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Digital Reinvention with Nahia Orduña
Episode 310th February 2021 • AudaciousNess • AudaciousNess
00:00:00 00:56:33

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Nahia Orduña is an agile leader in disruption, a data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) evangelist, a Future of Work expert and a lifelong learner. Her recently-published book, Your Digital Reinvention, is a practical guide to helping people discover new job opportunities and find their place in the digital world.

In this conversation, Nahia explains 

  • why digitally reinventing yourself is so relevant, especially since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
  • why celebrating diversity is more important for our work today than ever before
  • how she dealt with prejudice and backlash against her choice to be full-time working mother
  • how she set up networks to help other women develop and thrive in the digital world
  • how knowledge-sharing and thought-challenging can benefit society.

Nahia also offers advice for people wishing to write a business book themselves.

Your Digital Reinvention is available to purchase via Amazon. More details are on Nahia’s website.

Note: Nahia’s interview starts at 17 minutes. Before that, Maribel and Helen have a conversation about fear and having the confidence and vulnerability to tell others how you really feel - the innocence of sincerity.

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcripts

Maribel:

Thank you very much Nahia for joining us today and agreeing to have a conversation with us. We're really looking forward to talking about the area of your expertise, and hearing all about your new book and your endeavor this year. Can you give us a short introduction to what your book is about, Nahia? And the name of it, and your aim with it?

Nahia:

Yeah, so my new book is ‘Your Digital Reinvention’. So I believe this world will be a better place if we all use our talents. And I also believe that, more than ever, we need diverse talent. And there are a lot of job opportunities in the digital world. So I wrote this book as a practical guide, with exercises, examples, to show the people how to reinvent themselves and get better job opportunities.

Maribel:

Excellent. I was looking at your website and I read there, you were not always an expert in Artificial Intelligence, and all this techie stuff that for me is well, far away from what I do. Can you tell us a little bit about how, in your life, in your professional life, you came to change from what you did before to focusing on this?

Nahia:

Yes, so I think like most people, my professional life has had a lot of ups and downs. We need to start and learn new things. And I feel very lucky because I was always interested in these digital concepts. So I have been learning new stuff and I actually believe that there are a lot of opportunities for people to learn about digital concepts. So this all happened to me, the last last part of my expertise, all this around data and AI, it actually happened because I was not so satisfied with my job. And I really wanted to move on, I was seeing that similar jobs as the one I had were kind of disappearing. So I decided to see what was happening around, what was becoming more trendy, and what I could do with my background to start something different. So I started learning about data analytics, data driven decisions. And that's what I focused on. Then I realized that basically everybody comes with the same, because when you get into a new topic, nobody has 10 years of experience in this. So it's about finding what is our sweet spot. Like, where are the trends going? And does our background have something different to offer? And then you can find something and become a recognized expert in that area.

Helen:

Thanks, Nahia. I think that’s a really important area, you know, digitally reinventing yourself, I think, is a fantastic expression. There's one thing that you wrote in the preface of the book, which jumped out at me, and that is that you celebrate diversity, and that you wanted to give a voice to different ethnicities and cultural origins. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that.

Nahia:

Yeah, well, I think we need to actually celebrate diversity, I mean diversity has always been very important, but actually I believe now is more important than ever. The reason is because, historically, there were a lot of jobs that were with manual tasks, for which diversity was not so important, because it will be like who can make this task quicker than is done. But what happens now in our world is that we need to take more complex decisions. To take complex decisions it's proven that we need different perspectives to reach a easier solutions. So for example, I am who I am because I am Spanish, I'm a woman, I'm a mother, I've been working in IT, I have a lot of things that make me who I am and the way I see the world. I always explain that I believe we have a book with our stories, that we consult to make sense of the world. And what we write in this book is based on our own experiences. So for example, when I was living in Spain, I thought going for dinner at 10pm makes a lot of sense. I love meeting my friends at 10pm. Now that I live in Germany, I think ‘God that’s so late!’ It doesn't make any sense to me. If I consult in my book when to go for dinner, I say, 7pm, right? So what happens is how is this translated to our environment? It's been seen that with this data and AI, sometimes the decisions can be as biased as the humans behind that. And when we have to make complex decisions and see data, we need different people thinking differently, to make sense and come to solutions faster. I want to give you some examples. So we have seen that big corporations have made biased algorithms. It was in the news, for example, that credit cards were giving more credit to men than to women, just because the algorithm had learned somehow that men could have more credit. Or we have also seen that some CVs that were scanned by algorithms, they were making preference for men for IT positions, because they have learned that they have got a lot of CVs and they thought, okay, there are more men in this position, so being a man gives you more points to get that position. What happened there? Was the problem the algorithm? No, the problem was that the people behind that algorithm were not testing with gender diversity. So basically, when you have teams that have heterogeneous views, these teams are going to be better at finding bias or a problem. And this is going to be more and more important in data fields and AI. So when I was writing the book, I was thinking, I need tips from different people, but I wonder if the people are really different. So I was actually getting people from South Africa, Brazil, US, Germany, Spain, a lot of people giving me different perspectives about how to reinvent themselves in the digital world.

