& cplSiteName &

AT&T AI Director on Diversity in Data Mining

Sarah Thomas
6/19/2017
50%
50%

The more than 1,000 employees that make up AT&T Labs are nearly as diverse as the data they mine on a daily basis.

This wasn't necessarily by design, according to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Director Ann Skuldark, but it has been an important part of the carrier's research division's success. Diverse viewpoints promote innovative problem-solving, and inclusion is less of an issue when there is no single dominant "type." Skudlark says the one thing her employees have in common is that they are all extremely talented, which of course helps as well.

She tells Women in Comms that for women in highly technical fields -- like hers where she works on data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning -- the benefit is that you're judged on the outcome of your analysis. It's a level playing field by nature of the goals of the organization. Read on for more of her insights, advice and perspective on the industry. (See Data Sharing Key to AT&T's AI Push.)

Ann Skudlark, Director, AT&T
Ann Skudlark, Director, AT&T


Women in Comms' next networking luncheon is coming up on November 1 in London. Join us during the OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV event for a fun afternoon of networking, lunch and discussion. Register and learn more here.


Women in Comms: Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

Ann Skudlark: I joined [AT&T] in 1984 right after divestiture, and came into a strategy position, identifying ways to share with customers that they'd need to select a long-distance company. I was on a leadership development plan and had rotational assignments. One was in AT&T Labs. I joined Labs in 1992 and thought, "oh my gosh, this is where I want to be." I came for a one-year rotational assignment and stayed for 25 years. I've had the privilege of working in AT&T Labs, at once time Bell Labs, for 25 years. I came in and got very lucky to have the opportunity to come into the Labs and here I am.

WiC: I thought it was interesting that your bio included that you helped your team focus and prioritize their work. How do you manage the "people" aspect of your job with the business and tech goals?

AS: Many of our teams are cross-functional, they come from different backgrounds. A lot of our researchers are very capable in terms of computer scientists, engineers, statisticians and people who have backgrounds in physics, so I think what this brings together is people who are good at problem-solving. Sometimes we apply the problem-solving to customer care or my group in particular does a lot of work on fraud. In that case, it's coming up with approaches to identify situations that might not be obvious on different fraud applications. We have the benefit of rich data that we are able to use to improve customer experience. That's the bottom line of what we're always trying to do.

WiC: What is your advice to the future working generation to be ready for the AI revolution?

AS: It seems to me that even future workers who maybe are not especially quantitative, their ability to understand and appreciate quantitative perspectives makes them a much stronger employee and, as you reflect on it, I think that importance will continue to grow. That's not to say that there isn't room for non-quantitative expertise but I think people who are quantitative need to make sure they have terrific communications skills and articulate the work they are doing. At the same time, having our business partners understand the quantitative side of it builds for a much stronger partnership.

Even if you're not going to be a data scientists, per se, understanding what's within the realm of possibility enhances the conversation and understanding of a problem, project or being able to articulate what the outcome should look like. It helps with recognizing potential roadblocks and allows for a much richer conversation.

WiC: AT&T tends to have a strong gender split in general, but it seems like the AI research division has a lot of women in particular. Is this the case, and was it deliberate?

AS: I don't know if AT&T employs more or less than other companies, but I think oftentimes the benefit for women of working in a technical field is that you are judged by the outcome of your analysis or the outcome and your ability to extract insights from it and communicate those insights. Perhaps you are less judged by other characteristics that may be traditional in other business settings.

WiC: How do you practice inclusive leadership?

AS: I feel that it's very easy because as the manager of extremely talented people, my goal is to help prioritize their work, help my contacts, review work from a business sense. So I think it's very gratifying to work with a group of technical people because particularly in our organization where the skill sets and expertise of the people we work with is so high that coming to work every day is an opportunity to learn from the people that we support.

We have people from very different educational business backgrounds, as well as a diversity of countries, genders and age -- our teams are extremely diverse, both culturally and skill-set wise. We do a lot of cross-teaming. It's very natural for us to have a very inclusive environment because, for example, on my direct team there are no other white women; it's a very broad group of people. It's extremely easy to be inclusive because my whole team is diverse. It's very comfortable and supportive. There's a tremendous degree of respect among the people on my team.

WiC: Did you build a diverse team by design, or did it just happen that way?

AS: We identify who we think is the best candidate for the position. In my group, I haven't explicitly looked for a particular type of diversity, I am looking for the best candidate or person for the team.

Our organization, starting from our leadership, I feel it's very collaborative, congenial; it's a very supportive environment. We respect other people's points of view and skill sets.

WiC: What advice would you give to other women in comms to help in their careers?

