conversational AI

DRUID Talks Ep #2 Women Empowering Tech with Andreea Plesea

DRUID Talks Podcast episode 2 touches on the story of a powerful, ambitious woman having conquered the world of AI and her inspirational career journey.

Episode #2 of the DRUID Talks webcast features Andreea Plesea, DRUID's Chief Customer Success Officer, and Subject Matter Expert, Kieran Gilmurray. See the full episode and transcript below.

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Kieran Gilmurray: Welcome to episode 2, Women Empowering Tech, with Andreea Plesea, Chief Customer Success Officer of DRUID! Technology has revolutionized the way we communicate and do business forever. It empowers human beings to reach their full potential as individuals and collectively to create a better future for everyone. And although we live in times of the best opportunities, the tech industry is still heavily male-dominated.

Nevertheless, women have played an increasingly important and critical role in this technology revolution, leading to more diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Let's think about Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer; Grace Hopper, an esteemed computer scientist; Annie Easley, NASA Rocket scientist; Adele Goldberg, the creator of the first programing language, which was the inspiration of the very first Apple computer and more besides. Women are empowering tech in so many ways by innovating and developing new products to address customer needs, encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace, advocating for ethical technology practices and leadership opportunities, connecting with various stakeholders from different backgrounds to create a well-rounded view of the industry and inspiring future generations of women to pursue careers in tech.

Our guest today, Andreea Plesea, Co-Founder and Global VP, Chief Customer Success Officer of DRUID, is a strong representation in the tech industry in AI and a keen supporter of dreams coming true. She firmly believes that a dream is not gender driven but is driven by passion and ambition. Andreea, welcome!

Andreea Pleasea: Thank you, Kieran. Nice intro.

Kieran Gilmurray: It should be because you've set an example to so many people. I love successful individuals in the tech industry because they inspire others to be successful as well. I’m going to lean into the first question, Andreea if you don't mind. For those who don't know you, could you tell us a little bit more about you, your role and your career journey to date, please?

Andreea Pleasea: Oh, okay. So, in DRUID, I had so many roles! So, I started as a developer and coordinated the development team, then I took on the role of building the professional services team, so the delivery team, once we had our first customer signed. Afterwards, together with the first sale, I started the sales process with Liviu (Dragan), our CEO. Then, I was the Chief Growth officer, so responsible for building up the sales teams. And now, I'm building the customer success team and working closely with our customers in getting their feedback, working with the product management team in order to take that feedback further to the product itself and then finding new solutions for automations within the customer digital journey.

Kieran Gilmurray: So, you are not bored any day of the week! By the sound of things…

Andreea Pleasea: No, I'm not.

Kieran Gilmurray: Not at all! But if I ask you maybe a second question… Have you always been clear about what profession you wanted to pursue? And I know you've got a PhD as well in AI… Was that a natural progression as well as part of your career plan?

Andreea Pleasea: Yes. So, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be a developer. My mum was a developer as well, so I wanted to become a developer. First, I wanted to study Polytechnic University, but because I didn't like too much physics and physics was one of the… the curricula that were required to enter university, I decided to go on Computer Business Studies, so in Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies and I studied Cybernetics there and Informatics. So, I knew that I wanted to become a developer.

I liked Artificial Intelligence. It was one of the curricula that were studied in university as well. The dean of the university proposed I have a PhD in Semantic Web because this is what he was at that time researching. So, it's now, I think, 11 years since I graduated, and I really enjoyed this field. I had some… during the PhD, I had a short period working in a university, Polytechnic University in Rome, in Tor Vergata. And the director for this program's PhD in AI was a woman, Maria Teresa Pazienza. She was… she's a teacher of AI, and she works in the field of Semantic Web. So, I enjoyed this a lot, this field, and I think it was seven years after when we started DRUID, and it was kind of in connection with what I have studied for my PhD thesis.

Kieran Gilmurray: Excellent! I'll ask my next question then. You've been a co-founder of a really hot tech startup. You mentioned Liviu earlier on, but there was a business before DRUID as well. You have surely lived through some very exciting times. What's your favourite memory from all the times building this successful startup and your startup career to date?

