Emily Reid, Vice President of Open Learning at AI4ALL
“We need to be more careful about how we use technology and what we use it for.”
Meet Emily Reid. Emily is a computer scientist, educator, and entrepreneur. Emily has an undergraduate degree in Math with a graduate degree in Computer Science. She has been a Senior Cyber Security Engineer at MITRE; was the first Director of Education for Girls Who Code; and is currently the Vice President of Open Learning at AI4ALL, which works to ensure that technology is developed by a diverse, inclusive workforce and that it serves humanity well. Emily enjoys unplugging with yoga and hiking. She is presently KonMari’ing her apartment and “learning very slowly how to play guitar.” You can reach Emily via email and follow her on Twitter.
What Does She Do?
As the Vice President of Open Learning at AI4ALL, Emily drives the nonprofit’s mission to increase diversity and inclusion in AI through education programs for high school students. Open Learning is a blended-learning program AI4ALL is launching next month which will provide high school students with free, project-based AI education – while requiring no prerequisites! “We believe that everyone can learn AI and take part in its development.”
While AI4All is based in Oakland, Emily launched its New York team out of Civic Hall, with her colleague, Sarah Judd joining earlier this summer as Curriculum Manager. AI4All will continue to expand its New York presence over time.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
“My parents both grew up in Greenfield, MA, in what is now an old New England factory town. Education transformed their lives, enabling them to choose careers as teachers, leading them into the middle class.”
Emily’s mother – a reading specialist for first and second graders – had an intimate perspective in her work with students, while her father – a professor of anthropology and sociology – held a broader, systemic view. While her parents were focused on the humanities, Emily expressed an interest in math and science: “Early on I remember getting a sense from my teachers, ‘Oh, girls aren’t good at math.” If anything, this made me double down: “Oh yes, we are!”’
At Tufts University, she became a math major and computer science minor. “Often, the hardest part was messaging from other students in the class.” It was first her day of class in “Intro to Computer Science” and, while she had AP’s in Calculus and Physics, she had no prior programming experience. Her lab partner wasn’t exactly the welcome wagon, greeting her with: “I thought they were gonna pair us up with someone with similar experience.” Over time Emily gained mastery in her subject area.
As she was preparing to graduate and enter the job market, based on her love of abstract algebra her professors suggested that cybersecurity might be a good fit. Emily accepted their advice, joining MITRE, a government contractor, as a cybersecurity engineer. While the work was itself challenging, sadly, so was the work environment: “It’s funny… I’ve talked about it a lot but recently, somehow, recently it’s become harder. I’ve definitely experienced discrimination and harassment. So that experience combined with looking around how influential what we were doing was is what really motivated me towards realizing that this was a broader problem that I could potentially be involved in the solution of.” Over time, Emily would come to realize that the issues that she confronted in the industry actually represented a calling.
Emily returned to graduate school to earn her Master’s in Computer Science (with a concentration in Natural Language Processing). The summer after her first year at Columbia she took stock: “After all these courses, jobs, different degree programs, I’m still one of the only women. “Why is that? This is where I said — the Universe reaching back – when you realize what you need to do, you can see it show up: So, I had said that I wanted to teach that summer. And the next day, I heard about the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. It ended up being one of the most influential experiences in my life.”
By the end of summer in Miami these girls – who had no prior experience – were able to program in three different languages, make bots and apps, and most importantly, see themselves as empowered to have an impact in technology.
“Computer science was now their superpower – their confidence had exploded. That change that they had in seven weeks – was something that took me YEARS.”
Emily was now clear: “This is absolutely something I need to be a part of.” She became the first Director of Education at Girls Who Code during its highest growth period, leaving to start E.E. Reid, her own CS Education consulting business, where her clients included the State Department and U.C. at Berkeley.
Emily in Morrocco on behalf of State Dept. project in AI learning
In 2018, Emily joined AI4ALL as its Vice President of Open Learning seeing it as a perfect fit. “I believe this program has the potential to put AI development on a positive, human-centered path which couldn’t be more important since AI has the potential to be the most impactful technology of our time.”
How Did She Come To Civic Hall?
“I had heard about Civic Hall when I was at Girls Who Code and knew that there was a vibrant community of CS educators and tech-for-good organizations in NYC.
I wanted AI4ALL’s expansion to New York to involve embedding in a fantastic community where we could both learn from, and contribute to, and make that part of the DNA of our team here. I had a hunch, but as soon as I visited and met Danielle [Hamilton], I knew Civic Hall was the right fit.”
What is She Reading/Watching/Listening To?
Emily is currently revisiting Noam Chomsky seminal text, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. (“I’m guessing the syntactic theory isn’t everyone’s bag.”) Her favorite techie shows are Black Mirror, Mr. Robot, and Westworld – recognizing that they tell “eloquent stories that have some (comparative) fidelity to actual computer science. I also just finished the last Queer Eye season, and I think that it’s inspiring and heartwarming for everyone.”
What is her ask for Civic Hall?
Ask: “Please learn about and share our programs! Our program launching this fall will be free to use, and next year we’ll be expanding partnership opportunities that will have additional benefits such as teacher training, direct support from AI4ALL, and special community features on our platform.”
Offer: In addition to Open Learning, AI4All will host its summer program at universities across the country. Our two closest programs this past summer were at Columbia and Princeton. We’ll be recruiting students for 2020 soon, so please stay tuned!”
AI4All’s Open Learning platform is live now with a public launch set for October 8th. Check it out!