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Sarah Thams

Interview – Amelia, Elora and May

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Amelia, Elora and May

2019 Students

We interviewed Alisha during our 2019 camp and she shared with us all about her experience.

Alisha was a student attendee at our April 2019.


Alisha was a student attendee at our April 2019.


Alisha was a student attendee at our April 2019.

Interview – Alisha Wong

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Alisha Wong

2019 Student

We interviewed Alisha during our 2019 camp and she shared with us all about her experience.
2019 Camp

Alisha was a student attendee at our April 2019 camp and also a member of the winning team, #PlateWasteAI. With a background in graphic design, Alisha found that her skills were invaluable for her team. She is proof that you don't need a background in AI to flourish in our program. Watch her interview to fine out more.

Thank you from YWLIAI

Alisha has graciously volunteered her skills in designing some marketing material and is the designer for our Deloitte Scholarship banners.

Checkout Alisha’s Deliotte banner design

2019 Camp – Day 5

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As we reach our second last day of the camp, I can sense the sadness that we have to break up (at least in person) this wonderful experience. We will make all the effort to ensure this continues through out the year until next camp, however, this moment is drawing to a close.

First up, the Young Women Leaders in AI program was fortunate enough to be invited to be interviewed on ABC Gold Coast breakfast radio (skip to 1:45:20 to hear us). Myself and Serena Mou were interviewed by the incredible Julie Clift, who works so fast and professionally and can be so personal-able in such a short time. We talked about the camp that is on this week, leaving the listener to visit for more info. It must have been a day for it, as Karolyn Gainfort another influencer and mentor in our program was also interviewed by Bloomberg representing KJR and the topic of what needs to be done to persuade more women to consider careers in AI, including the need for mentoring from a young age.

This morning we heard from Rohan Toll who discussed the origins of the program and how AIkademi is helping young girls pave their own future, with offerings of internships, scholarships and by organising the Young Women Leaders in AI program. Brent Richards then started the discussion around careers in AI, where potential opportunities can come from. 

In relation to careers:

We heard from Alex Hall, Senior Consultant at Deloitte who shared insights about their graduate program and how successful this program was for him. In terms of desirable traits and skills to work on, Alex recommends that the cohort focuses on their own ability to work in a team, their adaptability (this is a big one) and their ability to work with ambiguity.

We heard from Karolyn Gainfort from KJR and the role KJR plays with getting tech projects safely into production. Her superpower is making order out of chaos and guiding people to where they need to go. KJR loves taking graduates and is especially conscious of the diversity and inclusion of women. They have over 120 employees and 42% of them are women. 

Our mentors also shared their experience and advice with us. Some powerful messages I found interesting were:

• There are organisations out there that offer flexibility, have a high women ratio (Dimension Data are one of them) and to try and seek our organisations who are supportive of females.

• Regardless of where you go, you will find your community

• There are employers that delve deeper than just technical skills. There is a focus on creativity and those that feel confident enough to learn, work in a team and can learn from their mistakes

• Build the environment you want to work in and be proactive in your own inclusion (when was the last time you organised lunch with your co-workers just to socialise)

• Understanding the different dynamics between a start-up and a larger organisation may help you decide which may be best for you. 

• Small start-ups can be more flexible and not have some of the more painful policy/ bureaucracies. They often feel like a close little family

• Starting your own business allows you to find and work with like-minded people. When starting your own business, there is no waste of time, as everything you do during this process with the benefit you, whether you’re developing professional or personal skills

• After taking the leap of starting up your own business, you will feel empowered and feel that you can jump into anything because you have developed those skills

• Starting a business is great if you don’t quite know where you fit in, as this allows you to carve your own path

• You don’t have to worry about picking 1 thing to specialise in, you will jump around a lot throughout your career

• Even if you pick something at university non-main stream, don’t be afraid to take that risk, it might end up being a tremendous opportunity

• You will often end up like the 5 people you pick to work with

• When you interview, tell them something solid that you did and why it worked, if it failed, then you state the 5 reasons of what you would do differently

• Invest in yourself! You have come to the program this week because you are already investing in yourselves

In terms of studying a PhD: (but applicable to other areas of learning as well)

• Seek mentors that inspire you personally, not just professionally

• Look for leaders/PhD-supervisors that are humble

• Working towards a PhD in AI, means you are on the front line of this tech

• Seek a supervisor (can be a mentor) that lets you find your own ideas and then guides you 

• Support networks are important (Good news! You are in one by being part of the Young Women Leaders in AI)

