Europe, Interviews

Mercedes Rodríguez García – Chatbot and Voice Assistant Conversational Architect

Technology is entering all fields and jobs, and if women do not start moving into tech careers, female unemployment will increase even more in the next years.

Mercedes is a software developer, currently focused on developing Actions for the Google Assistant and chatbots for different platforms using Dialogflow. She is passionate about Human-Computer Interaction and Voice User Interfaces, always trying to build the best conversational experiences, cause she truly believes that everything will be managed by voice in a not so far future. She is also a Google Developer Expert for Assistant. Previously, she has worked as a teacher, as a translator specialized in localization, and as a web content editor, writing at many different blogs. She is a very curious person who loves to learn new things all the time. Right now, one of her main concerns is the lack of women in technology. That’s why she is a co-organizer at GalsTech, a group trying to improve women visibility in the sector, in order to encourage more girls to choose technological careers by giving talks, and organizing meetups and workshops.

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

I’m a chatbot and voice assistant conversational architect. Since I have a mixed profile of humanities and software development, I can implement a whole agent, performing different tasks as needed. I can do the conversational design, building all the dialogues and conversational flows needed to interact with users/clients, always trying to offer them the best conversational experience. And also I can write the backend code for the conversational agents, connect them to APIs, databases, ERPs…, and integrate them in different platforms, such as Facebook, Slack, Telegram, etc.

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

My professional journey started many years ago, around 2000 I think. I started working as a translator, specialized in technical translation and software localization. Then I worked several years as a web content editor and content manager, writing for many blogs on different topics (Scientific & Technical advances, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech, Nanotechnology…). Then I changed to chatbots. I worked several years for a Spanish company, first as a conversational designer and developer, and finally as Head of Innovation. During that period, I also built several actions for Google Assistant, entering into the voice ecosystem, and last year I became Google Developer Expert for Assistant. Now, I work as a freelance, offering consulting, training and development services.

I think that the best quote to describe my career is: “Always learning”. I love learning new things. I keep learning new things and taking new challenges all the time.

What I see now is that everything that I’ve done in my life is being useful for my current job. Chatbots and voice assistants are being implemented in many sectors (e-commerce, hostelry, banking and fintech, health…). I have experience working as a shop assistant, waitress, and even as a DJ, and writing for many different topics. So I’m familiar with those selling processes, and with the terminology and dialogs that are common in those situations. That’s really helpful now when I have to develop a chatbot or voice assistant for those sectors.

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

I would say three: First, computers and the Internet. When I started studying translation, we still used paper dictionaries. Having the possibility to work in a computer, using digital dictionaries and searching the Internet to look for information was a huge step. Then, smartphones, which besides allowing us to communicate immediately from anywhere, it’s like carrying the office in your pocket. And now, voice assistants. We are just starting with that, but I think they will be everywhere. Voice is our natural way of communicating, and being able to talk to technology (not just to smart speakers, but also to our fridge, washing machine, and any other home appliances) will definitely change our lives.

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

The lack of women in technology. We need more women in tech. First of all, because technology is entering all fields and jobs, and if women do not start moving into tech careers, female unemployment will increase even more in next years. And second, because diversity in development teams is fundamental for building products without bias and that can be useful and adequate for everybody. And not just women in general, we need different women to be represented in those teams, black women, latin women, asian women, lesbian women, women with disabilities…

We need not just women in general, we need different women to be represented in those teams, black women, latin women, asian women, lesbian women, women with disabilities…

Because all of us have different problems and needs, we were raised in different cultural environments with different traditions, we have been educated differently and we had different life experiences, so we can also provide different perspectives and insights when solving a problem or developing a new product. That’s why diversity in tech is so important, because it leads to better products.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that, which steps should be done to achieve gender equality in tech?

Some studies have shown that girls start to lose interest in technology around 12. So maybe we should try to do something in those ages.

There is not a clear answer for that. But I think that education and cultural environment is very important. Some studies have shown that girls start to lose interest in technology around 12. So maybe we should try to do something in those ages. For example, with workshops that can get them close to technologies and show them how technology can help them to solve common problems and improve their lives and those of their loved ones.

It’s not always easy to be the only woman in a man’s world.

In later periods, it is also very important to offer them a safe and friendly environment. Many women quit at University, and even later, when they get their first job in a tech company because they do not feel comfortable. It’s not always easy to be the only woman in a man’s world.

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

It’s hard to say, but definitely it would be more inclusive and caring.

Which was the best decision in your career?

Moving into tech. Before, I wrote about things that other people did, now I do things myself, and it’s very rewarding. You feel great when you build something and then just watch how it works.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

I would tell them to look for real problems or needs that they would like to solve in their lives, so they can find something that really moves them to put their energy on it.

Technology is something very wide and it has many different fields. It is very important that they identify their real interests. I would tell them to look for real problems or needs that they would like to solve in their lives, so they can find something that really moves them to put their energy on it.

Also, if they are not sure where to start or just feel insecure, I would tell them not to be afraid to get in touch with other experienced women in the tech sector, looking for advice. We are always glad to help other women to get into tech.

And if they are interested in software development, I would recommend them to look for a dev community related to their interests. These communities use to organize tech events and they are a great space to get to know other people in tech and learn and grow together. There are mixed communities and communities integrated just by women. So they can choose a women dev community if they feel more comfortable with that. It is quite common, especially at the beginning.

Mercedes Rodríguez García is a software developer, currently focused on developing Actions for the Google Assistant and chatbots for different platforms using Dialogflow. She is passionate about Human-Computer Interaction and Voice User Interfaces, always trying to build the best conversational experiences, cause she truly believes that everything will be managed by voice in a not so far future. She is also a Google Developer Expert for Assistant. Previously, she has worked as a teacher, as a translator specialized in localization, and as a web content editor, writing at many different blogs. She is a very curious person who loves to learn new things all the time. Right now, one of her main concerns is the lack of women in technology. That’s why she is a co-organizer at GalsTech, a group trying to improve women visibility in the sector, in order to encourage more girls to choose technological careers by giving talks, and organizing meetups and workshops.

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