Hi Rashmi, please tell us about your journey from being a Project Management Intern at Novartis Pharmaceuticals to a Product Manager at Verizon.

Rashmi means “ray of sunshine” and that is what I aspire to be for others- to be a ray of hope positively influencing someone every day.

I am a passionate, value-driven Product Manager in the 5G Disruption space with the Verizon Corporate Strategy team, looking to create more cutting-edge products/features that customers love and drive high revenue growth for digital transformation through the power of the 5G network. Prior to this role, I was part of the VLDP (Verizon Leadership Development Program), leading cross-functional teams for artificial intelligence innovations and having experience in data science model-building/management, growth strategy, and value realization in marketing, finance, and platform engineering teams. In college, I studied both Business and Data Science as part of my BA/MS program. During that time, I held an internship at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Project Management, which allowed me to make strategic decisions across multiple processes, projects, and management systems using patient data.

I blend happiness, empathy, and passion into any task. I love to interact with people and connect on topics such as innovation, entrepreneurship, business, technology, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, public speaking, women leadership, mentorship, volunteering, stock market, networking, etc.

I am a curious individual who loves to learn and share that knowledge to empower others. Therefore, I love to contribute to society in a number of ways, as a HBR advisor, women in tech ambassador, entrepreneur, financial investor, mentor, and content creator. In my free time, I enjoy meditating, playing badminton, listening to audiobooks, adventure sports, and exploring new places. I am always open to connecting with people and exploring where life takes me!

Verizon recently signed a deal with Mastercard to use 5G and wireless technology for contactless payments; please give us some insights on it. 

The Verizon deal with Mastercard is really exciting. It joins Verizon’s 5G network and Mobile Edge Computing technology with Mastercard’s global payments network. We want to change how people make payments online, through eCommerce, and in-person by leveraging the low latency of the 5G network to take the friction out of making those payments.

An added part of this partnership is to co-innovate. Both Verizon and Mastercard have innovation labs in New York City, so we want to bring both labs together to synergize on solutions such as: enabling smartphones or connected devices to seamlessly accept payment, unlocking touchless retail shopping experiences, creating new ways to consume physical and digital goods, empowering small business digital readiness, and enhancing the bill pay experience for Verizon customers. Combining Verizon’s global IP network with Mastercard’s leading platform, we are anticipating to drive transformational change to billions of consumers, businesses, banks, and governments around the world.

How has your role as Product Manager evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I held two roles: Senior Technical Analyst at Verizon, which transitioned into my current role of Product Manager in the 5G Disruption space, and Co-Founder and Lead Product Manager of a startup company. Product management functions as a bridge between three pillars of the business – the voice of the customer, strategy and finance, and technology through UX and product definition. Working cross-functionally to bridge these teams together requires crisp and agile communication, which became tough during the pandemic. Communication is always a challenge, but it becomes an even bigger issue when you can’t work face-to-face. I had to be really intentional that everyone had a voice across the virtual table while making sure that my points were being communicated clearly, which sometimes required more screen time than I anticipated.

Another way the pandemic has impacted my role is how I am able to stay close to the core needs of my customers. Due to the nature of the pandemic, those needs have evolved quickly, and it is going to continue for the unknown future. I learned to eliminate any barriers which stood between my customers and me and really got close to understanding their needs and wants through multiple interviews/conversations. I had to make sure that the product I was building resonates with the human experience during the pandemic, and for that, I had to take extra steps to empathize with my customers.

According to you, what are the most challenging aspects of working in the “AI Economy”? 

In today’s world of “man-meet-machine,” Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of all of our lives. We use AI in many different ways- to help us drive, pick a movie, find new friends, cook a healthier meal, workout, etc. There are also many industries impacted by AI- banking, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, education, retail, business intelligence, etc. While the technology is revolutionary, there are several challenges that emerge for which we are poorly prepared.

