Catherine Cormier on Future-proofing Your Career.
Catherine Cormier is Vice President of Engineering of Assent Compliance and is a thought leader on the topic of career progression and adaptability.
What's your career journey been like and how has that led you to be an authority on this topic?
I was fortunate enough to have a tech entrepreneur father who sat down with me as a young teenager and taught me how to code. I instantly fell in love with the thrill of seeing my ideas come to life on a computer screen. I went on to study Computer Engineering in undergrad and autonomous agents in ecommerce in my master’s thesis. At this time in the early 2010s we weren’t using generative AI methods, but we were thinking about how we could create autonomous agents that would work on behalf of humans. My passion has always been in emerging technologies and how and when we can start to leverage them.
Are there specific jobs in your industry at higher risk of AI disruption?
I believe that the risk of AI disruption lies with specific mindsets, not industries or roles. AI has the power to alleviate tasks from every industry, but those who fail to embrace change and get outside of their comfort zone will feel the most friction. On my software development team at Assent, we are shifting how we think about the value we can bring to our organization. We are placing emphasis on problem-solving and how we can curiously approach business issues with technology, rather than only tactical or repetitive skills. This mindset and openness to innovation will prevent AI from disrupting employees while actually supporting and supercharging them.
What skills do you think young professionals should learn to stay employable in a world with AI?
Young professionals should become students of human nature. Regardless of how technology develops, problem solving will always revolve around the needs of real people. Technology alone cannot change the world; we need the next generation of professionals to embody the skills to apply AI to do impactful things.
How can AI help business owners and executives make better decisions?
It’s all about speed and access. AI puts vast amounts of data-driven insights at the fingertips of business decision-makers. With that kind of information available, it allows people to make quicker, well-informed decisions which, in turn, can lead to stronger performance or results. By streamlining tasks that are simple, yet time consuming, AI gives us the ability to spend more time on things that require collaboration and critical thinking.
What ethical issues should businesses consider when using AI?
When using data, privacy is always a concern. At Assent, we handle loads of customer and supplier data from around the world to help businesses bring responsible products to market. We must make sure we protect the confidentiality of that data, above all. Then, when we use AI to generate insights, because we are using data to inform critical business decision-making, we have to ensure they are reliable and trustworthy. It’s the same for any dataset informing AI. Once the data is out there, you can’t take it back, so businesses need to consider the privacy implications of their information and what it is being used for.
How will AI impact leadership and management?
As a technology leader at Assent, I work with a lot of smart people who are familiar with the capabilities of AI. For a team of developers who work closely with it, responsibility is a critical leadership function. Building the right guidelines while inspiring the team to explore and grow with emerging technologies can be a tough, yet critical, balancing act for managers. By pushing the team to get outside their comfort zone, we can reinforce their value as critical problem solvers and innovators while further developing their individual skills that complement the technology itself.
What specific skills or roles do you think AI can't replace in your industry?
Technology can’t replace critical thinking skills, so humans will always need to decide which problems are worth solving. The world is filled with problems that AI can support but prioritization will be critical. AI will certainly be able to get us the ‘how’, and the ‘what’ of the solution when addressing business problems, but humans will always need to lead on the ‘why’ and ‘when’. Specific to my work at Assent, we see some major areas where human expertise will always be needed. For example, when it comes to connecting with different stakeholders across the entire supply chain, technology can help quickly identify concerns like PFAS chemicals or responsibly sourced materials — what to do about it will be in the hands of humans. Not every industry and job function adapts to technology at the same speed, so I see a lot of skills and roles being necessary to support the AI evolution differently, depending on the challenge to be solved.
Finally, what does the future of work look like with automation and AI, and how can ambitious professionals thrive in this changing landscape?
The most ambitious professionals will embrace emerging technologies with open arms rather than fear. Instead of questioning what AI can replace, professionals should think about how AI can enhance or change the value they bring to their company. AI will change the landscape of the work that everyone does but if we are curious and responsible before jumping in head-first, it has the capacity to solve a lot of real problems.