• Don’t lose track of the work-life balance

• You do a PhD because you are interested in the research, it’s not about focusing on the result

• Doing a PhD, you are focusing more on what you learning and gives you a sense of purpose

• Good PhD pursuits aren’t just pure research-orientated but instead, it’s about how can I apply this to communities and be active in the field

• You have to think about the journey and skills you pick up on your way, that will set you up with life long skills (Can be applied to any learning)

• Find a supervisor that has time for you and one that is not only good at what they do but also a good teacher (same can be for a mentor that you choose)

• Also seek learning help from post-doctorates

• You pursue your PhD because it is absolutely something you love and just need to know more

• Doing a PhD, you will give you greater academic rigour and allow you to then teach yourself new content. This ability allows you to come to any project, which you may have no context/background in and give you the ability to figure it out

General advice:

• Throw yourself into different/unexpected things, this gives you different insights and perspectives, which allows you to bring something different to the table. Especially useful if you are feeling familiar in your surroundings, it is great to invest in a different kind of way

• Self-care! you are worth more than your job. 

• Every single day the sun will come up

• Sometimes you can feel that you have taken 3 steps forward in your career and if you need to, it’s ok to take a step back. Our path isn’t always linear

• If you get to the point that every single day of work ‘sucks’ and dread going in, then it’s time to look for other opportunities. 

• You have worth!

We watched a powerful short (Purl) that really sets the message this whole camp is trying to send, also it is surprisingly relate-able to what it can be like walking into a new place of work, particularly if you don’t fit the norm which sadly is common for women and STEM.

We heard from Julienne Senyard at Griffith University about pitching and how to tell a compelling story. The session was captivating and Julienne demonstrated her advice of ‘stand tall’ and ‘speak loudly’. With her strong stage presence coupled with a powerful gaze, she ensured her presentation had your full attention. This is great for the ladies to see firsthand, a sample of what-to-do, how to use the space, hold the audience’s connection and deliver a pitch with confidence and purpose. I get the message from Julienne that it is ok to command the attention of your audience and hold them accountable to your efforts. 

One of the groups approached me today with the most excitement, pride and ‘look what we accomplished’ that I have seen in any group of people. I felt the second-hand excitement and got swept up with them in the celebration. They had managed to achieve a 0.95 accuracy rate of their image recognition solution correctly identifying signs of endometriosis. 

Our school-aged girls were interviewed as part of our video package about the program. I got the opportunity to lead these girls in a close brainstorming session for questions and ideas on what to say in the interview. I was able to also mentor/guide them while we were conducting the interviews and help them understand and formulate their responses. This was one of my favourite experiences of the camp so far. I could see the 14/16-year-old me, sitting there in their shoes eager to connect. I just wanted to tell them every little tip, trick advice I could but I also got to practice my mentor abilities (which is something I am working on). A big part of this was encouraging them to explore their own ideas, which involves me asking questions then listening without interrupting. If you know me, this is one of my worst habits that come out when I am particularly excited. Each of these girls are just remarkable, and I am so proud and humbled that they have chosen to be part of our cohort. For the first time in my life, I have been able to really provide something that I experienced and completely cherished as a young girl but wish I got more of. I hope that they understand how much their interest and attention means to me and how valuable their contribution to our camp is. 

This year I was honoured to be able to feature in the video package about the program and present myself officially as the Community Manager. I remember seeing them record the video package last year and was just dying to be involved. After only a year since the last program, my confidence has grown and I felt completely at ease during this entire process. 

We also featured a few other girls, and I was lucky enough to act as the interviewer. I know what it is like to be nervous and psych yourself out. From this side of the process, my goal was to make sure the girls felt relaxed, supported and that they are in a space with a friend. It was great to ask the girls the questions and elicit these powerful messages from them. I am not going to lie, I did well up a little bit at some of the responses and truly felt that these girls feel just as strongly about the program as I do and I can see them acting in my role, support the next generation of women through the ranks. 

Today was also my Birthday and I feel as though I have spent it among friends. I didn’t really draw attention to it and wasn’t really expecting anything. However, I got a shock of my life when Karolyn walked out with a huge cake with a fireball of candles on top. This is the first time a room full of women have sung me happy birthday (I think most people in my life) and it was the most harmonious thing I have ever heard. It took everything I had to fight back the tears of joy, and keep my composure. Thank you to everyone for making today so so special, it really meant a lot.

The night finished off with some well earned Guzman Y Gomez and we were all able to socialize in a relaxed informal setting and just talk about our lives and interests. That wraps the second last day and it has all gone so fast. 

