A man is standing and smiling into the camera, with his back to wooden panelling and leaves.
Paul Walsh, analytics and AI senior manager in Accenture. Image: Accenture

Why bringing a sense of humour to work can do wonders for data scientists

17 Oct 2019

Paul Walsh, analytics and AI senior manager at Accenture, talks about the hardest part of his working day and impacting real lives through innovative projects.

Paul Walsh works with cutting-edge AI and analytics technologies every day at Accenture’s global innovation centre, The Dock.

As a senior manager, Walsh is involved with multidisciplinary teams working on a range of projects, and here he offers some invaluable insights into working life at the company.

‘Come to work with your sense of humour, enjoy the day, but raise your game and you will learn a huge amount’

What’s your role within The Dock at Accenture?

I am a senior manager in The Dock, Accenture’s flagship R&D and global innovation centre, based on Hanover Quay in Dublin.

In my role, I’m responsible for facilitating and delivering analytics and artificial intelligence solutions for international clients across a wide range of problems.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

The great thing about working at Accenture’s The Dock is that every day is different in terms of the people I engage with and the types of challenges we address.

Each day I get to work with a multidisciplinary team of very clever engineers, data scientists, designers and subject matter experts, and together we tackle new problems with an open mindset.

Also, I get to apply my analytics and AI skills and build solutions using these technologies.

What types of project do you work on?

At The Dock, we work at the intersection of emerging business problems using technical state-of-the-art analytics and AI. Currently I am working on problems in the life sciences domain, which is particularly exciting as we are aiming to have a significant impact on improving the lives of patients.

One such area is pharmacovigilance, which is ensuring that medicines are developed and used in a safe and effective manner. To that end, we are using AI to review and cross-check gigabytes of data triggered by changes in diverse sources, including clinical trials, to update physicians as quickly as possible on the benefits of new drugs.

This is known in the AI community as the ‘three Vs problem’. Information is being generated at such increasing velocity, volume and variety that humans cannot possibly keep up. Pharmaceutical companies, research scientists and clinicians are seriously struggling to understand, utilise and deploy new treatments. Our aim is that, ultimately, patients with advanced stages of cancer will be able to get new treatments as quickly as possible.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

On the technical front, we develop a lot of machine learning techniques, including those using computer vision deep learning and natural language processing.

On the soft skill side, my role involves supporting other members of the team so that they can do impactful work. One of the most important skills in this regard is communication, ensuring that the right people get the right information at the right time, as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The Dock is designed to be a highly dynamic and exciting place to work, and the building has been specifically designed to facilitate interaction and open communication across all levels. My favourite way to communicate with my colleagues is with short, focused, open meetings, with plenty of coffee to fuel interesting discussions!

What is the hardest part of your working day?

One of the toughest parts is trying to decide what to work on. Accenture and The Dock work with a number of international clients who are trying to address a wide range of global problems. I try to prioritise work so that we can focus on problem areas where we can have the greatest impact.

In addition, we can create our own innovation projects in The Dock if they have potential to make a dent on real problems for our clients. For example, some of my colleagues have created technology to monitor the health of coral reefs using machine vision.

This is a great example of using our excellent in-house skillsets to solve really meaningful problems. With so many opportunities, it can be difficult to choose what to work on next.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you?

One of my top goals is to ensure that communication is as efficient and effective as possible. I do this by making a communications plan, identifying who are the key stakeholders affected by a project and what they need to know.

Try to keep everybody informed without overloading them with too much information. This can be a fine balancing act, but err on the side of keeping everybody informed, within the bounds of confidentiality. Also, one of my favourite tips is to keep meetings brief and focused by using an agenda and sticking to it.

Technically, there has never been a better time to work in AI as huge amounts of information, software, tools and tutorials are now available online. There is also access to a global network of expertise which is extremely easy to take part in. Closer to home, we are lucky in Accenture to have a fantastic team of multidisciplinary experts who are open to sharing their insights. In that regard, my advice is to collaborate with, and contribute to, a network of like-minded individuals.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

What surprised me about my role is how uniquely it is positioned – it encompasses many parts of the Accenture business including research, applied research, Accenture Labs, and Accenture’s technical delivery capability.

This provides access to diverse multidisciplinary teams, interesting problems and opportunities in an agile organisation that uses a matrix approach. This means that in one project you may have a supporting role, and in another, a leading one. Therefore, you must be agile in your approach and mindset.

The people here are also extremely friendly and professional, and while they take the work very seriously, they take themselves less so!  There are many incredibly smart people here trying to solve very challenging problems, so come to work with your sense of humour, enjoy the day, but raise your game and you will learn a huge amount.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

The challenge is to become more agile to keep up with the pace of change and opportunities in the analytic and AI sections. There are significant advances in the AI sector on a weekly basis. We use agile methodologies to deal with a rapidly evolving landscape, however, an agile approach can make project work less predictable, so foresight, collaboration and good communication are crucial.

It’s also important in an agile environment to align the work to core values, and empower and trust people to perform. Thankfully, there’s great freedom in the Dock to collaborate, learn and self-organise but, ultimately, you still need to deliver.

If you come to this sector with a solid technical foundation and a willingness to learn, then anything is possible.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I always enjoy learning and I constantly have a few books on the go. So, while the range of challenges and technology used can be formidable, I really enjoy the vast learning opportunities in this role.

Also, the people working here couldn’t be nicer. They are extremely professional, and I am learning so much from them.

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