Andreea Pleasea: So, in the past, I was working in Liviu’s first company (TotalSoft), and I started as a junior developer and then a team leader. I worked in a Belgium company, as a developer, as part of a project from TotalSoft for, I think, four months. It was in Gent. That was a period I really liked because it was a mix between travel and tech, and it was cutting-edge technology back then that we used. Also, another project that I love was with Servier Pharma, where we started a new… it was cutting-edge technology back then… We created from scratch an application in JavaScript for Windows tablets, and I built a strong relationship with Servier. And they were our second customer in DRUID. So, they are really innovative; they are embracing the latest technology. Yesterday we integrated DRUID with GPT-3 for them. So, they are… These are the memories that I like: working with innovative customers that embrace technology and help me, on the one hand, to develop as an individual because I learn a lot from our customers.

Kieran Gilmurray: What a journey, what an exciting journey of travel and tech and programming and making an impact! You must have dealt with hundreds of companies looking to deploy AI by now. What are the most frequent challenges you've heard from all these companies, and how have you addressed those challenges with those stakeholders?

Andreea Pleasea: So, a challenge comes especially from the IT departments. I know it sounds weird, but IT departments say or see AI not as a technology that will make their life easier but as a burden. Because there is something that they need, an additional system that they need to train, an additional system they need to maintain. Now the key to good digitalization is to convince the business of the need to have this digital journey, of the advantages that the digital journey brings, and of the fact that it doesn't take your job, at least not for the moment. It makes your job easier and much more exciting. And I think this is… the challenge is to convince IT departments that IT… that… a platform that can be easily used by the business to train is not a burden for them, because the business can take the role of a trainer for an AI model.

Kieran Gilmurray: Which is quite innovative for IT departments to get because that pushes us towards what I would describe, Andreea, as the low code-no code movement or citizen developers start to really scale IT across the organization. It sounds like that's highly possible with the technology that you're putting into these companies.

Andreea Pleasea: Definitely, yes. And we have customers that embrace this platform, even customers without a background or technical background, like HR responsibles that are training the models. But also we have people in our organization, in DRUID, and I would like to promote because we are in an event that is dedicated to women. It's in March when it's the women - let’s say - month of the year. We have some lovely ladies in our company that, even though they are coming from totally different backgrounds, like, for instance, cereal trade companies or retailer companies, they were so much, they got the flavour of the platform that fast and now they are configuring APIs in DRUID, they are configuring virtual assistant, language models. Some are in the product management part, doing demos, use cases, which don't require a technical background. And they completely change their career journey! Something similar can be done with the employees of the company as well.

Kieran Gilmurray: I love the excitement in your voice around what you are talking about. If I ask you the next question, then… What excites you most about the technology that you're working with?

Andreea Pleasea: Yeah, this is a tricky question because there are so many things that are exciting me! So, for instance, the way you promote it in front of your customers, the feedback you get from the customers and how you have to integrate it, and how you keep pace with what developments are coming!

I mentioned earlier about GPT-3… This is definitely… Generative conversational AI is definitely a disruptor in the space. And I was actually, I was thinking yesterday… I have two boys; one is six, and the other is five-month-old. And I was thinking, after analyzing GPT-3, what jobs I should encourage my older one to take what curricula he should be guided towards because I don't know what will be the job, the jobs or the job market in ten years. Not even five years from now! So, this is exciting, the fact that you don't stop learning! You don't stop finding new things, and you have to put your creativity most at work rather than simply doing hard work.

Kieran Gilmurray: It's kind of interesting that as a parent, it is difficult because you want your children prepared for a future of work, and you know, I think we're going to have to embrace these technologies as opposed to fighting them. So, I love that you're thinking a little bit forward. But if I were to ask you the next question, then… Where is AI going? You know, we see a lot of these latest advancements, as you mentioned a moment ago, in generative AI, ChatGPT, DALL-E, and lots of others…. With your knowledge of business and AI and being able to read the industry, what would you predict is going to happen? Where is the world going to be in a number of years’ time?

Andreea Pleasea: So, Liviu actually sent an email this morning about the progress in AI and how it may, you know, let's say, have an impact on humanity. And there was a researcher that was saying that there should be some regulation, some policies in place, because if in the past it seemed well… it seemed unlikely to happen that AI can sometimes take over the control. Now we are a step further from that moment, with ChatGPT and the others… You saw that ChatGPT can do, I don't know… You ask, “Paint me a cow on a lane and then make it a cartoon.” So, the graphic designer’s work is not anymore really something that is only for humans. Similar to writing an essay or writing a PhD thesis even. So, I think there should be some control over the progress of AI, and I think that people should work closely with robots, but they should still keep control and be creative enough to put a limit at some point.

