CAN YOU INTRODUCE YOURESLF TO OUR READERS? TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
My name is Kathryn. I’m VP of Product and Strategy at Integrate AI and a Venture Partner at ff Venture Capital in New York. I’ve done a lot of adjunct teaching, including executive education courses as Harvard Business School and classes on the intersection between technology and law at the University of Calgary.
I am a firm believer in a liberal arts and interdisciplinary education. In undergrad, I did a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature and Mathematics at the University of Chicago. Following that, I completed my PhD at Stanford University in Comparative Literature. My education has developed my left brain and right brain.
As for informal education, I have done a lot of work in soup kitchens. This has helped me develop leadership and communication skills for people in need. A few years ago, I also learned how to golf at GolfTech, which takes a mechanized and metrics-oriented approach to learning golf. It has a harder learning curve to start, but now I have really taken to the method. I also have spent time studying and playing the violin.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Not being afraid to ask questions that I think might sound stupid. It took me a long time to learn this, because I used to be worried that everyone else already knew the answer. This lesson served me very well in my career because I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask questions, as stupid as they sound to me. This has helped me both to forge relationships and to deepen my knowledge in various domains.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Radical empathy. I don’t mean this from an emotional perspective. I mean truly understanding what another person is saying and communicating to me, putting myself in their mind to understand what they are thinking. This skill has served me well for sales, collaboration, and feedback with colleagues. On a personal level, it helps with being a better partner in intimate relationships.
My PhD contributed to this skill as well. As an intellectual historian, my goal wasn’t to evaluate people’s ideas for how right or true they were. My goal was to reconstruct the mindset of someone living in the past by reading what they read and pretending to become them and argue from their point of view.
YOU SPEAK AND UNDERSTAND 7 LANGUAGES - CHINESE, FRENCH, GERMAN, ANCIENT GREEK, ITALIAN, LATIN AND SPANISH. HOW DID YOU LEARN THESE, AND WHAT FRINGE BENEFITS HAVE YOU GAINED FROM KNOWING THESE LANGUAGES?
Most of them I learned from living in the countries they are spoken in. I learned Spanish mostly in the classroom before diving deeper and going abroad to Spain twice in high school. I spent a year in Paris, 6 months in Western France, and 18 months total in Germany where I was a research fellow and intern. Understanding languages has helped me become a more open and empathetic person, and I am better able to understand cultural differences.
I have yet to use language-learning tools like Duolingo. I prefer to pick up a book and absorb language through literature - even if it is far above my reading level in that language. I sit with a dictionary and book in hand. It is so rewarding because I pick up nuances in the language I wouldn’t notice otherwise. Learning by pen and paper like this also helps retain more information because I use a different part of my brain.
Language acquisition is also interesting because the way adults learn language is quite different from the way children and machines learn. Our minds as adults are better apt at processing the patterns and variations in grammar across languages, whereas children and machines learn by mimesis and repetition.
YOU HAVE A PhD IN COMPARATIVE LITERATURE FROM STANFORD UNIVERSITY. THIS ISN'T THE EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND YOU'D IMMEDIATELY ASSOCIATE TO THE VIP OF AN AI STARTUP FIRM OR A PARTNER AT A VENTURE CAPITAL FIRM. HOW DOES WHAT YOU LEARNED IN THIS ACADEMIC BACKGROUND TRANSLATE TO THESE ROLES?
Unfortunately knowledge of 17th century literature and philosophy isn't all that useful in my day-to-day - but there are neat roots of AI and Machine Learning from that century. AI is a unique and exciting field to be in because it is unlocking our ability to work with text images, society, and behaviour in ways that standard software products of the past have not. It has been a unique asset to have a humanistic background. I wonder if I didn't also have an interest math side, if this have been something I was as good at. AI is raising questions arounds ethics, fairness, and bias. Even at Integrate, we are working on fundamentally human problems. In retrospect, it has been nice to have a humanistic background to support my work.
IN A WORLD WHERE BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENTS ARE BEGINNING TO RELLUY MORE ON MACHINE LEARNING AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO HELP THEIR KIDS BE READY FOR THIS CHANGING WORLD?
I am a firm believer in teaching children to code early. If coding programs are not available in the student's’ school and afterschool programs, then look for programs outside those environments, or find some computer scientists in your networks who can help teach your children.
Careers that involve very refined and specialized domain expertise, like legal and medical, are likely going to become automated. Skills that are unlikely to be automated are creativity and synthesis. Learning that supports synthetic thinking, creativity and analysis are going to be the skills are prized in the future.
AS A WOMAN IN LEADERSHIP IN TECH, WHAT HAS POISED YOU FOR SUCCESS?
Women statistically tend to not apply for a job unless they feel like they meet the set criteria. If there is a list of 10 skills, many women who have 9 qualifications will still have doubt. Men on the other hand, will apply to postings where they have as few as 3 of the qualifications. I tend to take the “male” approach to that particular problem. While it creates discomfort and concern and anxiety, it increases my learning rate and has really helped me succeed and grow as quickly as I have.
I also take the time to be really self-reflective on a daily basis. Understanding my strengths and weaknesses, what makes happy, what I’m good at, and what I need to work on. I continuously refine my path to make me the best version of myself and impactful as possible. I surround myself with people around me who are stronger in areas where I am weaker.
HOW DO YOU HELP DEVELOP YOUNG WOMEN ON YOUR TEAM?
I hope to help them in many ways! I get to know them personally and understand their ambitions, hopes, desires, fears… I meet with them regularly to check in and see where they stand. I also try to be vulnerable with them. If I notice areas where they are struggling - I act as a support and a trusted advisor they can rely on. I also open up opportunities for them to upskill and be out in the community: speaking in conferences, writing blog posts, research collaboration...
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED THAT YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY?
This is important for everybody who is younger: you never know what the future will bring. You can’t predict it. Focus on doing the best you can wherever you are in the moment and not worrying so much. I have spent so much wasted energy dwelling on situations that never came to be. I never imagined that I would be teaching Law at the University of Calgary. I thought I was making this strict decision between being an academic and being in the business world.
My advice is to put yourself into as many situations as possible and be a sponge for what is available today. You might not end up where you thought you’d be, but this mindset can take you places you’ve never imagined.
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK?
Right now, I am reading The Infidel and the Professor by Dennis C. Rasmussen. It is about the friendship between Adam Smith and David Hume, and enlightenment philosophy. It is quite relevant to my work at Integrate AI because of Adam Smith’s theory of Commerce. In the age of AI, hyper-personalization can also lead to isolation. According to Smith, there is great social value and moral value in doing business with strangers.
A few book that everyone should read in the domain of literature is Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities. For business, I recommend Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. And in the domain of Philosophy, I recommend Descartes’ Discourse on Method.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
I learned when to speak and when not to speak. I was in a leadership strategy meeting, and had so many thoughts. To help make meetings successful and productive, I try to be very thoughtful about when my ideas are helpful and when they are distracting.
ANY LAST WORDS?
Last thing I’d like to say - some girls and women identify more with being a person, others identify more with owning their womanhood. Be true to whatever resonates with you. If you’re like me, find the role model who acts like gender is not a thing. Or, find the woman who is owning her womanhood and femininity. Both of these options are viable approaches to supporting feminism.