Europe, Interviews

Christina Hu – AI Product Manager at Babylon Health

Knowing that being a woman in Tech can often be challenging for various reasons just means it’s an opportunity to conquer another great challenge!

Christina Hu is an AI Product Manager at Babylon Health – a unicorn-status start-up combining AI with human doctors. She made the career change to Product x AI after doing Strategy Consulting for 4 years. Now, AI Product Management presents Christina with the perfect opportunity to combine her broad business acumen with her love for science and tech – which she developed while studying Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

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

I’m an AI Product Manager at Babylon Health. I find the problems that our
business and users care about that can and should be solved by AI, and work closely with diverse teams of brilliantly talented people – from Machine Learning Engineers & Researchers to Designers to Doctors to UX Researchers – to figure out solutions to them and guide the development of these AI-powered products. Sometimes I work on non-AI products too – there are times when it’s more important to provide a simple solution that’s good enough than something highly sophisticated and state-of-the-art!

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

I wasn’t always a Product Manager – and in fact didn’t really know about it until a few years into my career. After studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge, I knew I loved science but I didn’t want to be a researcher and simultaneously wanted to learn about an area that was totally new to me at the time – which was how businesses work.

So I went into Strategy Consulting at EY where I spent 4 years understanding how to improve businesses, their tooling and the services that they offer to their customers. Over the course of many projects in wide-ranging industries like healthcare, oil & gas and social enterprise, I honed a couple of skills that turned out to be invaluable to me as now as a PM: structured problem-solving, stakeholder management and compelling communication (not to mention creating beautiful slide decks!)

But perhaps the most important thing that Strategy Consulting taught me was that I was aching to make real-world impact on people myself instead of offering advice on it from the sidelines – you could say I wanted to go from being an “Advisor” to being a “Builder”. On top of that, I realised that I had a lot of creativity that I’d been itching to apply – I wanted to create truly novel solutions and cutting edge AI technology really excited me because I knew it could enable totally new experiences that wouldn’t be possible without AI.

I realised that AI Product Management was possibly the role that fit my strengths and passions perfectly – so over the course of a year I did everything I could to test that hypothesis and build up the skills I was missing.

I realised that AI Product Management was possibly the role that fit my strengths and passions perfectly – so over the course of a year I did everything I could to test that hypothesis and build up the skills I was missing. This included getting roles on projects where I could work closely with software engineers and machine learning scientists, carrying out user research to get into the mindset of being user-centric, reading everything I could find in articles and books on PM-ing, and finding myself an awesome AI PM mentor. A lot of sweat was poured into the transition, and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a lot of kind people, but I think it was well worth it – the things I learnt in that time help me even now bring a real rigour to my Product work.

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

Actually, I’d say what we’re experiencing right now during the Coronavirus is creating one of the greatest tech transformations in recent times! With people forced to stay home but still needing to carry on their usual day-to-day activities at home – whether that’s having meetings for work, taking fitness classes, getting medical care or watching sport games/concerts – businesses who were dipping their toes into “digital transformations” before now have no choice but to adapt or collapse. So in many ways, the current crisis is providing the catalyst to accelerate remote-first tech changes in businesses that were probably going to happen eventually but would have taken considerably longer, simply because the incentive wasn’t nearly as strong as it is now.

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

Opportunity. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, so knowing that being a woman in Tech can often be challenging for various reasons just means it’s an opportunity to conquer another great challenge!

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

If you put in the effort, training and research that allows you to really “walk the walk” – the confidence in your ability to succeed in Tech will likely come naturally.

It all needs to start at the early stages of development – whether that’s primary school or earlier – girls need to be taught that they are equally capable of doing anything that boys do. That’s needed when girls are not yet old enough to be able to “judge for themselves”. Once those psychological foundations have been set, I believe a lot of it is up to girls / women themselves to believe in themselves and their ambitions in Tech. This sort of self-assurance is strongest when it’s grounded – if you put in the effort, training and research that allows you to really “walk the walk” – the confidence in your ability to succeed in Tech will likely come naturally.

I also think that senior women in Tech need to do more to actively express openness to offer support to junior women with potential – as it can be intimidating to approach them out of the blue!

I also think that senior women in Tech need to do more to actively express openness to offer support to junior women with potential – as it can be intimidating to approach them out of the blue! I was at a talk last year where someone said something that really resonated with me – you’re much more likely to succeed as a junior woman in Tech if you have both a mentor and a sponsor. They’re easily conflated, but essentially a mentor advises you and a sponsor advocates for you – try to get both!

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

The number one skill has to be Empathy – to be able to really understand all the different points of view that you get from all the people in different roles who are needed to make a tech product a success. Empathy helps you get into the mindset of your leadership so you can get their buy-in to your product idea. It’s what you need to understand what’s motivating other teams and persuade them to prioritise building the component that your product is dependent on. With empathy, you’ll be able to bring the best out of the engineers in your team as you know why they’re asking you to provide them with certain things (whether that’s clearer JIRA tickets or a bit more time to do something!) and you’ll learn how to keep their morale high.

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

When there’s a lot of uncertainty it’s always better to go with the choice that keeps more of your options open.

If I were to pick someone who jumps to mind – it would be my Biology teacher in my final year of high school. I remember having a major dilemma about whether to choose Medicine or Natural Sciences for my university degree as both were hugely appealing to me as subjects to study from an intellectual perspective but I wasn’t sure about what career to pursue – it was she who helped me to see that when there’s a lot of uncertainty it’s always better to go with the choice that keeps more of your options open (much like a stem cell which hasn’t yet specialised!) Fast forward to now and I’m so glad to have listened to her wise words. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of incredibly smart and talented ex-medic friends who are now working in enviable tech roles – but I know that I would have found the transition to Product Management even more challenging after dedicating all those years to studying / practising medicine – perhaps I
would have stalled instead of making the leap!

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

Don’t be afraid to dream big – and try to turn some of those wacky ideas into real products or at least prototypes – you might find it more satisfying than pouring those extra hours into studying excessively and more useful for when you enter the real world. Also, learn to code!

Christina Hu is an AI Product Manager at Babylon Health – a unicorn-status start-up combining AI with human doctors. She made the career change to Product x AI after doing Strategy Consulting for 4 years. Now, AI Product Management presents Christina with the perfect opportunity to combine her broad business acumen with her love for science and tech – which she developed while studying Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

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