Will black box algorithms be the reason you don’t get your next job?

A good example is today’s workplace, where hundreds of new AI technologies are already influencing hiring processes, often without proper testing or notice to candidates. New AI recruitment companies offer to analyze video interviews of job candidates so that employers can “compare” an applicant’s facial movements, vocabulary and body language with the expressions of their best employees. But with this technology comes the risk of invisibly embedding bias into the hiring system by choosing new hires simply because they mirror the old ones.

– Artificial Intelligence—With Very Real Biases

Beyond bias we should be asking serious questions about the data that these algorithms are based on: what data are they using to determine the connection between facial movements, vocabulary, and body language as predictors of job performance?

More from the article above:

“New systems are also being advertised that use AI to analyze young job applicants’ social media for signs of “excessive drinking” that could affect workplace performance. This is completely unscientific correlation thinking, which stigmatizes particular types of self-expression without any evidence that it detects real problems. Even worse, it normalizes the surveillance of job applicants without their knowledge before they get in the door.

Do AI company founders watch Black Mirror?

“Cameras are no longer just for memories but are fundamental to improving our daily lives – both in our personal and professional lives.” – It’s Coming, The Internet of Eyes will allow objects to see, The Next Web

Read the glowing article above where founders gush over a soon-to-be world in which all inanimate objects have tiny cameras that monitor our everyday movements. How does it make you feel? Is this the first time you’ve ever heard of the Internet of Eyes?

“Similar to the Internet of Things, the IoEyes is a network of cameras and visual sensors connected via the internet enabling the collection and exchange of visual data on a scale unimaginable before.”

This was the first time I’ve heard of the Internet of Eyes (IoEyes) and it’s absolutely terrifying. Equally terrifying are the founders who believe “IoEyes will only have a positive effect on society as a whole.” These guys seem to be clueless about the negative impact these technologies will have on society. You’d think there’d be a second thought on the “trillions of frames of potentially actionable data” they’re sucking up when data breaches are happening at record paces. Or maybe the founders just don’t care because profit&brand. And they’re doing it all to give us a better quality of life, to give us things like better data from our toothbrushing experience:

Imagine performing a simple daily task and knowing what’s going on inside your body.A real-time visual feed of you brushing your teeth will generate not just one visual signal but millions of layers of signals, including analyzing heart rates, blood conditions, DNA structure, temperature, and emotional state.”

Regardless, these founders (and maybe tech journalists) need to take a break from building (and reporting on) the future of surveillance for a bit of Netflix and chill with Black Mirror. Black Mirror is notorious for it’s dark take on how technologies affect society. Their episodes stay in your head way beyond episode. The series makes you rethink the impact of technologies in a visceral way. Every time I read an article like the one above it makes me wonder if any of these founders watch the show.

So my Netflix and chill recommendation for the founders is as follows. Start with the episode, The Entire History of You. Then move on to Nosedive followed swiftly by Shut up and Dance. Throw in the Christmas episode for fun.

Then get back to me about how positive these technological advances are for society.

PS: IoEyes also helping to reinforce those pesky gender stereotypes and support controlling personalities:

“The benefits of biometrics and sensors offer invaluable support. From deterring people from driving when they are too intoxicated, to making sure your teenage daughter isn’t bringing home that boy you don’t like when you aren’t around.” 

 

AI is going to make your asshole manager even worse

Before you continue reading post-click bait title reflect on the last bad manager you had. Remember how they made you feel. Remember the things they did that made your life miserable. Remember the incompetence. Remember that managers don’t get promoted to management because they’re good managers.

I know, it’s not pleasant. I’ve have some pretty awful managers too (but I’ve also had a billion jobs so it’s inevitable).

Ok. Now read on.

HR tech is hot. Nearly $2 billion in investment hot. And AI is hotter than bacon. So combining HR tech and AI is a sizzling idea (still with me?).

Enter all the startups ready to make managers lives easier/employees lives more miserable with algorithms to solve all the HR problems. The Wall Street Journal takes a peak into the future of management in How AI is Transforming the Workplace:

“Veriato makes software that logs virtually everything done on a computer—web browsing, email, chat, keystrokes, document and app use—and takes periodic screenshots, storing it all for 30 days on a customer’s server to ensure privacy. The system also sends so-called metadata, such as dates and times when messages were sent, to Veriato’s own server for analysis. There, an artificial-intelligence system determines a baseline for the company’s activities and searches for anomalies that may indicate poor productivity (such as hours spent on Amazon), malicious activity (repeated failed password entries) or an intention to leave the company (copying a database of contacts).Customers can set activities and thresholds that will trigger an alert. If the software sees anything fishy, it notifies management.”

Now remember your asshole manager. Imagine if they had access to this tool. Imagine the micromanagement.

Brutal.

(Side note: I wonder if employees get access to their bosses computer logs. Imagine that!)

Let’s keep going.

Another AI service lets companies analyze workers’ email to tell if they’re feeling unhappy about their job, so bosses can give them more attention before their performance takes a nose dive or they start doing things that harm the company.

Yikes.

It’s hard not to read that as an unhappy worker is somehow a threat to the company. Work isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. We can’t be happy 40 hours a week even in the best of jobs. Throughout our work lives we deal with grief, divorce, strained friendships, children, boredom, indecision, bad coworkers, bad bosses, bad news, financial stress, taking care of parents, etc etc etc. And sometimes that comes out in the course of our days spent buried in emails. The idea of management analyzing your emails on the watch for anything that isn’t rainbows ignores the reality of our work lives.

