Sharon Shahrokhi Tehrani, Product Manager (Machine Intelligence Retention), CBC

Sharon Shahrokhi Tehrani is a distinguished product leader with a proven track record in leveraging big data, machine learning, and AI to drive product development and enhance business capabilities. In her role as a Product Manager at CBC, Sharon leads the development of a cutting-edge data, ML, and AI platform. This platform empowers content teams to make data-driven decisions, ensuring the delivery of relevant, diverse, and personalized content to audiences. Recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 Women in AI, Sharon is also a key advocate for bridging academia and industry to foster innovative solutions.

In a recent interview with Digital First Magazine, Sharon shared her professional trajectory, the most rewarding aspects of her work, significant career milestones, personal sources of inspiration, her approach to mentoring the next generation of scientists, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Sharon. What inspired you to pursue a career in science, and how did you get started in your field of study?

My journey into science began at a young age, driven by a deep-seated passion for understanding how things work and solving complex problems. This passion has been a guiding force throughout my career, motivating me to strive for excellence in my field continually. Additionally, I drew inspiration from my older brother, who also studied in the field. His experiences and insights provided me with early exposure to the vast possibilities within science, further fueling my curiosity and ambition. This combination of personal drive and family influence laid a strong foundation for my career, ultimately leading me to specialize in artificial intelligence, where I continue to explore and innovate.

What aspects of your work do you find most exciting, promising or rewarding in today’s world, especially in advancing the explainability of AI systems?

As a product leader, I find immense excitement and reward in bridging the gap between emerging industry challenges and transformative solutions that advance business capabilities. The most thrilling aspect of my work is leveraging the power of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to enhance product development. I am particularly passionate about advancing the explainability of AI systems. Ensuring that AI models are transparent and understandable builds trust with users and facilitates more effective decision-making. To achieve this, I actively engage stakeholders early in problem-solving, ensuring they are part of the journey. I prioritize their feedback and address any questions or concerns they may have. This collaborative approach enhances the explainability of AI systems and ensures that the solutions we develop align with the needs and expectations of those who use them.

Have you faced any unique challenges or obstacles as a young female scientist, and how have you navigated those challenges?

Navigating the field of AI as a young woman presented unique challenges, notably the significant underrepresentation of women. Often, I found myself as the only woman in the room. While this was challenging, it always encouraged me to voice my ideas and lead initiatives I believed in actively. This scarcity of female presence sometimes meant fewer role models, limited networking opportunities, and a lack of diverse perspectives—crucial elements for balanced decision-making.

To overcome these challenges, I focused on fostering diversity and inclusivity within the AI community. I firmly believe that diversity and inclusion are beneficial and essential for creating unbiased and ethical AI systems. Women bring distinct perspectives and approaches to problem-solving that can significantly enhance AI development. By stepping forward and contributing actively, I aimed to pave the way for more inclusive and equitable AI systems and to inspire more women to join and shape the future of this industry. This commitment not only helps address the gender imbalance but also enriches the AI field with a broader range of insights and innovations.

How do you stay up to date on the latest developments in your field?

Staying up to date with the rapid advancements in the AI field can be challenging, but I have developed a structured approach to ensure I remain informed. I allocate specific time blocks in my weekly schedule dedicated to reading relevant blogs and articles, which helps me stay abreast of practical applications and emerging trends. Moreover, I actively engage in conferences and panels, recognizing their immense value in AI. These events offer a platform to learn from and exchange ideas with like-minded professionals and serve as a gateway to the latest developments in AI. This dual approach of regular reading and active participation in industry events has been instrumental in my continuous learning and professional growth. Furthermore, I am actively seeking collaborations with academia to explore novel research avenues and acquaint myself with emerging methodologies.

How do you mentor the next generation of scientists to prepare them for future developments and opportunities in AI?

My approach to mentoring the next generation of scientists, especially those preparing to lead in AI and related technologies, is twofold. Firstly, I engage deeply in the academic sphere, teaching data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence courses. This allows me to lay foundational knowledge for future innovators, providing them with the essential tools and theories they need to excel in these fields. Secondly, I offer personalized mentorship, working one-on-one with promising individuals. In these sessions, we delve into specific technical topics and broader career advice, tailoring the guidance to align with their unique career paths and goals. This individualized support helps prepare them not just for current roles but for future developments and opportunities in AI. Together, these efforts are designed to equip the next generation with the knowledge and the strategic foresight needed to lead and innovate in the ever-evolving landscape of AI.

Given your extensive career, is there any professional moment that has been particularly impactful or memorable so far?

Reflecting on my career, selecting just one defining moment is challenging. However, one particularly memorable event is the first product launch following my transition from a technical role to product leadership. The feedback from end users was profoundly heartening. Seeing how our solutions directly addressed their challenges and empowered them to make data-driven decisions was incredibly rewarding. This experience not only validated my shift to leadership but also reinforced my commitment to user-centric product development.

Who has influenced you the most in life and why?

The most influential person in my life is my mom. From her, I learned the importance of perseverance and following my objectives with determination. She has always been a source of strength and inspiration, demonstrating through her actions the value of hard work, resilience, and staying true to one’s goals. Her unwavering support and wisdom have profoundly shaped my approach to personal and professional challenges, guiding me to where I am today.

What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?

My career-defining moment was embarking on a new adventure in a product leadership position. As a data scientist, I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and pursue this new path because I believed in the potential to make a broader impact. Transitioning from a technical role to product leadership allowed me to apply my data science expertise while driving strategic initiatives and innovation. This decision marked a significant turning point, shaping my career trajectory and reinforcing my commitment to leveraging technology for transformative solutions.

Where would you like to be in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I aim to continue leveraging advancements in AI to create innovative solutions that address users’ pain points. Additionally, I aspire to lead the direction of AI incorporation across various fields, driving transformative change and enhancing business capabilities. I aim to remain at the forefront of AI development, ensuring that these technologies are used effectively and ethically to solve real-world problems.

What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) fields?

My advice to young women pursuing a career in STEM is to take the driver’s seat in their professional journey boldly. Here are some key strategies:

  • Set Clear Goals: Establish SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for your short-term and long-term career aspirations. Reflect deeply on your goals, balancing professional ambitions with personal growth.
  • Take Charge of Your Development: Continuously enhance your skills and knowledge. Pinpoint areas for improvement and pursue learning opportunities such as workshops, courses, and certifications. Stay abreast of industry trends and emerging technologies to remain competitive.
  • Build a Professional Network: Develop meaningful connections with peers, mentors, and industry leaders. Participate in industry events, join professional groups, and engage in online communities. These relationships can broaden your perspective, provide valuable advice, and open new career opportunities.
  • Seek Feedback and Learn from Experiences: Actively solicit feedback from colleagues and mentors to understand your strengths and areas for improvement. Embrace both successes and setbacks as opportunities to learn and refine your approach.
  • Take Calculated Risks: Step out of your comfort zone and tackle new challenges. Evaluate the potential risks and benefits of opportunities that come your way and align them with your career goals. Taking calculated risks can spur significant personal and professional growth.
  • Advocate for Yourself: Effectively communicate your values, skills, and achievements. Clearly articulate your career aspirations and development needs to your supervisors and mentors. By actively participating in shaping your career path, you position yourself to seize opportunities that align with your goals.

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