Digital Story: when getting into tech is not a straight path
It’s not that often that we get a chance to sit down with one of the fastest-rising stars in EU digital policy.
Meet Savvina Papadaki - Senior Digital Policy Manager at Samsung, and a proud alumna of the AI4Gov Master’s Program.
Getting into tech without a technical background: mission impossible?
Tell us a bit about your background – what did you study, and how did you end up in the digital field?
My background differs a bit from the normal path: actually, my bachelor’s degree is in translation and interpreting. From quite early on, I was interested in the intersection of translation with technology, and the opportunities opened up by digital technologies in the field (like the so-called ‘cat tools’ used in translation, and other digital tools). When I finished, I first came to Brussels to work as an interpreter/ translator. But I ended up working for a Greek member of the European Parliament instead, and got exposed to regulatory files. That’s when I found what I wanted to do. It took me another two Masters to get there: one in public policy, and then the AI4Gov program a bit later.
My first real interaction with the tech sector? Copyright in the digital age.
I was sold: on the potential of AI and all the elements of safety and security that have to go hand in hand with it. The AI4Gov program helped me learn more about AI, even if my background was not technical – it was a way to get my foot in the door. This doesn’t mean that I woke up proficient in coding though: I still can’t write code, and I probably never will. But I understand how it works, how to identify an ethical and good use of the technology, and all it may entail.
For the last 2 years I’ve been busy monitoring digital legislation in Europe, and beyond.
Impressive. People often think that you need a background in computer science to work in digital, so it’s very interesting to hear how you changed direction. Perhaps this can be an inspiration for young people – to know that they’re not limited to 1 career choice only.
Yes, for sure. I myself am a true example you can do many different things. I mean, you becoming a doctor may no longer be possible, but anything else we want – sure!
Moving them mountains - more women working in digital
Let’s get a bit more personal. Can we talk about the challenges you faced as a young woman working in the field, or how the sector dynamics have changed?
I think the issue stems from many women being directed towards theoretical studies rather than STEM. But this doesn’t mean that girls are not good at that kind of subjects, it’s just how it goes - step by step, girls at school do not acquire the skills to do tech or digital type of jobs. I do think this has changed lately though: in many tech companies, women make up the majority of employees. I can imagine that if you are an AI engineer or a data scientist, gender parity is very much still a problem – these are areas that are considered quite male dominated. Now, when it comes to departments like legal, public affairs or interaction with the digital sector, I think there are a lot of interested and capable women.
Throughout my professional career, I have noticed that women tend to be more curious, and more likely to change career paths. They are constantly developing and advancing, even if they lack the technical skills to excel in digital jobs. I saw this in my Master’s program too: there were many women there, some older than me and already professionals in the public sector for example, that saw a need to upgrade their digital competence and realised how important that is too. And in terms of barriers? It’s not that simple. I wouldn’t say there are actual barriers in the sense that you wouldn’t be hired if you are a woman – but the fact remains that many more men have studied this, whereas women have to match their competence level.
Very clear. Thank you. I have a couple more questions about today’s job market – and the one of the future. What do you think about young people working in the digital sector? And how is AI likely to impact our daily work?
Good question! I’ve been reading quite a bit about this recently. I don’t think – and never have thought – that AI will result in fewer jobs. I think that AI and other technologies are already transforming the labour market. For example, in my line of work there are a range of AI tools you can use to do something more quickly, or facilitate a process. But you will never end up in a situation where the tool replaces you – and I understand that this may not be the case in other sectors, but the job market will shift to accommodate this. So, rather than a loss or gain, it’s a different balancing test all along: you take away the jobs from one sector, but they end up in another. I get the fear though, and all the ‘black mirror’ horror images in our minds. But in the long run, technology – as everything else – is ultimately here. So we need to work on making it more secure and safe, rather than worrying that machines are taking over our jobs.
Staying on top of things: changing skillsets
One more question on skills in general, and digital skills. What skills do you need to work in the sector, and what kind of skills have you gained? What advice would you give to a young person starting out in tech, STEM, or the digital field?
There is no exhaustive list of skills I think. I was born in 1991, and the digital skills I learned at school are totally different to what kids are studying now. You want to work in this field? You need to be on top of everything. It’s not just the digital sector, the whole labour market is following exactly this trend. You have to be aware of all changes, all the time, and try and understand how different technologies are developing and what is taking place. Liking learning helps. And it’s not just ICT skills that you need: there’s also the soft skills aspect – like the flexibility to understand different demands and requirements of your job, and what you have to do. Sometimes I regret not pursuing STEM classes when I was younger (I was good in STEM). It would have been helpful now. So my advice would be that if you’ve found your passion, keep going! In Greece, when I was younger, choosing your career path was such a big deal. Life doesn’t work like that. Choose what you enjoy and what you take pleasure in, and discover your passions as you go along. When you work for a bit, you’ll find more areas that call to you. And keep learning.
You don’t have the right set of skills? There’s 1000 ways to acquire new skills, even if you’re short on cash. There are tons of online platforms and courses offered for free, and many opportunities nowadays to get and improve one’s digital skills, regardless of the stage you’re at in your career. You can always do something else – there are a few things you cannot do.