PNSQC Catches Up with 2020 Keynote Speaker Raj Subrameyer
Raj Subrameyer is an international keynote speaker, writer, tech career coach, and author of the upcoming book “Skyrocket Your Career.” His career goal is to help people step into the leadership role of their dreams and to live the life that they love.
Recently, PNSQC asked Raj about what inspires him, how COVID-19 is affecting his goals, and his upcoming 2020 keynote, “Breaking Down Biases and Building Inclusive AI.”
PNSQC: You do a lot of public speaking. Do you have any tips to help people in tech improve their public personas?
Raj Subrameyer (RS): I used to be a shy, introverted kid who had a fear of public speaking, and very low self confidence. I took steps to gradually get out of my comfort zone to become an international keynote speaker. I was able to do this because of one thing: I decided to invest in myself.
In 2011, I spent $3,000 of my own money to go to a software conference. At the conference, I saw many people speak and share their experiences with the audience. That is when I decided that I should give a talk to get rid of my fear of public speaking. I spoke with many speakers at the conference, took a lot of notes, and went back home feeling inspired.
Mindset change and consistency are the keys to succeed in anything. It is our limiting beliefs that prevent us from growing and advancing in our careers.
After the conference, I read books and watched videos on public speaking. I videotaped myself speaking, and had people critique my speaking style. In 2012, I spoke at small meetup groups and events. In 2013, after 7 months and 23 trial runs with various groups to get feedback, I finally gave my first conference talk. It ended up being one of the best sessions at the conference.
Another important tip to give great talks is: Tell stories. People relate to stories, and remember them; not facts and statistics. Great speakers like Steve Jobs, Mel Robbins, and others tell great stories. That is why the audience loves them.
PNSQC: How big of a problem are biases in AI? Please elaborate on what you mean by biases.
RS: A toxic byproduct of AI-based systems is its impact on the social, cultural, and ethical aspects of human beings.
When Google Photos updated their algorithm to automatically classify pictures we take through a labeling system, it had huge problems, including miscategorizing Black people as gorillas. Similarly, when Microsoft released its AI chatbot, Tay, with the sole purpose of learning from humans on Twitter, it went rogue within 24 hours and became racist.
This is the reason we need to ensure AI models used in applications have a more diversified dataset. We need to be aware of how our training dataset could influence the AI model’s decisions, and in turn could cause harm to human beings from a privacy, security, ethical, social, and cultural context. I would suggest requiring the entire development team to pledge an oath of commitment to take this issue seriously.
Next, the validation dataset used to evaluate the model learning needs to have a good mix of diversity ingrained into it to measure how the model is making decisions. Finally, when we decide the AI model is ready for production, the test dataset needs to have some unseen datasets that the model has never seen before. This is to simulate a real life situation of an AI model making decisions when people from a different race, culture, or region interact with it.
PNSQC: What in your keynote will most make me sit up and pay attention?
RS: One thing that’s common between Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple is that they all have virtual assistants, designed to make life easier by performing everyday tasks. Beneath the surface, our data is used for various initiatives by these companies (sometimes without our consent).
In 2019, news broke out that Apple and Google had contractors listening to daily conversations collected by these virtual assistants without our consent. After this became public knowledge, both companies had to suspend all their contractors hired for this purpose. There is also evidence suggesting Facebook and Instagram are listening to our conversations and then adding targeted advertisements in our news feeds. This is the current world we live in.
PNSQC: What’s your favorite quote, and why?
RS: I live by Robert Schuller’s quote, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” This is so true and I have realized it through my real life experiences and journey. A week after I came to the U.S. in 2008, Lehman Brothers — one of the largest financial firms — had its shares plunge by 45%, and a couple days later, they filed for bankruptcy. This was the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, as the company held about $600 billion in assets.
The incident officially marked the start of the 2008 recession, and companies quickly followed in its footsteps. I had come to the United States with big dreams, and within a week those dreams were crushed with the recession.
I had two choices:
1) Go home and find a job in my native country, or
2) Do whatever it takes to try to get a job and stay in the United States.
I chose the second option. I applied to 1,293 positions from mid-2009 until the beginning of 2010. Guess how many callbacks I received after applying for that many jobs? The correct answer is FOUR — just 0.3%! Yes, I said that right, I got callbacks from four companies willing to talk to me. Out of those four, I got ONE job offer, and it was an internship, NOT a full-time position.
During this time, you could do an internship on a student visa and extend your stay in the U.S. for the duration of the internship. Since I couldn’t think of any other option to continue my stay, I took the internship. Then I worked my ass off, and also attended different campus recruitment events. Finally, another company was interested in my experience, and I landed a full-time job after 6 months at the internship.
That one decision to do whatever it took to get a job finally paid off, and it significantly changed my life. Now, I am an international keynote speaker, writer, and tech career coach and have built a six-figure business. I have made an impact on so many people’s lives and careers, and helped them build a better future for themselves and others. All these things would not have happened without that one decision I made in 2009.
So remember, you cannot control the circumstance, but you can control your actions under any circumstance.
PNSQC: Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your goals for this year? Do you have any productivity tips for life during social distancing and working from home?
RS: COVID-19 has definitely affected not only my goals, but millions of other people’s goals as well.
Adversity and fear make you think outside-the-box. That’s what I did, by deciding to write a book, “Skyrocket Your Career: The No Bullshit Approach to Find Your Dream Job, Be Successful In It, and Transform Into a Rockstar.” It will be released around September. I also started a new 6-week group coaching program, wrote a chapter on AI for another book that is releasing this Fall, and have tried to start new initiatives to help me continue to make an impact on the community.
How am I able to do all this? I’d be lying if I said I’m managing everything perfectly. It’s harder to manage work and life now, as my wife works full time, my infant needs our constant attention, and I’m also working from home running a business. That is why I follow some productivity hacks that have helped me survive through these tough times.
PNSQC: This year’s conference theme is Quality Looking Forward. Care to prognosticate on future tech trends?
RS: We are living in the golden age of technology with AI, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and other advancements. As software testers, we have to adapt to these changes, upgrade our skill set, and have super interesting things to look forward to in the future.
I believe that in the next 12 months, AI will be more prevalent in software development and testing, there will be more solid research and studies on how to reduce the biases in AI, which will bring in more diversity in these AI-based systems. There will also be more developments in the area of AI safety research, which is basically to ensure the current and upcoming AI systems are safe for human consumption.
To hear more about Raj’s vision for exploring an inclusive AI system register for PNSQC now!