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Interview with Eija-Leena Koponen, Runner-up of the WAI Ambassador of the Year 2022 Award By Anne

Anne-Katrin: Eija-Leena, you are the WAI Country Lead Ambassador Finland and one of the four Runners-Up of the WAI Ambassador of the Year 2022 Award. Congratulations! Can you tell us in a few words why you decided to get involved as a WAI Ambassador?

Eija-Leena: As a female and statistician working in Data Science, mostly with guys who come from engineering backgrounds, I have felt an odd ball long and it has been my passion to attract more of my kind to the industry. I initiated the local chapter of R-Ladies in Helsinki in 2018 and got to know WAI when I was asked to help to organize a panel with Moojan (one of the WAI founders) for SLUSH 2019. We had a great time and a turnaround of interested folks and decided to take it from there. Obviously, the pandemic hit so the beginning didn’t quite go according to plan!

Anne-Katrin: Building a community of volunteers is certainly fraught with challenges every now and then. Do you have any “community building hacks” you would like to share with us so that we can learn from your way of doing things?

Eija-Leena: Once I realised (thanks to Elena, former Ambassador in Sweden) that I really need to build first a larger core team to get things going, all has been quite smooth taking into account the circumstances. I should probably ask the core team this, but for me open dialog, documentation, and freedom for one’s own initiatives is crucial while all have their day jobs. I’m so grateful for the support that I have gotten both from the core team and from the people supporting this cause more on the sidelines. And you can always ask for a favour, support etc, don’t be scared, usually people are willing to help!

Anne-Katrin: Given that you are a very inspirational person and role model, I am pretty sure that you are often asked to give advice. Hence (smile): What is your most important advice for women aiming at engaging in data and AI?

Eija-Leena: Understand the fact that the whole industry has been created mostly by male engineers. And you are no less intelligent if you don’t think the same way or understand everything immediately the way they present or wrote it. Things tend to be simpler than one expects, trust me. It’s hard, but be brave and seek for tutorials, opinions, voices that resemble your background and see if you can relate - usually you can. And if there are none, please contribute to the open community, maybe someone will benefit from it and we really need the forerunners for a more diverse workforce.

Anne-Katrin: And last but not least, why have you decided to engage in the work with data and AI? How would you end this sentence: For me the work with data and AI means…

Eija-Leena: For me, the work with data and AI means to be part of something all the time evolving, using my strengths and skills to solve problems in a novel way. Plus, I haven’t had to make the decision what to do when I'm an adult, since one never knows where this industry goes!

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