Maria Montserrat Medina
AI is being enthusiastically embraced by a number of industries. From transportation to e-commerce, entertainment and beyond, AI is taking charge as an essential technology.
“What’s lacking is a vision of what to do with it in traditional companies,” says Maria Montserrat Medina, a partner at Deloitte in Technology Strategy and Transformation. “So far, the vision has been around social activity rather than industry-specific applications.”
For example, Maria pointed to the struggles that brick-and-mortar retailers have faced in keeping up with fully online, technology-born competitors.
“But retail can be radically transformed with AI,” she says. “A physical store could become essentially a showroom: You’d be able to enter the store and your phone would tell you about items that could be of your interest. You could scan an item and, based on your profile and what you have in your cart, the price would change as well as the delivery. This will become an advantage against fully online suppliers because the customer could see the item prior to purchasing.”
With a love and passion for math, Maria was confident in her decision to pursue a career in technology.
“I came back to Spain two years ago and joined Deloitte,” she recalls. “Before that I was in Silicon Valley, and prior to that I was at Stanford. I dropped the PhD program in computational mathematical engineering to start an AI-based startup, Jetlore, where we applied AI for marketing and retailers. The company went well and was acquired by PayPal. I was one of the original developers of the AI technology that runs behind the engine, which didn’t need much maintenance and brought our customers huge ROI and millions of dollars.”
Maria’s passion for technology is not only rooted in her passion but in the realization that, unlike other industries, “you can’t get bored.”
“It’s certainly very challenging,” she says. “Very smart people work in this field and it is constantly moving and progressing. But most importantly, you can make an impact. In other fields, perhaps the impact was made 100 years ago and now all you can aim for is an incremental benefit. But in tech, anything you do could make such a big impact and you see the results so quickly. You develop an algorithm and you see the impact in days, weeks or months at most. That’s a powerful thing to be a part of.”
Along the way, Maria found support from people that believed in her and pushed her to grow within her career.
“I have a couple I would like to mention, one of them is Patrick Hanrahan,” she says. “He was my advisor at Stanford. He is truly so brilliant. I have no other word for him, and he just believed in me when he took me as a student. He believed in me when he told me to start the company. He's an entrepreneur and a professor. He understands very well everything in the industry, academia and research, so he really had me understand and develop.”
Maria also wanted to call out Eldar Sadikov, who co-founded Jetlore with her in 2011. “We both had very similar personalities and we just kept pushing each other,” she remembers. “He had incredible clarity of thinking and he was very well-rounded. I learned a lot from him. I was very lucky to work with him for so many years because we grew together as entrepreneurs and as researchers. He was a great partner.”
While she loves her career, Maria doesn’t believe in forcing STEM on those who are simply not interested, regardless of the benefits that careers in science, technology, engineering and math can provide.
“It doesn't matter what women or men choose to do as long as they do whatever they are best at,” she affirms. “Yes, there are fewer women in STEM, same as there are fewer men in design. In Spain, for example, there are a lot of women in law school, and there are a lot of women in med school. It’s not about the percentage itself. It's about ensuring that everybody is empowered to do what they want.”
Maria encourages girls to ignore those who say they shouldn’t be in STEM, but if a girl chooses to avoid STEM because she has a hard time with math, Maria believes that is a valid decision.
“When this movement started, it was truly because women were not empowered to enter STEM,” she says. “But now I wonder whether we are really forcing things too much. We should ask ourselves whether women are really doing what they want, rather than telling ourselves, ‘Let's get more women in STEM.’”