Helen:

So the algorithms are only going to be as diverse as the people who have programmed them in the first place. Is that what you’re saying?

Nahia:

Exactly.

Helen:

So as artificial intelligence grows and develops itself, do you think that AI will become more diverse than we have become?

Nahia:

So I think in the end, machines learn from data. And what is important is that the data is not biased, and the people who are testing and creating those algorithms have a diverse way of thinking. We also saw, for example, that one of these big players also was tagging pictures of African American people as if they were gorillas. What happened there? Was the algorithm racist? No, it wasn't racist. What happened is that it has only been fed with pictures of white people, so it learned that people have to be white. What is the reason there? Probably the team that was actually creating that algorithm were all white, so they were not thinking of putting other pictures in the algorithm. So that's one example that, when the teams are more diverse, they realize earlier those errors, if there will be a team with people from different skin colors, for sure they will have tried with the pictures and say, hey this doesn’t work. But they didn't, so it was in the news. I think diversity has to come from all areas. Another example is when YouTube was acquired, the people were thinking, Oh my God, when people upload videos there are 10% of our users who always upload the videos upside down. What can we do about it? How can we learn this? How come these people don't know how to upload the videos? So they were looking into how to change the customer behavior. And it was when somebody who was left handed, during that discussion told them, hey, guys, what do you think, you record the videos with the right hand. When I record the videos with the left hand it’s for you upside down, but 10% of the population does it like this. It’s not that we don't know how to upload the videos. So what happened there? When you are thinking about how to use a mobile phone, you should include left handed and right handed users.

Helen:

Wow, that’s a fabulous example!

Maribel:

That’s amazing!

Nahia:

You get better because people come from a different perspective, that you as right handed will have never thought, you thought okay, I always move the camera with my hand like this and everybody does it. So always diversity helps to solve the business problems easier, faster, you get better views.

Maribel:

Wow. So that means that our default mode is just to think about what we know or how we are and not to look beyond that.

Nahia:

Exactly.

Maribel:

And how does gender come into this equation also of diversity? This area of data, big data, has been for many years, mainly driven by men, right?

Nahia:

Exactly. So again, it's very important that women join this scientific conversation, because there are studies to show also in the area of medicine and so on, some medicines have interest more for men than for women. What happens there, right? And also for algorithms like the one I mentioned, of the credit card, which was in the news I think two years ago, that the credit card was giving more credit to men than to women because it was not tested enough by people of different genders. Also in the one I mentioned about their recruiting algorithm. So I think when women join, they avoid these business problems and make the companies appear in the news. So they don't want that. But for that they need more gender diversity. So I always think it is very important. When I say I believe diversity and gender diversity is important, many times people say, but women want leadership positions, they don't fight for more manual jobs. And to be honest, if I only need a team to color the walls of my apartment, I don't care if that team is diverse, it's a repetitive task, and they are just going to color the walls of my apartment. But if I need a team who needs to make complex decisions, and that's usually all these technical roles, or leadership roles, then I need new perspectives. And because I'm a woman, I've lived life differently and I have different perspectives than a man. The same as with different cultures and different backgrounds and so on. So it's very important because half of the population is female! So what about your potential customers? So it's super important.

Helen:

So it very much depends on the type of the work that's involved.

