Women in AI: Brianna Elsass
Holding the title Head of Digital for the U.S. at BMO Harris Bank was not what Brianna Elsass imagined for herself growing up. As a child, she was filled with curiosity, and a love of math and science. Brianna found herself gravitating toward the biomedical engineering field during college, but quickly realized that she did not enjoy the individual lab work and extensive medical school it would entail. “I took the part I enjoyed from the biomedical engineering degree and focused on the engineering side,” she says, developing an “acumen on how systems work together, expanding this into a career.”
Brianna’s experience extends from Wells Fargo and Capital One, to Discover Financial Services. As a start to her career, Brianna began by learning the trade of QA and automating test scripts which guided her to better understanding tech, products, and customer experience. With a leg up in the banking industry Brianna foresees a “long term ability to fundamentally change the way people manage their finances, incorporate personalization... and better educate customers on their banking relationship and utilization of money” through AI progression. She stands by the statement that “leveraging AI [will aid] better purchasing decisions,” creating a more knowledgeable modern-day consumer.
Earlier in her career a mentor of hers helped her transition out of automation test scripts and into product ownership. With this transition and a yearning for more, Brianna began to delve into product management allowing her creativity to roam while having the opportunity to improve customers' lives. She quickly proved successful in her craft, prompting a position to be created for her on a new team. Leveling up to working on IVRs, Brianna gained the skills of outsourcing, vendor hosting, and creating complex scopes in a controlled and safe environment. In this new world, it is exciting for her to be a contributing member of “setting and driving the pace of change” in AI in our everyday lives.
Brianna understands the evolution of technology triggers an uneasiness in a lot of people concerned about privacy and lack of control. Brianna sees her role in tech as a way to calm the nerves and provide clarity to customers through experiences. Brianna explains that when discussing her work she oftentimes compares it to building a house. You start with a foundation and it becomes more complex as you move forward: color of the walls, dimmer of the lights, timer on the thermostat which could be controlled via an app, etc. It’s creating a convenient environment.
All the potential that is stemming from AI, Brianna states, will “fundamentally shift how the world works.” She is aware that we are living in a world where the younger generation has grown up surrounded by technology, and it’s up to us to advertise AI in an attractive way for all generations. Like most of us, she hopes for a future in AI where we will come home to a clean house, household supplies refilled and auto-shipped (based on buying patterns) ready at our arrival, and automobile capabilities that would memorize a path to and from your home to work.
In hopes of creating technological milestones, Brianna believes we need to begin our influence in interest for technology at an even younger age. There are “still gender specific toys like building blocks that are geared more toward boys,” she says, but math and science are unisex. Brianna acknowledges that young women are unknowingly “stepping into tech” through the apps they use on a daily basis, “it’s a gateway” just a more entertaining and interesting one – this is how we will make technology more relatable. In addition, the necessity of shadowing is vital, she states, “Yes, there are internships…but we can’t delegate the exciting big projects that are pushing the boundaries [to newcomers] because they don’t have the skillset. With shadowing there is the opportunity to increase the exposure to deeper and potentially more engaging projects.”
In the future, women need to be able to “approach a senior leader and ask questions, get a fuller picture of the cool technology that is out there.” Aware that high marks in school are important, the one thing that Brianna holds as the keys to success is the ability “to [remain] sharp and curious.”