A man sits in a room with a whiteboard and a wall behind him. He is Mark Stewart, a software architect at Yahoo.
Mark Stewart. Image: Yahoo

‘Everything that companies do now involves AI operating at some level’

2 Mar 2023

Yahoo’s Mark Stewart speaks to SiliconRepublic.com about what it’s like working in the advertising industry using AI and analytics.

Mark Stewart is a software architect working at Yahoo. Stewart has over 25 years of experience working in the IT industry, in areas ranging from telecommunications to internet services. In his current role as a software architect, he works closely with AI researchers to deliver AI-based solutions for the advertising industry.

Stewart says a combination of work and a personal interest drew him towards his career. “Working in the advertising industry lends itself to solving all kinds of business problems using AI and data analytics. I also had an interest in the area due to my engineering and maths background.”

Since starting work in the advertising industry in 2008, Stewart has noticed how rapidly the industry changes, with new challenges arising all the time. The challenges he has encountered in this industry have “progressed from solving problems on how to book advertising campaigns in a system, to solving problems using AI to determine the probability of a user interacting with an ad on a webpage or mobile device.”

‘Good problem-solvers tend to also be very good at analytics because of their ability to think about a problem in multiple ways and come up with solutions’

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path in AI & analytics?

One of the biggest surprises is how sometimes the simplest of models, such as linear or logistic regression, can solve so many business needs. Models need not be the most complex or cutting edge to achieve very positive results. Another surprising revelation is how vast the whole area is from control theory, robotics, speech processing, classification, etc. The key is to try and specialise in an area that solves your business needs and not get distracted by areas outside of your scope of influence.

There were a few challenges I experienced during my career journey. After graduating with a BSc in Electronics Engineering in 1996, I went back to college in 2015 and I completed a part-time MSc in Data Analytics over three years. Combining this with a full-time job and a young family was very difficult considering the time and effort that is needed for an MSc. I was fortunate to have a workplace that supported my career development and a very understanding wife!

Another challenge I encountered was catching up in the industry. Coming into the AI and analytics area later in your career usually means you are playing catchup with people that have dedicated their entire careers to the area. You need to be patient and learn from them, but also appreciate that you have skills and insights from your own career that can be very valuable too. It’s a two-way street with everyone learning from each other.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

At Yahoo, you are working with some of the smartest people in the business. Also, the AI solutions in place need to work at huge-scale which means you are exposed to industry-leading frameworks and tools for implementing AI and performing data analytics.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to AI & analytics?

While having a background in engineering and mathematics is advantageous, I would say it is the analytical/problem-solving part of my personality that draws me to AI and analytics. For example, when I was younger (and fitter) I would analyse all my run data over particular courses to see where I was losing time. Very good problem-solvers tend to also be very good at analytics because of their ability to think about a problem in multiple ways and come up with solutions.

What can people expect from career progression in the AI & analytics industry?

AI and analytics has evolved from being a niche area within certain, specialised companies to now becoming mainstream. Everything that companies do now involves AI operating at some level. The company itself may not be developing AI solutions, but they are using AI solutions in some form through the tools they use to support their business.

Starting off in your career you will probably be working on data preparation and basic analysis of the data sets, but as you progress, you could be working on developing large-scale models which support business revenues of billions of dollars.

At Yahoo, AI and data science are at the heart of a lot of the products that are developed, so there is a whole career development path set out for R&D Engineers. Yahoo also has an employee education assistance programme which provides both financial and professional support if you decide to return to education in this area.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in AI & analytics?

If it is something that you have an interest in, then go for it! It is an expanding area within the IT industry and already we are seeing software engineers with competence in this area. People are no longer considered either an engineer or a researcher, the lines are becoming more blurred with more people now adopting aspects of both roles.

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