Nahia:

Yeah, exactly. I think for repetitive tasks, manual tasks, it doesn't matter so much if it’s a man or a woman doing it. Traditionally, some years ago, most of the tasks were manual, but in the crisis, jobs are getting more digitized and there are more jobs that require high cognitive skills. And for each crisis, the acceleration of this trend is much more accelerated, goes faster. So we need more jobs that require cognitive skills and for that we need gender diversity.

Helen:

Yeah. And the world is getting more and more complex as well...

Nahia:

Exactly.

Helen:

..with all of the connections. I'd be interested in knowing what kind of obstacles you've faced in your work so far, Nahia.

Nahia:

Well, it has all been building up. So it's just not something that, that's a bit what I say in the book with reinvention, it’s not something that you say one day, okay, I'm going to reinvent myself tomorrow, hey, my new me. It has all been building up, right? I started actually seeing the gap of gender diversity in technical areas because I work in the technical industry and I see that there are not so many women and then I started with a group of women in big data, trying to bring more women from different backgrounds to digital careers. So I really believe in that. Then I started being invited to conferences to talk about this and then I thought how can I reach more people? So this year during the lockdown I thought, I have to do something, we were all at home, we couldn't move and I was seeing how many people were losing their jobs and I thought, actually, I could put it all more in order to help people to get a new job in a new digital area. So I created my website and I put a free workbook to download with some exercises and guidance so that people could just free download and do the exercise and get new job opportunities in the digital world. And then around May I saw a lot of people were downloading it and I thought well actually I could elaborate a book out of this with not only my advice but also ask more diverse perspectives and other experts around the world for their story. So I was doing all this in the summer of 2020 and of course, the challenges everybody has at home, I have my kids at home, work didn't stop, also mental health, social anxiety, my family's in another country and I'm here in Germany and what's going to happen with our world? I believe that when you really believe in something and you really want it to happen and I have to do this, it doesn't matter what happens around you, you manage the time and the way to do it.

Maribel:

It sounds to me like, the way you talk and there's so much emotion behind it, it seems to me like you are speaking from a place of, this is your purpose, this your mission. When was the moment for you to realize this is it? Because it seems like you don't need any pushing. This is just like going full speed. There comes Nahia!

Nahia:

No, I mean, in my life, I also had ups and downs when I learned a lot. To be honest, I always admire all those people that it seems that they go from one position to the other, they are always growing, and everything is fine, very good for them. But I realize that most of us have good times and times when we are not so happy with our job, maybe we have to change again. And this has happened to me in the last years. And then also when I had my kids, it was also a moment where I thought I have to do something about this. When I had my first kid, I live in Germany, in the south of Germany, I was very much silent about why do you want to keep working? And so I really, it was the first time in my life where I have thought, okay, I'm being treated differently because I'm a woman, like I was having a job or a career opportunity and everybody was, are you sure you want now, with a six month old kid to take that job? Well, my husband with the same kid had an opportunity and he was like, go for it.

Maribel:

Sorry, I just want to say, working full time, which is something unusual in Germany.

Nahia:

Yeah, something unusual here. And in my background, it was like I mean, my mother has worked all her life and I was always so proud of her. I didn't see any problem. I never felt she was not giving me enough attention or anything. So I was really not seeing the problem. And then I spent with my first kid all the time justifying, it's fine and I work full time, don’t worry, like this. A lot of people were telling me what to do. And then after two years, I had my second child. And then again I had a very hard time here to bring her to the kindergarten when she was so young and everybody was telling me what to do. And I thought, look, I have to save all the energy that I am spending justifying my choices and do something more productive with it. I am not only going to take it for my career, I am going to make sure that more women put it into a career plan. This is when I join all these professional networks, and so on. And I thought, I can do something here.

Helen:

Good call! Can I ask then, what was going on for you when people were telling you how to raise your children, that you should stay at home and not work? What was going on for you? And how did you deal with all of the negativity?