AS: I think the biggest part is having the feeling of "I can do it." I think if someone has an interest in it, that they need to know they can try it and that it's okay to stumble along the way; that moving in a particular direction doesn't mean you're an expert from the beginning. As you go down a path, you learn as much from your failures as you do from your successes, so it's recognizing the importance of resilience and that each step of the way you learn something about what works and what doesn't. My biggest advice is to continue to try different things. You should follow your passion, but I think you don’t know what your passion is right way. You have to try things to know what your passion is. Be open to trying things and accept failures as a possibility.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Sarah Thomas
50%
50%
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
6/19/2017 | 8:11:09 AM
diversity at AT&T
I enjoyed hearing from AT&T's big data Labs team that is working on AI (Ann, Chris Volinsky from the previous story and DeDe Paul, who will be featured in an upcoming Mentor Monday). AT&T Labs, and AT&T in general, seems to have a great gender split and employs women at every level. It's interesting to hear it wasn't necessarily be design. Considering their background and thought diversity they bring to the job can be one element of hiring the "best person for the job." Also having a team that is already incredibly diverse begets bringing on more diversity. It doesn't have to be complicated!
More Blogs from Mentor Monday
CEO Crissi Williams is leading the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP) in its apprenticeship program to help attract more qualified women to the telecom industry.
Jill Sciarappo has bounced all over Intel building a rewarding career that has ultimately led her to the driver's seat of the chipmaker's self-driving cars division.
Tara O'Sullivan, chief creative officer of the e-learning company Skillsoft, offers insight into how companies can improve their cultures and why both women and men must play a role.
Kathy Winter has always wanted to stay on the cutting-edge of technology, even when it means letting the car itself take the wheel.
From The Founder
Kicking off BCE 2017, Light Reading founder Steve Saunders lays blame for NFV's slow ramp-up and urges telecom to return to old-fashioned standards building and interoperability.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Infinera's Sales Director Paints Tech's Big Picture

6|21|17   |   4:14   |   (1) comment


Shannon Williams, Infinera's director of sales, shares how she achieves work's many balancing acts -- between her role and the broader company, today and tomorrow's tech and more.
LRTV Custom TV
SD-WAN Innovation & Trends

6|20|17   |     |   (0) comments


Versa CEO Kelly Ahuja discusses with Carol Wilson the current status and trends in the SD-WAN market, Versa's innovation around building a software platform with broad contextualization, and the advantages that startups can bring to the SD-WAN market.
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Dario Talmesio on 5G in Europe

6|20|17   |   02:16   |   (0) comments


At 5G World 2017, Dario Talmesio, principal analyst and practice leader on Ovum's fixed and mobile telecoms European team, explains the emerging trends amongst European operators as they prepare for 5G.
LRTV Custom TV
Putting Power on a Pedestal

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


ARRIS's John Ulm says a major accomplishment of SCTE•ISBE's Energy 2020 program is increased focus on power cost and consumption, including inclusion of energy requirements in operators' RFPs and RFIs.
LRTV Custom TV
Gigabit Access: The Last-Mile Pipe for All Future Services

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


A Gigabit access platform being deployed today must be able to deliver all types of services to an increasing number of devices. A non-blocking architecture is necessary to support the ever-increasing growth in bandwidth demand. The Huawei Gigabit access solution is based on a distributed design that is fully scalable to deliver a unprecedented performance.
LRTV Custom TV
Key Factors to Successfully Deploy an SD-WAN Service

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


As service providers transition their SD-WAN solution from trials and limited deployments into production at large scale, there are important considerations to successfully operationalize these solutions and realize their full potential, without adding complexity, introducing uncertainty or disrupting current business operations. Sunil Khandekar, CEO and Founder ...
LRTV Custom TV
IoT Solutions: Rational Exuberance

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


IoT solutions are morphing from hype into viable business opportunities. Huawei has the platform and ecosystem support to help carriers successfully address new business opportunities in the IoT space.
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing ICN as a Network Slice for Mobile Data Distribution

6|19|17   |     |   (1) comment


Network slicing in 5G allows the potential introduction of new network architectures such as Information-centric Networks (ICN) as a slice, managed over a shared pool of compute, storage and bandwidth resource. Services over an ICN slice can benefit from many architectural features such as Name Based Networking, Security, Multicasting, Multi-homing, Mobility, ...
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Mike Roberts on 5G Uptake

6|19|17   |   04:08   |   (0) comments


Mike Roberts, research director for Ovum's service provider markets group, explains why he has boosted his 5G subscriptions forecast.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T's Hubbard on Intersection of SD-WAN & MPLS

6|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


Rick Hubbard, SVP of Network Product Management for AT&T Business Solutions, discusses how AT&T's approach to SD-WAN fits in with its overall virtualization strategy, explains how SD-WAN can improve enterprise customers' use of the cloud and addresses the intersection of SD-WAN and MPLS.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Keep Connected IoT Devices Under Control With Allot

6|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


Allot AVP of International Pre-Sales, Daniel Keidar, explains how communications service providers can protect infrastructure and service availability from flooding attacks caused by malfunctioning or bot-infected devices connected to their network.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE 5G World Highlights

6|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


ZTE showcases its leading 5G innovations at 5G World in London.
Upcoming Live Events
October 18, 2017, Colorado Convention Center - Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Verizon Warns of $500M Hit From Yahoo Deal
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/16/2017
Netflix's Lesson in Culture Expectation Settings
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
Kalanick Steps Down as Uber CEO
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
No Imagination: UK Chip Biz Goes Up for Sale
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/22/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.