When asked what advice she would offer young women interested in a career in technology, Assia Garbinato offers a single word: “Dare.”
For Garbinato, the Chief Data Officer at Romande Energie, the dare associated with pursuing a career in a field dominated by men has been well worth the reward. Prior to her current role, Garbinato served in various high-level positions at Vaudoise Assurances, a global Swiss insurer, and she earned a Doctorate in Computer Science at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
“Working in this field is a beautiful job,” Garbinato says. Romande Energie is one of the leading Swiss energy companies, supplying more than 300,000 customers, and employing close to 1,000. “If a woman has an analytical mind, this profession will be a source of fulfillment. We must also trust the new generations who are transforming this environment and that it will gradually become more open.”
One of the main reasons Garbinato finds her work gratifying is the doors that it opens to future engineers and scientists for mass data analysis in order to deliver new and exciting societal possibilities. Data analytics will have a great influence on the way energy will be produced and the way customers will consume it. Using AI and data analytics, Garbinato’s team is charged with understanding and driving intelligent energy consumption on a home-by-home basis, as well on an entire neighborhood level. By leveraging a data control system to understand how the market and how individual consumers use energy, her company can better adapt to new needs and behaviors if and when they arise.
“It is recognized that data will be increasingly at the center of the management of energy activities,” she says. “The major energy players are opening Data Science Centers and launching for instance large-scale predictive maintenance, fraud detection or trading module projects. Data is the future fuel of the energy industry and there are many uses for it.”
Garbinato knows that technology is a source of new and constructive solutions for society, but realizes that it can also create certain problematic issues.
“From a societal point of view, AI is a technology that conveys a certain anxiety because it is perceived as a threat to certain repetitive tasks,” Garbinato says. “I respect these fears and I always try to bring AI back to its beneficial dimension for the economy and humans. Deviant uses are more the fruit of human behavior than the fruit of technology itself.”
As more constructive use cases emerge, look to deep learning to play a significant role, she says. Deep learning has already pushed the boundaries of mathematical modeling, including advancements in computational powers and algorithms, which has opened the door for incredible progress in image recognition, voice and trajectory detection, Garbinato says.
Women will be at the forefront of these innovations, Garbinato believes, but in order for this to happen, “attitudes will have to change and it will have to be understood that for any team diversity is a source of wealth,” she says. “Each individual brings a different perspective, regardless of gender, through his journey, his experience, his history, his daily life and his sensitivity. This mindset will allow more women to pursue careers in this environment.”
But even as an engineer with the highest level of education possible, and an executive position of which many engineers could only dream, Garbinato knows that success starts with each individual woman believing in herself.
“You have to combat the impostor syndrome that awaits many women,” she advises. “I think having a role model is very structuring and gives confidence during difficult times in a career.”
We’re fortunate that women — and everyone — have someone as estimable as Garbinato to admire.