward for something she wanted.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Maffeo of GetApp (a Gartner company). In her role as a senior content analyst, Lauren covers the impact of emerging tech like AI and blockchain on small and midsize business owners (SMBs). Lauren’s research and writing have been cited by sources including Forbes, Fox Business, The Atlantic, and Inc.com. She has spoken at tech events around the world, including Gartner’s Symposium in Florida, The Global Talent Summit at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the British Embassy in Washington, DC, and Women Techmakers Montreal in Canada. In 2017, she was named to The Drum’s 50 Under 30 list of women worth watching in digital. That same year, she helped organize Women Startup Challenge Europe — the continent’s largest venture capital competition for women-led startups.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thanks for featuring me! My backstory is that I love to write and express myself best through the written word. I grew up thinking I’d become a journalist and oriented everything from my college major to internships around that goal. The global recession coincided with a decline in ad spend — and jobs — in the news business; both events coincided with my college graduation.
After studying in college at the University of Oxford, I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to earn a Master’s degree in England. I didn’t get the scholarship, but realized that I wanted to make the Master’s happen. So, the September following my college graduation, I moved to London and earned my MSc from The London School of Economics.
The same summer that I wrote my dissertation, I went to a networking event at General Assemly’s London campus. In that sense, tech found me when I wasn’t searching for it. I got networked into London’s small but growing tech scene and balanced consulting for digital startups with freelance tech reporting for The Guardian and The Next Web. I eventually moved back to the States and transitioned from reporting on the global tech sector to working within it.
Today, I’m a senior content analyst at GetApp, where I write about the ways that new tech trends like AI and blockchain impact small and midsize business owners.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I recently earned a certificate in Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.. The course covered three AI technologies — machine learning, natural language processing, and robotics. Then, it taught students how to implement those technologies within businesses. My final project involved building a roadmap to implement NLP and robotics into a multinational enterprise.
I highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn more about the business side of AI. I started using my new knowledge right away and recently spoke about AI on two panels at the 2018 Women in Technology International Summit in Silicon Valley. This August, I’m excited to speak at the Millennial Summit in Wilmington, Delaware, and Drupal GovCon at the National Institutes of Health.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful that my parents gave me the freedom to try new things, make mistakes, and carve an independent path. I haven’t always made choices (like going to grad school and trying to freelance in London) that they agreed with. Even so, they’d respect my rationale if I could explain my choices. Most importantly, they never molded me into their idea of who I should be. That gave me the confidence to go after what I wanted.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Transparency — Blockchain’s decentralized ledger will help SMBs access and verify information more easily. For example, my colleague wrote a great article on how blockchain might impact recruiting. If SMB owners can confirm job applicants’ credentials in a world where up to 85 percent of resumes have false details, they might save substantial time and money.
- Increased innovation — Although blockchain won’t see mass adoption for some time, projects this year that have “blockchain” in their titles are predicted to provide business value. That’s because if businesses are interested in blockchain, this makes them more likely to find other innovative solutions.
- Enhanced supply chains — I’ve interviewed SMB owners who use blockchain to pay suppliers on different continents and educate consumers about production processes. Both examples show that blockchain can benefit business owners and consumers alike: The former can use blockchain to make faster, cheaper payments, while the latter can use it to learn how products (such as clothing from a certain brand) are made.
- Facilitating smart contracts — Future consumers will use blockchain-powered apps to find products they need (like bikes in their ZIP codes) without needing to involve vendors. Along with helping consumers quickly find what they want, vendors can use public infrastructure instead of data centers.
- Securing cloud products — Security concerns are one of the main reasons that consumers choose not to use cloud software. Cryptographic keys are more secure by default, so using blockchain not only decreases the need to use a data center: It also decreases the risk that your data will be hacked.
What are the 5 things that worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Immature technology — Blockchain is so new that whichever version of it will rule the market likely isn’t here yet. Conversely, if that version is already here, it is still in its infancy and likely five to 10 years from mass adoption.
- Market confusion — Because blockchain is so new, there’s no universal consensus on product definition, feature sets, or solution requirements. These disagreements could delay mass adoption, especially for SMBs who can’t afford to keep failing with blockchain.
- Inflated expectations — Despite the lack of clarity about blockchain, its buzzword status has set high expectations among business leaders. As with many cases of new technology, it’s common for us to overestimate blockchain’s short-term impact and underestimate its long-term impact.
- Inadequate storage — One of blockchain’s biggest benefits is that transactions don’t disappear. The challenge is that all of this data needs to be stored. As a result, businesses will need to spend large amounts of money recruiting rare, valuable blockchain architects — and SMBs might not be able to match offers from tech conglomorates.
- Lack of blockchain policies — There are currently inadequate legal, accounting, enterprise, and policy frameworks to govern blockchain. As usual, technology is moving faster than governments can keep up. This poses a huge challenge for SMB owners who want to use blockchain at scale.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Earlier this year, I spoke at the Women in Technology International Summit in Silicon Valley. After speaking on a panel about future careers in AI and machine learning, a senior web developer at Stanford approached me to ask about an AI apprenticeship that I had mentioned.
The apprenticeship was perfect for her, but she asked several times if I thought she was qualified. I assured her that she was, then followed up after the conference to share the application and encourage her to apply. I hope I gave her the encouragement she needed to put herself forward for something she wanted.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
- Be confident in what you do well, but adaptable about how you do it. I’ve doubted my ability to do many things, especially if they’re more “technical” — but I’ve always known that I’m a strong writer and public speaker. Balancing confidence in your strengths with resilience to use them in new ways is key to success. If a psychic had told me five years ago that I’d sit on a panel in Silicon Valley talking about AI in autonomous vehicles, I doubt I would’ve paid her.
- See the big picture. I overheard a woman say recently that she felt like she knew a lot about blockchain technology, but very little about how to use it. Don’t get so far into your own head that you lose touch with what technology can do. If you can’t explain blockchain easily, you might not understand it well enough.
- Prepare to be a perpetual student. I recently read a quote that said in the 21st century, not retraining will pose the same threat as being illiterate. Two thirds of future jobs are predicted to be cognitive, not repetitive. That means they’re unlikely to be automated — but they also bring a lot of uncertainty. We will all have to keep learning and retraining if we want to stay ahead.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I hold out hope that I’ll get to have coffee with Sheryl Sandberg one day. Some of my colleagues have met her, so why not me? :)