2019 Camp – Day 4

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For today and the rest of the camp we have moved over the road and now get to work from Griffith University. We are fortunate to use this funky space, located in the Visual Arts studio. We are also kept company by the cutest little 3D printer I have ever seen.

For today’s opening session, we dove straight in hearing from Brent Richards (Medical Director of Innovation and Director of Critical Care Research at Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service). Brent shared with us the future of AI and what that can mean. As head of innovation, Brent is very well equipped to enlighten us on the possibilities of AI; as he lives in the space of possibilities.

With the only constant in the workplace being change, AI is no longer a nice to have but a must-have for businesses. Especially in the medical industry, we are in the process of a digital information overload, while human capacity is fixed and the quantity of medical information per patient rises, there is a growing need for AI-enabled decision support. On the cusp of the 4th industrial revolution, we draw the conclusion that data is the new oil, and AI is the new electricity. This data-driven world is making us change our perception of data from being an expense, to data being a valuable and highly sort after asset. With whole industry domains dedicated to data and the collection and curation of data. Now, after previous sessions in this program, I am starting to wonder if that google validation test ‘I am human, click all the images with street lights’ is just a way for Google to improve its image recognition at no cost. Also, you can start working in the AI domain today and get paid for it. You will need a vital piece of vision process, and its the best cognitive system we have so far… it’s you and your brain! Companies are paying people to curate their data, amazing times we live in.

We broke out into groups to discuss the concept that AI will make humans redundant and what we think the impacts will be. It is fairly unanimous that AI will affect 100% of industries in some capacity. There is widespread fear that jobs will be lost and people will be out of work because of AI, however, there is a strong opinion that AI is creating industry and this will not be the doom and gloom we are hearing about. We draw the comparison to the idea of apps (phone app) developers, this whole job space was inconceivable just over 10 years ago, prior to the wide use of smartphone and the deployment of the app store. Think about how many people fill this space also think of game testers.

AI, in part, is here to solve the question ‘is there something I would rather spend my day doing’. We will be (already are) working alongside AI, which is a tool help lighten our load on repeatable tasks allowing us more time on the things we/humans are best at.

After a much-needed morning tea coffee break, we heard from Jack Gillespie at Deloitte about team collaboration tools. This is a really quirky guy and great fun to watch (new lesson, you can never have enough memes in your presentation, and if you open with a Simpsons-style image of yourself, then you can’t go wrong). Jack entertained us with his fascinating background, I was particularly interested in his digital vertical garden that was 11ft tall (if I remember correctly), apparently it’s interactive so that defiantly sounds cool and futuristic. He shared some cool tips, tricks and his perspective on different team collaboration tools. Very happy to learn Jira is a widely used tool, (as Jira development is something I am particularly interested in), also Slack is a key player (which is something we are using at the camp, so, go us for being in the know). We learnt the different development processes such as waterfall and agile and that in real-world development often takes a ‘wa-gile’ approach. Jack’s final thoughts were around project planning and that ‘Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face (~Mike Tyson)’ and as a developer, you just get really good at getting punched in the face (and picking yourself back up).

The teams then re-assembled for some more group work and are feverishly developing their solutions and pitches. It’s great to see the groups taking some varied approaches and really putting their entrepreneur/startup hats on. There a number of girls I defiantly see being my boss in the future and strong leaders in this industry. I also see many girls returning to this program as speakers and presenters in the future, ready to inspire the next generation (my daughter may even been one of the girls they inspire *tear*).

We began the after-lunch session on human factors with Gemma Read from the University Sunshine Coast. Gemma explained that impact that Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE) plays in development and how this can be applied to AI development. High consideration of HFE in the design phase of development often leads to reduce cost of detection and resolution of human performance related issues during the implementation and operation of a system.  Some projects that under address these factors in the design phase can pay the price in the later stages of the cycle. In the scope of AI, ‘human error’ shifts from the human/user and moves to the designer (P-I-C-N-I-C error, will have a whole new meaning I guess). This means testing and verification is important. With the wide use of AI, we can see other issues potentially arise such as, users placing too much or too little trust in the system, skill degradation as we no longer need to learn/teach how to carry out the task that AI is preforming (i.e. ask yourself, will young people still learn to drive if the world moves to solely driver-less cars?). Another consideration, when deploying AI solutions and their impacts on the human users, is that risk of overloading or under-loading usere. For example, driver-less cars don’t demand active engagement from the co-drivers, therefore it’s tempting for them to multitask and engage in distracting tasks or even sleep.

