Welcome to another edition of IntelePeer’s Tech Tuesday series. This week Jacquie Engbrecht, Software Developer, tackles AI at IntelePeer, narrates raising four children while working from home, and encourages others to join the tech industry.
1. What first got you interested in working in technology?
I was fascinated by computers from an early age. I wanted to learn how to create my own websites when I was in high school. The internet was still a bit of a novelty at the time. I learned how to build simple sites on my own using HTML and gradually built up my CSS, WordPress, and graphic design skills. I was curious and constantly looking for ways to learn and expand my knowledge, while enjoying the challenge of being self-taught.
This allowed me to build websites for friends and family members as a fun hobby and a way to earn a little extra cash in my early 20’s. I loved the combination of logic, problem solving, and creativity to design solutions – which felt more like fun than work. So, I decided to get a college diploma for Programmer Analyst and Internet Solutions Developer and turn it into a career.
2. What AI or machine learning capabilities are you most looking forward to?
I have had the opportunity to dabble in creating bots with a variety of vendors including IBM Watson Assistant, Amazon Lex, and Google Dialogflow. With any of these solutions, I am looking forward to seeing how we can make the most of their skills and integrate with our interactive voice response (IVR) tools at IntelePeer. We could create truly intuitive and engaging voice interactions for callers to gracefully guide them through a phone call in a way that is much more helpful and satisfying than the automated telephone experiences that have frustrated callers for decades.
I see so much potential to create IVRs that are capable of handling both simple and complex problems for callers in a way that is expedient and easy to use, without needing to wait on hold for a customer representative. The IVRs of the future could also detect frustration from a caller’s sentiment or tone and promptly provide that human connection when needed.
3. What was the most challenging aspect of your career and how did you overcome it?
As a mother of four children who has worked from home for most of my career, the juggling act of work and motherhood has certainly been a substantial challenge. Living in Canada, I was fortunate to be able to take a year-long maternity leave for each child. However, when I was working, we did not use any childcare. So, for the last thirteen years, I have worked with babies and toddlers underfoot or on my lap, from dining room tables, sofas, and kitchen countertops. Last year was the first time I had all four kids in school full time and a real office and desk.
To overcome these challenges, my husband and I employed a variety of solutions, including periods of time when I worked part-time hours, fitting in work after hours, having my husband work from home at times to help share the load, having Grandma come to babysit the kids, and just learning to be flexible and roll with the punches. This challenge has also been extremely rewarding. It has allowed me to be available and present as a mother and be at home with my children while pursuing my career.
4. Any advice for women who want to join the tech industry?
I would say to women who are considering a career in technology that we need you. We need your perspective. We need your courage. We need your fresh ideas. This industry is such an incredible place for the creativity, perseverance, fortitude, problem solving skills, and empathy of women.
If you have young children or hope to have a family someday, that doesn’t need to stop you from pursuing a career. The challenges are not insurmountable. There are many opportunities to work remotely or have a hybrid schedule at the office and home that allows you to be available to your children. It may mean that you need to get creative with your schedule, daycare, or other solutions. But there is a pathway forward.
I am very thankful that I have several female team members that I admire and who inspire me by how they have overcome challenges of their own to get to where they are. So, find other women in the tech industry who you can look up to, ask questions, and go to for support and encouragement.
5. What advice would you give your younger self who is just starting in the workforce?
Have an attitude of being a constant student, as you will always be learning new things – sometimes every day. It is okay to not know the answer. You will need to be good at researching problems, troubleshooting, and trying multiple things before you get it right.
You will also need to be good at working together with your team members by asking them for help, brainstorming solutions with them, and having them share their knowledge and expertise with you. You can’t know it all, nor do you need to. This industry is growing, changing, and advancing so quickly that there is almost no way to keep up with it on your own, which is why it is so vital to be part of a talented team where you all bring your experience to the table. And even if you are a new hire, your perspective and fresh eyes are a valuable gift that is needed, so don’t underestimate your worth.
Bonus: What podcast are you currently listening to?
I love listening to the podcast Mom Struggling Well. It’s funny, light-hearted, and encouraging for all of us moms who are just trying to struggle well in this life of balancing family, work, friendships, and faith. Their tagline is “the podcast that helps you love your actual life so that you don’t run away from home. We believe perfection is nonsense and peace is a perspective shift away.” It always makes me laugh and reminds me that I’m not alone in the struggle.