What data is the algorithm built on? What are the signs of unhappiness? Bitching about a coworker? Complaining about an unreasonable deadline? Micromanaging managers? What’s the time frame? One day of complaints or three weeks? Since algorithms take time to tweak and learn, what happens to employees (and their relationships with management) who are incorrectly flagged as unhappy while the algorithm learns?

Moreover, what do those conversations look like when “unhappy” employees are being called into management’s office?

Manager: Well we’ve called you in because our Algorithm notified me that you’re unhappy in your role.

Employee:

Manager: Right… so … can you tell me what’s making you so unhappy?

Employee: I’m fine.

Manager:

Not according to The Algorithm. It’s been analyzing all your emails. I noticed you used the word “asshat” twice in one week to describe your cubicle mate. Your use of the f word is off the charts compared to your peers on the team. You haven’t used an exclamation point to indicate anything positive in at least three weeks. The sentiment analysis shows you’re an 8 out of 10 on the unhappy chart. Look, here’s the emoji the algorithm assigned to help you understand your unhappiness level.

Employee: It’s creepy you’re reading my emails.

Manager:

Now remember, you signed that privacy agreement at the beginning of your employment and consented to this. You should never write anything in a company email that you don’t want read.

Employee:

 

And do companies who purchase this technology even ask the hard questions?

The issue I have with this tech, apart from it being ridiculously creepy, is that it makes some seriously bad assumptions. They assume:

  • All managers have inherently good intentions
  • All managers are competent
  • All organizations train their managers on how to be effective managers
  • All organizations train their managers on appropriate use of technology
  • Managers embrace new technology

Those are terrible assumptions. Here’s a brief, non-exhaustive list of issues I’ve had with managers over the past ten years:

  • Managers who can’t define what productivity looks like (beyond DO ALL THE THINGS)
  • Managers who can’t set and communicate goals
  • Managers who can’t listen to concerns voiced by the team (big egos)
  • Managers who can’t understand lead scoring and Google analytics (from the CEO and VP of sales and marketing no doubt)
  • Managers who can’t use a conference call system (technology-am-I-right?!)
  • Managers with no interpersonal communication skills and lack of self-awareness

Maybe we can all save ourselves by adding a new question when it’s our turn to ask questions in the interview:

“Tell me about your approach to management. What data do you use to ensure your AI technology accurately assesses employee happiness?”

Maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a few too many bad managers (as have my peers.). Maybe I just feel sorry for good employees struggling under bad management. And maybe organizations should get better about promoting people who can manage (i.e. people with soft skills) instead of those who can’t before this technology is adapted.

Anyhow, to wrap up, this whole post has my feeling so grateful for the good managers I’ve had. The ones who got it right. Who listened, encouraged, and provided constructive feedback on all my work. And though I’m sure they’re not reading this post, a shout out to my favorite, amazing managers from two very different jobs: Kirsten and Cathy. They didn’t need an algorithm to understand their team performance and employee happiness. They had communication skills, empathy, and damn good skills that made working for them a delight.

Is $10k for an online graduate certificate worth it?

Northwestern University is offering an online certificate for future international educators (study abroad advisors, international student advisors, global program admins) for the price of $10,624.00. It’s a 1/2 year commitment for full time. The certificate program “prepares students for employment in various sectors of the international education field.”

As someone who has worked on both the university and vendor side of international education, from program management, to communications, to careers, I know the industry well. And I know that you don’t need a $10K graduate certificate to get into international education, especially for entry level roles.

Since this certificate prepares students for employment in international education, let’s take a look at the skills required for work in international education.

Here are the skills and requirements for a candidate seeking a study abroad advisor at North Dakota State University (starting salary: $36,000) :

And here are the skills and requirements for an Inbound Analyst at the Institute for International Education (aka an “NGO supporting these exchanges” as listed on the overview above). This associate-level role “monitors and advises a medium to large caseload of (more than 150) participants coming into the United States” and builds “networks with institutional partners and IIE constituents.” It’s a mid-level role, ideal for someone who isn’t fresh out of college.

So how does a certificate in Global Student Mobility prepare candidates for these types of roles?

It doesn’t.

Though the curriculum offers “a grounding in cross-cultural theories while also exploring the widening range of program types, methods of delivery, and the importance of experiential and service-learning exchanges,” the content doesn’t teach the skills desired in the job descriptions above. Communication skills, project management, and team work rank high, as well as the ability to interact with people from other cultures. These are skills gained from a candidate’s previous work, internships or projects, not from a certificate. While knowledge of the field no doubt helps, concrete skills like communication and prior work experience are what gets candidates hired.

The certificate also offers nothing for career prep (i.e. mentorship, networking, virtual professional hangouts), just a little note on “interesting opportunities.” For a certificate that claims to prepare students for employment in international education, this is disappointing.

So to learn about the field of international education it’s going to cost students $10,624.00.

Fun fact: the average salary for a study abroad advisor is $36K according to Glassdoor.

I know higher education needs (and relies on) revenue generating programs like this. I’m a huge supporter of online education (albeit, reasonably priced online education). I also know the value of cross-cultural theory and its importance in global work environments like international education offices. But this certificate just seems like a rip off for students. Students are likely to get more relevant experience in international education by volunteering or working abroad in an NGO or startup for 6 months instead. They’d likely save money and have a more interesting time as well.

So to experienced international educators: think back to the beginning of your career. What would make paying $10k for an online certificate worth it to you? 

A: Real life experience: completing a project that made an impact on an existing international exchange program

B: Mentoring from experienced professionals in the field, with weekly hangouts, introductions to other international educators, and customized career support for international educators.

C: A 75% discount

D: Areyoufuckingkiddingmenope

Tweet me your answer at @pdxnicolle.