To end the day, we head from Ted Goranson from Griffith University who gave us some promising possibilities about this space and a reaffirming message that it is OK to be disruptors and the world needs people who may not fit the norm to help challenge/ change and ignite stale domains. There are areas that are tired and waiting for an injection of innovation and I see many girls in the room today that fit this description.

As an extra special treat, we heard from Beth Cardier, a Cognitive Narratologist from Sirius-Beta. Beth shared stories that resonated with all girls in the room and a message that could have only come from someone like herself. In the short moments I got to listen to her and the time I managed to steal (also the shameless selfie, totally fan-girling over her, I’m not going to lie). Beth is a true role model to all women and has truly captured my respect. Some of my take ways from meeting and listening to her today are:

·       STEM might be closer than you think

·       A leader is the story teller of your tribe

·       How non-technical (‘inter-disciplinary’) people can bridge the gap between the two worlds, by finding common terms and learn what metaphors you have in common

·       When leading a male dominate team, as a female, actions speak louder than words and show you deserve respect by your actions not your words (that’s my interpretation of her message)

Beth left us with the empowering message to harness what we’re experiencing in this program and that this community is something she wished she had during her early career. Also, to be mindful when people come to you, if they come to you with a problem, then that is good, they value your input/knowledge, if they come to you and just tell you about themselves, then that speaks to where they are at.

Finally, special mention to Kelvin Ross reinforcing Beth’s message and being so aware/active around the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion. Thanks for being a driving force and supporting this program. Now we are through day 4, we are starting to see into the inner workings of AI and it is no longer a ‘black box’. 

See you all tomorrow, and don’t foget, we’re getting GYG tomorrow night!

2019 Camp – Day 3

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We have reached the mid-way point of our camp and our teams are making phenomenal progress on their solutions as well as fully embracing the spirit of the program. The atmosphere is full of energy and excitement as our teams continue to collaborate and mingle.

This morning we opened with Karolyn Gainfort, Digital Risk Mitigator and Principal Consultant at KJR. Karolyn is a veteran mentor in our camp (and one of the main reasons why I am so passionate about this program). Karolyn discussed the role bias and ethics play in AI. The emphasis on diverse teams is one factor we can control to help mitigate risks of unconscious bias. To put into context, Karolyn took us through an article on ‘How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did’. I highly recommend this as a must-read, as it showcases how the best intentions can go awry when diverse input to a development team is missing. From this, the teams were given an AI Ethics Canvas to help evaluate their solution and start thinking about the stakeholders, risks and mitigating measures they can take for their solution. After evaluating their solutions, the teams each presented a quick showcase on the considerations they have made based on their AI Ethics canvas.


After the break we got a crash course on Neural Networks from Ruth Pearson at Silverpond (also a veteran mentor of the program and thanks to our meeting at 2018 is the source of my passion for connecting girls in stem, she worked at NASA and you can’t get much cooler than that). Ruth took us through a simple example of a fully connected neural network and explained the process on a whiteboard. This analogue approach dispelled so many mental barriers I had around attempting to understand neural networks. Ruth has a powerful presence and a real knack for making the content she delivers relatable. At the end of this amazing session, we had a cool ‘tinker’ with Tensorflow playground ( and learning the different mechanisms that go into the hidden layers of our algorithms.


Before ending the day with more group work, we wrapped up with some stories from some of our attendees. We heard from Serena Mou I( ) who shared her experience with work, study and life in an often male dominated industry. She told a very relatable story about the shock/surprise strangers get when she tells them her profession and the (I’m terming it man-splaining) she has received in her labs from people (males) assuming her knowledge. This is not uncommon and I don’t feel that these reactions are intentional or come from a bad place, its just the lack of ‘normalisation’ of women’s presence in these fields. She spoke about that girls often get told, no that can’t do that, however, her message is ‘you know what…yes!’.


We also heard from some special attendees at our camp, we have 2 young girls, aged only 9 and 14 from Tech Girls Movement. These astounding girls are actively engaged in our program and have contributed so much that even women twice their age may find daring. Chaperoned by their very involved and supportive mother (Angie, women I will definitely be taking parenting tips from). I speak for the whole cohort that we have been lucky enough to see both girls in action and fills me with so much hope for the future generation of empowered girls in STEM. They shared with us their journey which has taken them all the way to Silicon Valley in the US and has already produced some amazing applications to help support members of our community.

