Thinking about a career in AI?

Guest Blog: Dr Austin Tanney, Head of Digital and Data Strategy, Strategic Investment Board Northern Ireland. @austintanney Thinking about a career in AI? Don't bother… #AIWeek2021

Did that title get your attention? Can I now claim to have finally succumbed to writing a clickbait article title?

I hope so… because I am hoping for clicks on this, because on this rare occasion, I have a point to get across.

I often write meandering pieces about a variety of topics where I don't really have anything overwhelmingly important to say, but I say it anyway in a way that I hope is at least somewhat enjoyable to read.

Today is different.

If you are thinking about a career in AI… please keep thinking about it. Take this thought seriously. Nurture it, indulge it, and let that idea grow and become part of your career path.

If you're not thinking about a career in AI… can I possibly urge you to at least consider it briefly… then having done so, go back to the previous paragraph and follow the same instructions.

AI, machine learning, data science… One of the biggest challenges we face in this field is lack of skilled people. We also have a lack of diversity. Skills and diversity are really important in any field, but in this particular field we have a notable challenge across the board.

There is no doubt that AI is important. If we can just skip past the scaremongering and talk of existential risks and all that, then we need to accept that AI is not science fiction. It's not a possibility. It's here and it's part of our lives.  Smart phones, smart speakers, smart lighting systems, smart fridges, smart toasters… The key word here is smart. I don't think smart toasters exist yet but give it time.

This stuff is all obvious. I'd be highly surprised if you, dear reader, didn't have some kind of smart device within a few metres of your person right now. You have probably engaged with some form of AI this very day.. Or at least in the last few days. In reality this is still just the tip of the AI iceberg. There is so much more to come, but to build it what we need is people.

The UK AI Council recently published its AI Roadmap ( and skills and diversity are a big part of it. Overall the roadmap is great and features 16 recommendations to help the government develop a National AI Strategy. I'm not going to rehash this info here.. Click the link and have a read. It's all solid and important stuff. And a National AI strategy is greatly needed. It is my personal opinion that in a few years time AI and machine learning will be a ubiquitous part of pretty much all software. This doesn't mean that every piece of software will be able to talk to you and be your friend, I just mean that it will be so ubiquitous that even the IDE that the developers use to write the code will have AI in them.

Im not being fanciful here, this already exists. Tabnine is an AI assistant extension that works in a large number of IDEs, including the highly popular VS Code by Microsoft that seems to have gained massive popularity in recent years. I'm sure other examples exist and I have no link to either Microsoft or Tabnine… I'm just giving them as an example that a lot of people in the developer community already know well and they are being used. We are already using AI software to help software developers write software. And it's not just nerdy developers. I'm writing this article using Google Docs… which has a surprisingly good prediction of what I am going to write next. I've saved valuable seconds of my life using the tab key to accept the fact that Google knows me so well that it can finish my sentences for me.

On the whole, what we really need is more people working in AI. More people studying it,  more people engaging and more people developing and refining it. There is always talk around AI replacing jobs… you know what jobs AI won't be replacing? The people developing AI.

I was involved with a team of people here in Northern Ireland who gave feedback to the AI council on its roadmap and its relevance to Northern Ireland. Skills and diversity was something we called out as particularly relevant. A recent Turing report highlighted the huge potential that AI holds for NI. If we combine the research of our two main universities, we rank 6th in the UK for AI research. We have a long list of companies from startups to multinationals who are developing and implementing AI. We clearly recognise the need for more people with AI skills. Our universities and further education colleges offer courses. We are developing an AI Collaboration Centre to help facilitate AI uptake and to help drive the skills agenda. We are taking lots of steps in the right direction… but all this counts for naught if we don't have the people who want to learn the skills and to work in this field.

So.. if you're thinking about a career in AI… take that thought seriously. It's an exciting area to work in and has huge potential.


You can read all insights from techUK's AI Week here


Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Associate Director, Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

[email protected]
020 7331 2019

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