1. What inspired you to pursue a career in electrical and computer engineering?
My mom often sent my sister and I to summer camps for math, science, music, and sports to ensure we were pretty well-rounded. I had a natural inclination toward engineering because growing up with my mom and grandmother, we were often fixing, building, and creating things. It was my 8th grade science teacher who sent me to my first engineering camp, which was for middle school girls, at what eventually ended up being my undergraduate institution. Specifically learning about the different types of engineers and computer engineering was the most fascinating to me in that you could use letters and numbers, or code, on a computer screen to control pretty much anything electrical and mechanical.
2. As an Applied Science Manager for Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence, what do you wish young people understood about the use of AI in our everyday lives?
I would like them to understand that technology is part of our everyday lives, such as technologies that act/speak/see like a human. In fact, the more you understand this, the better you're able to utilize these tools to solve problems. AI is very much so artificial, never 100% accurate, not intended to replace humans in the general sense and the robustness is based on good quality, diverse data used to create the algorithms.
3. Is there any advice you would offer to women “techies” in traditionally male-dominated STEM fields?
It's okay to be different, first and foremost. Good teams are well-balanced when you have a variety of backgrounds, gender, ages, ethnicities, etc. The most ideal situation is an environment that values you for your differences and one that makes you feel included.
4. Your non-profit organization, The Bean Path, continues to impact countless lives by making technology accessible to the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. What inspired you to start The Bean Path in your hometown?
With The Bean Path, we wanted to sow technical expertise into communities to make technology less intimidating and to demonstrate to others how to meet their technology and innovation needs. We essentially provide technical advice and guidance to individuals and small businesses in the community. Our initiatives include Tech Office Hours, engineering and coding programs for youth and scholarships/grants for students and community organizations.
5. You are currently developing a one-of-a-kind tech district in Jackson. Can you tell us more about this incredible project?
One way to scale the mission of The Bean Path was to create a tech hub in the downtown Jackson, MS area (my hometown) to further strengthen the tech community. Building spaces such as the Makerspace, the Arts & Innovation Station, and a conference/training center at the Jackson Tech District allows me to bring all of my education and career expertise back to my hometown through educational programs, exposure to tech careers, and other opportunities for economic development.
Dr. Nashlie H. Sephus is the Applied Science Manager for Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiative, focusing on fairness and identifying biases in the technologies. She formerly led the Amazon Visual Search Team in Atlanta, which launched visual search for replacement parts on the Amazon Shopping app in June 2018. This technology was a result of former startup Partpic (Atlanta) being acquired by Amazon, at which she was the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Prior to working at Partpic, she received her Ph.D. from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2014 and her B.S. in Computer Engineering from Mississippi State University (2007). Recently, Dr. Sephus became founder and CEO of The Bean Path non-profit organization based in Jackson, MS assisting individuals with technical expertise and guidance. During her leisure time, she enjoys playing tennis, playing the piano, listening to music, bargain hunting, biking, and working on do-it-yourself (DIY) projects at home. She is part of the Speaker Network at Envision by WorldStrides, participating in the National Youth Leadership Forum: Engineering.