2019 Camp – Day 2

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Day 2 was all about collaboration. First up, the cohort broke into 7 teams. These teams will work together over the next few days to pitch potential business solutions that implement computer vision.  From our hands-on lab with AWS, we learnt that we don’t need to be ‘hardcore’ machine learning coders to start solving problems *sigh of relief for a number of our attendees, myself included*. We can use pre-built packaged services, like the ones AWS provide, to easily design, develop, train and deploy our algorithms. Also, with tools such as github and other resources, we can truly integrate with this open source community.


Thank you to our AWS experts (Aashmeet Kaur Kalra & Navjot Signh) who provided amazing support for our cohort, with some great 1-on-1 learning and tailoring the materiel for the audience. Each year AWS have outdone themselves and we are so fortunate they are part of our community. During the lab, we were able to easily communicate with one another using our slack channels and our groups started to collaborate within their private channels. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to use such a simple yet effective collaboration tool, my new term is now ‘Slack It!’ to anyone who has a cool tip or suggestion.


Our cohort has definitely settled in, with the first-day nerves a distant memory. Our attendees and mentors utilising the lunch break for some informal networking and story sharing. I managed to snap some happy shots and catch some funny faces, Jack Gillespie and Steph Piper you crack me up.


The afternoon session called ‘know yourself, be yourself, lead yourself’ was conducted by Cherie Whelen from Deloittes (a truly inspiring women that I greatly admire). One part of her presentation I really enjoyed was the activity that involved the 6 traits of inclusive leadership (Commitment, Courage, Cognisance of bias, Curiosity, Cultural Intelligence and Collaboration) where we had to identify the trait we felt strongest and weakest in. We then had to gather as a mixed group (strength/weakness) in the trait we identified the strongest with. While in the group, we had a short time to discussed why we felt this area was our strength/weakness. Why this activity was so interesting was because it was the same activity I did at last years camp however my responses had drastically (positively) changed.  Over the space of only 12 months, my perception of myself has changed and traits I felt weakest in, such as courage and collaboration were now what I consider my strengths. Whether this change is from new roles I have taken on (YWLIAI Community Manager) or my involvement in programs such as Young Women Leaders in AI these experiences have allowed me to develop these aspects of myself. #EvolveAways


Finally, to help our teams work on their pitches and come up with a minimum viable product (MVP) concept by the end of the camp, Larene Le Gassick who shared some insights and advice from idea generation to prototyping. This was a high-level look at the process that start-ups generally use. Hopefully, this will provide some context and guidance for our teams in the creation of their solutions. I am so excited to see their ideas at the end of the camp and hopefully, these ideas will gain momentum and they will continue to work on them after the camp.


That wraps up day 2 and I will see everyone bright and early tomorrow.

2019 Camp – Day 1

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Day 1 of the Young Women Leaders in AI 2019 camp has come to an end and what a wonderful start to our week! The lobby was full of so many eager young women, excited to connect and learn about AI. First day nerves seemed to quickly dissipate as the groups gathered, excitingly chatting with one another.

Throughout the day we heard from some empowering female speakers, who shared their stories, passion and journey with us. Our speakers today were: Cathy Ford (CIO of QUT), Faith Rees (CEO and Co Founder of SixPiviot and Cloud Ctrl), Nicole Robinson (Robotics Researcher at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision) and Ruth Pearson (Data Scientist/Machine Learning Engineer at Silverpond).

All had such inspiring stories and are working on some exciting initiatives. One key takeaway that resonated with me was: To act on your moments and the power of moments, also the title of a book that is now on my reading list.

AWS shared with us the fundamentals of AI, using a very funny and entertaining video that explained, in simple terms, ‘how AI is created’. Once I locate this (if I can) I will share it!

The day finished off with a fun ‘Half baked’ session, which was a quick team building exercise to get everyone’s creative ideas flowing. The activity started with everyone shouting out words, then using these words, randomly paired, to create a product or use case solution with AI tools. The teams when broke off and had 10mins to come up the solution and pitch for their new product or service. The ideas that came from our groups were impressive and took completely unique, innovative and creative approaches. The winner was ‘Chair Elastics’, with an AI driver chair designed for ergonomic efficiency. Some honourable mentions went to ‘Hair Chocolate’, with their pitch for engineered chocolate using DNA harvested from your hair to create chocolate that doesn’t make you put on weight and ‘Swim Glasses’ for their environmentally conscious glasses used by touristed to monitor the heath of our waters.

That’s a wrap for today, see you all tomorrow for Day 2 where will have some hand on labs and more group work.

Remember, dream big, then dream bigger!