Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards. Meet 2020’s Science & Technology nominee, Ong Wan Cheng, Regional AI Trainer at Lazada Group.
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Meet Ong Wan Cheng – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Science & Technology Nominee
Have you ever used a customer support live chat service on a website, and wondered whether it was a real person or a robot on the other end responding to your queries?
Known as chatbots (aka “conversational agents”), these AI (artificial intelligence)-powered software applications mimic human speech in order to simulate conversations with a real person. At Lazada, the AI-powered chatbots have the ability to decipher different languages including English, Bahasa Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Similar to how humans need practice when we’re learning to talk, AI-powered chatbots require “training” through technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and “machine learning”, to facilitate more fluid interactions between bot and user – and leading the team of AI trainers at Lazada, is Regional AI Trainer, Ong Wan Cheng.
“I work alongside an amazing team that always puts the customers first by seeking to understand their concerns and applying effective solutions to solve their queries,” says Wan Cheng. “We do many things, including studying analytics and dashboard monitoring to gain insight into customers’ concerns. The “brain” behind the chatbot is actually the algorithm model – that’s what pairs a query to a response. We have to keep training the “brain” to be smarter by updating it and feeding it with new information.”
“Many people have the misconception that AI trainers focus only on the chatbot as a product, but we actually work very closely with different teams to understand the business side of things such as best practices, policies, and processes,” she explains, “These collaborations provide context for what we build on the chatbot.”
Technology has traditionally been a male-dominated field, so it’s interesting to note that more than half the team of AI trainers at Lazada consist of women. “I’ve personally seen more female representation in the tech sector, “ Wan Cheng reveals. “It’s a very good sign which shows the potential of females excelling in tech. In fact, if you look at today’s environment, there’s a lot of training available, not just within the company, but also at a national level, that will enable tech professionals to excel, regardless of gender.”
Given her current position, it might come as a surprise to some when the 31-year-old admits that she wasn’t always so tech savvy. “I didn’t start out as an AI trainer. I was from the banking sector but with a focus on analytics, so I think that’s what really bridged me over to my current role. E-commerce has always been my passion and it’s something I wanted to pursue so that’s how I ended up here.”
Wan Cheng attests that there were challenges when she first switched careers, but points out that her transition was made smoother thanks to her background in analytics. She shares, “AI was actually a totally new field for me so to be honest, I had no clue about what AI was before this role. But because AI training is very heavily focused on analytics and data, there were transferable skill sets that I could call upon in my new role. The new context was what required learning on the job, but it’s been very rewarding because when you look at the bigger picture, AI has transformed the workforce and the industry in so many ways.” Wan Cheng continues, “By creating more opportunities for people to engage in more meaningful work and creative problem solving, being part of this transformation has been a very fulfilling and rewarding journey for me.”
“If I had to give a piece of advice to younger women, I would definitely say, be more experimental and don’t be afraid to try new things! Exposing yourself to an array of new experiences is what gives you that diversity in terms of perspective and personality, and I find that really enriching,” she enthuses. “Take me for instance, I dove right into AI despite not knowing much about it – and I’m so glad that I did it.”
“My transition journey felt very surreal. It was such a steep learning curve because I had to put away everything that I previously learnt about banking, and learn something totally new. But it’s been such a wonderful experience because I have great support, not just from my team, but across the other teams as well, and that has really helped me to sharpen my AI expertise in this field,” Wan Cheng shares, “Knowing that all the hard work we put in makes a positive impact on the customer’s overall shopping experience, and that means the world to my team and me.”
The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.