Europe, Interviews

Malika Malik – Data & AI Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft

The first step to solving the world’s most significant challenges is to truly put your mind behind understanding it and coming up with a data-driven answer.

Malika is a Data & AI Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft UK; She is a Tech Women 100 UK / AI and Diversity & Inclusion / STEM champion. With her refined skill set, Malika brings customer-centric mindfulness that enables firms to innovate and thrive. This is what she’s done for my clients.

Malika’s intellectual curiosity also drives her to be a lifelong learner. In 2018, she earned her Master’s degree in Data Science from the London School of Economics, with an undergraduate degree in Statistics. Outside of work, Malika is a member of All-Party Parliamentary Group of AI, focussed to examine the myriad issues raised by the growth in adoption of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems such as changes to the workforce, ethical and legal implications, trust and transparency, and data governance amongst others. Malika is on the Technical Women @ Microsoft board and an ambassador of STEM and volunteers with numerous charitable-spiritual organisations.

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

I am a Data & Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cloud Solution Architect (CSA) at Microsoft UK. As a CSA, my key responsibility is to empower the success for customers by designing optimal architectures that deliver valued outcomes and orchestrating eco-system resources for inspiring Customer experiences.

There has been a fundamental change in how IT companies now conduct themselves, and the evolution of the cloud has a significant role to play in that. Most of my time and resources are spent building up this platform that enables widespread access to incredible computing, storage and networking resources.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean that all your existing investment is in vain; instead, it is possible to leverage investment and extend it to the cloud. As a Cloud solutions architect, my job is always to challenge customers to help them realise the value of the Microsoft Azure platform and accelerate their digital transformation journey.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

Right after completing an M.Sc in Data Science at LSE, I joined the advanced analytics team at a consulting firm in London. As a Data Scientist, I built scalable, high-performing AI products that transform and drive business value for the firm’s global client base. I’ve always paid most attention to what I offer to the customer/client – helping them frame their innovation journey, identifying market gaps and rapidly scaling resources to achieve commercial goals.

Customer success and client satisfaction are the cornerstones of my professional journey and building long term; sustainable, resilient technology-based value propositions are what drives me the most.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

It has to be the rapid adoption of AI and its impact on long-term and sustained financial growth. No conversation around technology today is complete without a reference to artificial intelligence. While the term has been around for a while, its application across industries has only picked up in recent times: from mining to healthcare, education and finance, among others, AI is changing the way we live, both at work and home. 

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

The big gap in the makeup of women in the technology – and the fact that this remains a global challenge to date.  The gender gap at work costs businesses, economies and people’s lives alike. Lack of diversity means a lack of different opinions, innovation and even revenue. Better customer understanding leads to better products – and having women as one-half of your customers requires that we have women behind the product as well.

Technology impacts everyone. Balance in companies who are supposed to be the drivers of the future is crucial to their success. This should be especially important to companies that rely on emerging technologies, such as AI and blockchain. These technologies need more innovation and creativity, achieved with great collaboration between diverse mindsets.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that?

If women are not applying it means that the job advertisements need to be changed, especially advertisements which use terms such as aggressive, assertive, analytical, and independent.

It needs to start by solving the problem at the onset itself: hiring and retaining women as employees. Previously, women were asked if they will keep working after having kids and whether they will work after marriage. These questions are no longer relevant as the male approach towards working women has vastly changed. Any company that wants to hire more women employees must check their job listings. If women are not applying it means that the job advertisements need to be changed, especially advertisements which use terms such as aggressive, assertive, analytical, and independent.

Another suggestion, if I may, is blind hiring. To conduct an entire interview process without knowing the candidate’s gender is impossible, but aiming to have at least one step in the process that can be blind is possible. It means that the person reviewing the candidate is not shown the candidate’s identity in any way. This process obliges the recruiters to evaluate the qualities that are truly important for each position, allowing candidates to be judged on their qualifications and merit alone.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Going to make this one quick – innovative problem solving and genuine, deep driven curiosity. The first step to solving the world’s most significant challenges is to truly put your mind behind understanding it and coming up with a data-driven answer.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

There are some products that, almost by definition, only women buy—examples: breast pumps, pregnancy tests, ovulation tracking tools, etc. There are lots of other things that tend to be purchased more by women: fashion, baby/family related products, weddings, etc.

Can’t stress this one enough – diversity is imperative to make sure there are no biases in algorithms. The pre-existing biases in our society affect the way we speak and what we speak about, which in turn translates into what’s written down, which is ultimately what we use to train machine learning systems.

Can’t stress this one enough – diversity is imperative to make sure there are no biases in algorithms. The pre-existing biases in our society affect the way we speak and what we speak about, which in turn translates into what’s written down, which is ultimately what we use to train machine learning systems. Speaking as an AI engineer, we must always consider who will be using our methods and for what purpose. We can’t shy away from the issue, hiding under the assumption that technology is neutral. Especially since the consequences of our inaction aren’t just anecdotal, the bias in algorithms can lead to discrimination in hiring processes, loan applications, and even in the criminal justice system.

Lastly, we need more people in tech, period. With engineering specifically, we have a severe lack of qualified engineers (in the U.S at least, and many other countries). Out in Silicon Valley, companies are struggling to hire software engineers — even top companies like Google and Facebook. This is hurting the U.S.’s ability to grow companies. If as many women went into engineering as men, this would be a HUGE win for the world.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft and former head of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group has always inspired me to look beyond the ordinary. He’s an advocate of forwarding thinking and having a perpetual growth mindset. To clarify what I mean by that – a growth mindset in this context is viewing failure not as a negative outcome, but rather a stepping stone to doing better.

It was Satya’s steadfast belief in cloud computing that led Microsoft to invest billions in data centres around the world to support its cloud-ready products. And if you must know, this is what bagged Microsoft its stature as a cloud company infrastructure player and led the company to hit its revenue goal much in advance.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

I was a bookworm as a 14-year-old, and I don’t think I would want to change that!

Malika Malik is a Data & AI Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft UK; She is a Tech Women 100 UK/  AI and Diversity & Inclusion / STEM champion.  With her refined skill set, Malika brings customer-centric mindfulness that enables firms to innovate and thrive. This is what she’s done for my clients.

Malika’s intellectual curiosity also drives her to be a lifelong learner. In 2018, she earned her Master’s degree in Data Science from the London School of Economics, with an undergraduate degree in Statistics. Outside of work, Malika is a member of All-Party Parliamentary Group of AI, focussed to examine the myriad issues raised by the growth in adoption of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems such as changes to the workforce, ethical and legal implications, trust and transparency, and data governance amongst others. Malika is on the Technical Women @ Microsoft board and an ambassador of STEM and volunteers with numerous charitable-spiritual organisations.

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