Kieran Gilmurray: When we're talking about those limits, Andreea, I suppose that's the balance always, isn't it, that if we put the brakes in innovation, then we're not going to make the progress we want as a society. But if we are not conscious of ethics and the impact on roles and planning for the future, then we're in danger of destroying things. I think someone said recently that generative AI could have the same impact as tractors did, taking thousands and thousands of people off the land and putting them into factories. I wonder, do you see the same thing? Is generative AI and similar technologies… but is that what you're referring to… that's the danger that suddenly thousands of jobs in offices could be destroyed, and therefore, what is the purpose or what is the role of people going forward?

Andreea Pleasea: The people going further should train the AI if we are talking about this, let’s say, taking over control. I don't think that it will be that much of a case because there is still creativity that only humans can have, at least at this point.

But for sure, there will be actions that AI can take over. For instance, paralegal audits, some graphical design, basic graphical design patterns, and even some basic code writing can be handled, or testing of a code can be handled by AI. That's the reason why we should see what is ethical and not. There were some discussions about whether it's ethical for students in university to use ChatGPT to create essays because why are they going to university if an AI can write the essay for them?

So, there should be some regulations. I don't think that putting a stop to innovation will cancel… is the solution, and we need to have a smart innovation. You know, for instance, industrial progress led humanity where it is now, but think of what damage it did to the Earth and the pollution and the fact that global warming, and so on and so forth. So, we need to learn from what we've done all these years to the planet and apply it in a smart way, and ethical way in the technical domain as well.

Kieran Gilmurray: Yeah, it's interesting. Someone once said that capitalism never allowed for pollution, and that was one of its biggest faults, and we're probably seeing that. So, if we look to the next question, then… Particularly in your current specialist area, how do you see conversational AI and intelligent automation evolving in the years to come? And how would you like it to evolve? Because those could be two different things.

Andreea Pleasea: So, I think that everyone will have their virtual assistant. It can be one virtual assistant that knows everything. So, instead of you going to HR asking to register a leave request, the virtual assistant will do it for you. If you want to register a travel expense, the virtual assistant will do it for you. If you need VPN access or a new office chair, the VA will create it for you, with all the automations in the back to make that task happen. It’ll order the chair for you, will order the delivery, will make sure you got the chair and change the different statuses in the back-office system. So, I think that all these tasks that are sometimes administrative but also sometimes operational can be at least 80% automated. Which potentially could have a tremendous impact, as we were mentioning earlier on, around the ethics or maybe the impact of actually implementing generative AI or conversational AI.

Kieran Gilmurray: But the plus side to this as well, Andreea, because to have that virtual assistant beside you, though, could lead to tremendous productivity and tremendous accuracy. So, in healthcare, medical professionals don't have time to learn all of the latest medical research. They don't have time to understand all of the impacts of drugs. Legal professionals may not have all of the time in the world to learn all of the law and, therefore, may not be providing the best advice to their clients. Yeah, both of those are kind of exciting and kind of alleviate some of the impacts you mentioned earlier on because the quality of the virtual assistant could augment and assist the person in being far, far better. But when you're talking about the impacts here, does that mean there'll be fewer jobs for other people or what? What other impacts are you thinking here that may be negative, not those positive elements?

Andreea Pleasea: For sure… I'm not sure there will be fewer jobs, but there will be different jobs. Or, you know, there was a profession in the past like a “telephonist” when you're calling a telephony centre, and they were redirecting your call. This job disappeared! Or the person staying in the elevator pressing the button for you, that job also disappeared!