Nahia:

So in the beginning, I think it was a bit of a shock. I mean, I was getting some advice, like, if you have a child in Germany every three years, three children, you don't work for 10 years. I was getting this kind of advice. I was 'Seriously, what are you talking about?' I mean, I was doing my MBA while I was pregnant, I was not giving any sign of giving up anywhere. So in the beginning I was shocked. But then it was like, more like frustration and also, especially when the system was not working well, when I was putting my kid for the whole day in daycare. But then the daycare person was telling me, Oh, my God, are you really going to bring your child so long? She’s not even a year old! I was getting this kind of stuff. I was thinking, I mean, why am I being judged, and also why it's only me, and it's not the father who has the same kid? So I thought I have to do something here. It was frustrating and very annoying, really. Sometimes getting home I’m thinking, Oh my God, when everybody's asking you to stop, you really have to be very sure of what you're doing. I am 100% sure, but what happens when other people have doubts, and then in the end, they don't get to a fulfilling job, and then they end up… And I see as a society we lose a lot of talent. And I also believe, I mean I wish for my kids that they are independent and they can do the job they want and so on. So thinking of leaving a better world for my daughters, I have two girls, and helping other people around me who were giving up, now they are working again, they are very happy and they feel much more fulfilled and their life at home is also better. This is what was bringing me the energy.

Helen:

Yeah, I think that's fascinating that you didn't only stop at yourself, you didn't only say no, I'm going to do… this is what I feel very strongly about and I'm going to do it. But also, I'm gonna make sure that other women have that opportunity as well. And then I understand, we were just talking before that you set up a group in Munich. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Nahia:

Yeah. So when I was pregnant with my second child, so after she was born I finished my MBA. And in my MBA, I did a dissertation around Big Data. The reason is because I was looking for new trends. I had no idea what was data, Big Data at all, but I thought, Okay, I have to write about something, do a business case and so on. I'm going to take this topic that I don't know much about and it's fairly new, it was fairly new at that time, and I'm going to learn a lot so I can become more expert about it. So when I got back to work after maternity that I just had done this dissertation and got my MBA, I learned about Women in Big Data, which is an organization founded in Silicon Valley by people from different companies like ROM, SAP and Intel were the first ones. And I saw it was coming to Europe and building up new teams. And then I took the part of the Munich Chapter and me, with the other great people here in Munich, we are organizing events and bringing people to our events. Then apart from that, I was working at Vodafone at the time. I asked Vodafone to be one of the sponsors, then I helped to open other chapters in Madrid, in Barcelona, Johannesburg, London and so on. I've been helping to grow the organization in India because I think it's very good. We organize events for free to the people to get them inspired. We're sponsored by companies. And I mean, it's a win-win, because the companies have this talent gap. And also we help people to get into digital careers.

Helen:

And have you got any success stories that you can share about women who you've helped?

Nahia:

Yes, of course, there have been many women, we always share job opportunities where we many women have got new job opportunities thanks to this group. We also offer some free trainings so that people get certified. And then we have opportunities for them to develop or coach, like we have Maribel Ortega, for example, in one of our events. And we had some kind of competition, and I think three people got the chance to have some private coaching. So we give this kind of very valuable opportunities to our members.

Maribel:

And also during those events you have presentations. I remember on that event that I was invited to, you gave a presentation that was very eye opening, at least to me, that I didn't know anything about Artificial Intelligence. So people actually learn things.

Nahia:

Yes, our events are meant for the people to learn. So we always have a round. Usually, we have like two talks. One is more about inspiring and making the people learn what are the trends and so on. And the other is a bit more technical. So not deeply technical, but also like to learn people, for example, we were at Microsoft, and they were presenting what is Artificial Intelligence. We've been two months ago at SAP and they have shown us how they use data for their supply chain, and innovate with data. So we want from these presentations that people spark some ideas about what can they do in their job with data and get to better opportunities.

Helen:

I can feel the energy coming from you during this conversation, Nahia. I'm sure you're an excellent role model for many people, many women. I'm just wondering whether you have role models or mentors or other people who you look up to yourself?

Nahia:

All the time, all the time. A lot, a lot. I mean, it's about running yourself by inspiring people and getting from them. I have so many, starting of course with my mother and people in my family. Actually, my role models are usually people that I talk to, so I don't have the executive sitting somewhere. I always get inspiration from the people around me, from the coaches, from mentors. I was very lucky, I had some mentors at work and I am also mentor of other people. For example, this year, I had a person, Hannah Enam, I was talking to her because she has a Forbes blog and she reached out to me because of one article from the World Economic Forum. And I was seeing how she was writing a book in the beginning of the year. And actually, she inspired me. If I wouldn't have seen that I thought, okay, now I know a bit more about how to write books, and then to write my own book. So it's never like, Yes, I am alone at home. It’s actually like this. And I'm also sharing all my tricks and everything, because I hope to inspire other people, right? I think when we share what we know, we inspire other people to add their touch.