One of those challenges is AI bias and, therefore, the trust deficit people have in the technology. Most people don’t even know the use or existence of AI and how it is integrated into everyday items they interact with, so there is a lack of understanding, to begin with. And since AI algorithms are built by humans, they can have built-in bias by those who either intentionally or inadvertently introduce them into the algorithm. If AI algorithms are built with a bias or the data in the training sets they are given to learn from is biased, they will produce results that are biased. This further worsens the lack of trust in AI. As companies build AI algorithms, they need to be developed and trained responsibly and properly educate the public on how AI is integrated.

Another challenge is about the future of work- some predict new work will emerge or solutions will be found, while others have deep concerns about massive job losses and an unraveling society. So far, most implementations of AI have resulted in some form of augmentation, not automation. So while I am sure there will be some marginal job loss, I expect that AI will free up workers to be more creative and to do more unstructured work, working alongside with their AI counterparts.

As a Global Board Member of the Women’s Association of Verizon Employees, how do you motivate and inspire other female employees to advance within the company?

I have always been a huge advocate of girls and women at work in all fields, whether it was via Women in Data Science, Break Through Tech, Built By Girls, Women in Product, WAVE (Women’s Association of Verizon Employees), etc. I strongly believe that there is always room for everyone to succeed in this world, so I push for the autonomy of ideas, diversity of thought, and synergy of efforts. Currently, as the Global Program and Events Strategy Chair for WAVE, I am able to give all women the means to communicate their thoughts, have engaging conversations, and learn from one another by providing them with a platform like Global WAVE and helping them convert their ideas into company-wide events.

Your portfolio is exploding with your professional accomplishments. From being a Harvard Business Review Council Advisor to being a New Jersey District Director for Toastmasters, you seem to be always at the top of your game. How do you maintain a work-life balance while also maintaining a personal life?

First, having an awesome support group always helps. My family and close friends have always supported me in whatever I wanted to experiment in and learn from. That provided me with the motivation to explore new interests, meet new people, and discover what truly inspires me in life.

Second, one of my mentors told me about a technique to prioritize tasks a few years ago, and I still use it today. It is called “I-M-U-L-L” and it stands for “important, motivating, urgent, low-hanging fruit, and leveraging.” Each task that you have will fit into one of these five categories, and depending on the category, I assign a time to finish it. For example, if my task is to read one chapter in a book today, I will categorize it under “motivating” and give myself my break time buffers throughout the day to finish it. It would not go under “urgent” or “low-hanging fruit,” which either requires my immediate attention or does not take up too much time to finish.

Third, I make exercise a must-do, not a should-do. It’s easy to skip out on a workout because I always have something to finish. But making that mindset shift is essential to ensure exercise is given as much priority as finishing work or spending time with loved ones. A healthy body means a fresh mind, which means you will function better and complete tasks in less time.

Expert’s Advice: As a tech-industry expert, please share your top tips on how to prepare for an AI-centric world?

There is no uncertainty here- AI is here, and many companies are ramping up their AI investments to connect better with their customers and improve their businesses. This will enable companies to build three types of technologies: assisted intelligence (humans comprehend data and generate insights), augmented intelligence (machine learning augments human decisions), and autonomous intelligence (artificial intelligence decides and executes autonomously). For these technologies to be successful, data has to be the main focus to make that shift from experience-based, leader-driven decision making to data-driven decision making. Making sure that you have good data without any duplicates, major gaps, and biases will ensure that your models are built better, and therefore systems will function better. When AI, analytics, and automation are part of a unified effort, you increase your ability to monetize data, build a data-driven culture, and reduce risk along the way.

Uzma Abdulla is an Editorial & Content Coordinator for The Media Bulletin. Experienced with a demonstrated history of working in the marketing space. Skilled in strong program and project management. Master of Arts (M.A.) in Archaeology and Pursuing Post Graduate Diploma in Counselling. She likes to be on her toes when it comes to facilitating events and collaborating with people.

Posted in Interviews By Uzma Abdulla   Date August 18, 2021

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