So probably, there will be jobs that will be disappearing, but they will be reconverted. So that's the reason why people need to learn constantly. Not to say, okay, I am immortal. My profession will not disappear. I'm a developer, and I know everything… No, you need to learn all the time to keep pace with technology. And coming to your patients' example, we were discussing with a potential partner… They are producing or importing robots that are performing surgeries, and the surgeon is coordinating the robot’s arms. But the precision is very high, much more than human precision is. And the doctor needs real-time information about the patient's file, if he's allergic to some medicines for anaesthesia, and so on, in the surgery room. Or he needs to record real-time by voice what he notices during the surgery, I don't know. His blood pressure went up; we need to administer adrenaline or something else. This should go into the patient’s file in real-time, and students that are coordinated, for instance, by the professor, can also have real-time information about how the surgery went, and they can learn from real use cases. These types of professions, where robots, physical robots, the ones that are performing surgery, and conversational AI robots that are performing on behalf of the doctor are helping the doctor to get a better result during the surgery. And maybe it will save lives because it is a better quality of medical services and a higher precision. Robots can take action; it's not human. Sometimes a human is error-prone. Humans have needs. If there is a… I don’t know 24-hour surgery, and if people get tired, robots don't. So, this type… or maybe they reduce the time of the surgery or the duration of the surgery due to the robot’s efficiency.

Kieran Gilmurray: It's interesting that because I like the sound of… I like, as a potential patient, the accuracy and the quality. And I never thought for a moment about all the different uses of the data outputs that could then be used to train others and the 24/7 facets of that as well. The bit that I'm hoping personally is that over the decades, we have seen that new technological advances have impacted jobs, but they've actually created more jobs and more value. So, fingers crossed, that is the pace going forward. But we do need to plan for it. If I ask you the next question, then… What's your advice for those looking for a career in AI, both new female entrepreneurs like yourself and generally anyone who wants to get a career in AI?

Andreea Pleasea: You have to be prepared to learn a lot and willing to learn a lot.

Kieran Gilmurray: So, what would you say that they… Where do you think they should concentrate their learning? Is it on the ethical side of it? Is it a particular field within the AI industry? Is it a particular programming language? Is it getting a general broad view so that they become as valuable and as useful in as many areas of AI as possible?

Andreea Pleasea: I think they should have a broader view because programming languages, even though I don’t know… Python or C++ or others, C Sharp… are the same, but you need to continuously learn new algorithms to keep pace with the latest case that appeared, the research that is having, that is… that different research groups carried. And you need to reuse and not reinvent the wheel. Because currently, humanity is in such a fast-forward phase in innovation, and there are so many research groups focusing on different AI fields.

You need to be aware of what's on the market and to be agile enough in order to integrate to reuse what others have developed. For instance, NLU and ChatGPT. This NLU is a commodity. You will, you don't have to focus now on building your own NLU because ChatGPT is definitely the best in class. So, you have to think of ways how to use ChatGPT in your platform, in your conversational AI platform, in order to make it adaptable for the enterprise environment because currently, it's more of a B2C. It’s not controllable; the answers are not controllable in that they don't have the level of control that an enterprise environment would require, and you need to start different processes and different automations in order to make a… to create the virtual assistant. So, you need to be all the time up to speed with what is developed and be agile enough to integrate the developments because the firstcomer is the one that gets the market.

Kieran Gilmurray: I like that. I like that saying a lot! It shows you that someone said recently, I think it was a piece of research from Pearson Education inside Oxford University. We… the generation born now, could be the first to work to their 100. Now I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but to your point, if that is the case, or anywhere near them, we're constantly having to reinvent ourselves and to learn and learn and learn. Andreea, I do not doubt for a moment that you will have inspired a lot of people from all of the information you have given out today and from our interview. But if I ask you the final question, then… Do you have a favourite quote or motivational speech, or motivational moment from your experiences to date or other leaders that you might share with the audience to motivate them to have a successful career as you've had to date?

Andreea Pleasea: I actually have two, and I think they are, let's say, according to our reality now. They are from Einstein.

It takes a touch of a genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” So, you have to be bold, and you have to be passionate in order to move mountains and reach your goals.

And the second one, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Kieran Gilmurray: I think, having listened to you today, you live by those quotes and having seen how successful you have become, I think that people would be wise to follow that inspiration as well. Thank you so much, Andreea! That was inspiring, particularly considering it's a month we want to empower women in technology. I think it's all the more inspiring as well that we've had a successful female entrepreneur describing the successes that you have had; I think that should inspire every sex over the next number of weeks, months and years. Thank you so much!

Andreea Pleasea: Thank you, Kieran!