Helen:

Definitely. And I think you create abundance as well. If you try to keep things to yourself, then you're destroying things. But if you share things, it actually creates more wealth and abundance, I think.

Nahia:

Exactly. And also, for me sharing is in my steps about how to reinvent yourself, is the last one. I think it’s one of the most important, because when you share your knowledge and what you know, you are helping the immediate people because you're inspiring them. You also help yourself, when you talk about something, you get challenged, or you hear other views. So you also learn more while you are doing and become better. But also, if I think that society, if we are all sharing stuff, we will all learn more. And for example, what you are doing now, creating a podcast and giving visibility to people is also something very important because this way we can hear other stories and get inspired by other stories.

Maribel:

Absolutely. Nahia, I can imagine or know that writing a book can be something tiring and difficult. And then you get discouraged. What, during this experience this year of writing your book and finishing and publishing it, which is the most, well the end result that you're looking for, what advice would you give to people who have been thinking of Oh, I have all of this advice or all these ideas that I would like to write in a book, what have you learned that you would like to pass on so that others can get it done?

Nahia:

I think first of all you have to have of course the idea and you have to have this passion that you want to share with the world. For writing the book, I’ll tell you what I did. So I had those ideas and I thought that I could elaborate more on all of those. So I was collecting my own stories. If you're writing a book of business, or to help people, I advise you interview people. I interviewed 19 people for my book, because I thought those new insights, different perspectives from people so different from me will add more value to the book itself. So I was interviewing people to get the ideas and then seeing where it fits. And I thought it’s very valuable, their ideas for the book. And then I have a person who was my partner in crime because I was writing, writing, writing and she was reading it and challenging me and helping me to edit everything. So it's good to have somebody who helps you with the editing because it's also not only some sentences, how they look, but also other eyes on it. And I also got a lot of people to read the book and give me feedback, from family, friends, I got a lot of feedback from people. And then with that, I wanted to write it in summer and to publish it for my birthday on the 5th of September. So I had a target date. And the whole process was fine. I use Amazon. Amazon has a self publishing platform, which is super easy. So anybody can really publish, you just need to write the content. And I advise anybody, for me it has been a very rewarding experience.

Maribel:

Amazing. Excellent. Nahia, the name of our podcast is AudaciousNess. And we found out that the word ‘ness’ means a solid ground like an island. And if we imagine ourselves, that we are standing there with our goals and wishes and purpose, we have no influence on what the weather is and the difficulties that will come to you. But you have to keep standing there. How do you manage to get that solid grounding to keep on going with all the endeavors, to keep on going with what you want to achieve, regardless of people criticizing you and How dare you do that? And, come on, write a book, what is that? Or work full time, what? How do you manage?

Nahia:

I think it's really important to make it your own purpose. I think, Maribel, you mentioned that before. The one thing you know, okay, this is my purpose, I really am here, I want to make the world a better place because I'm going to help people unlock their talents and we need that. And this is what I'm doing and I know it’s right. And I think I can add some different flavor and help people with that, then it don't make sense. And no matter what the people are telling you, Why are you doing that? When you write a book or do these things you get exposed so more people can criticize me or it makes you feel vulnerable, right? Because if you're just not doing anything and following whether people tell you, you are less vulnerable, but I think if you believe on that you don't care so much about what the people are telling you. And you have this point of, Okay, I'm not going to use my energy caring about the people, what they are telling me. I'm going to use my energy to stick to my purpose and to my vision and do it, no matter what happens around.

Helen:

Fantastic advice.

Maribel:

Thank you for this incredible opportunity to learn about you, about your journey, Nahia. It has been a delight to have you on our podcast.

Nahia:

Thank you so much for the invite. Very happy to be with you, Maribel and Helen, and thank you so much for being here.

Helen:

And good luck for everything. I think it's fantastic what you're doing, Nahia. You're such a role model.

Nahia:

Thank you very much.

Helen:

Thank you.

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