All over the country, sixth years have been grappling with one of the biggest choices they’ve ever faced – what to put down on the CAO form. In one way or another, we’ve all been there, in that we’ve all had to try and figure out what to do with our lives.
For any student still looking to change course (literally, in the case of the CAO) they only have a fortnight, until July 1, to do so.
For many people, the easiest path is the most obvious one. We often emulate the career paths of those around us, choosing teaching, law or medicine because that’s what our parents or grandparents did, or because there’s some traditional prestige attached to it.
For those still wondering what path they should follow, I want to let you in on one of the working world’s best-kept secrets: artificial intelligence or AI.
I am a software engineer and the Irish founder of an artificial intelligence company –SoapBox Labs – which builds speech recognition technology for children. This is used to help them play and learn. SoapBox was conceived of at the kitchen table, watching my four-year-old struggle with Siri.
For the past 25 years I’ve had a rewarding career as a software engineer, AI researcher and now as an entrepreneur.
I’ve also recently been appointed as Ireland’s first AI Ambassador.
Just about every industry you can think of is being disrupted – and unlocked – by technology and artificial intelligence today, from climate to finance to fashion. Pick any field, and you will see that growth in this area is nearly always associated with digitisation.
The future of technology will see us move from frequent, daily touchpoints to more deeply integrated digital experiences in every aspect of our daily lives. For some people that prospect is really exciting and promising. For others, it prompts fear.
Stories about big tech abuses of personal data, manipulation of end users and the negative impact of social media have coloured many people’s view of tech.
And, for most people, they will always have to rely on the ability of somebody else to shape these technologies. But as a software engineer, you can literally be part of the solution by helping to address these issues in major areas of growth, such as Ethical Artificial Intelligence.
It’s also critical that those building the solution are able to do so in a way that empowers everyone in society, respecting what we have in common, as well as where we differ in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, race, and ethnicity.
This requires building for the needs of different groups of people by different groups of people; it requires accounting for the different ways people use and interact with technology rather than adopting the – admittedly easier – one-size-fits-all approach we often see that leaves certain groups behind.
Diversity in tech companies has become an urgent necessity — across all areas from engineering to management to boards of directors. And as technology companies look to address the current diversity imbalance, huge opportunities will await diverse software engineering candidates and those who want to work in diverse environments.
Whether you want to address the climate crisis via climate tech, help democratise education for all through edtech or simply want to help build and shape the metaverse, the options are truly vast, and software engineering is an amazing jumping off point to access influence and success in any of these fields.
Ireland needs more software engineers. So does the world. And, if you become one, you can see the world. Today Soapbox’s engineering teams work across multiple time zones.
Traditional stereotypes of software engineers as tech geeks have been replaced with images of the innovators and architects of the future.
So, if you’re weighing your future, I hope you’ll join our ranks and see the potential you have to make a global impact.
Dr Patricia Scanlon is founder of artificial intelligence company SoapBox Labs and is Ireland’s first AI Ambassador