Getting the best from your crop and greenhouse will increasingly become a computer responsibility. We need to make better decisions, to get better results and fix the global food problems and expertise shortages. Artificial Intelligence can help us with this. But what skills are needed to work in AI tech? And what does the future of working with AI look like? Britta Meixner, Saheli De and Gosia Piekarska of Blue Radix answer these questions, and suggest how we can encourage more women to aim for tech jobs in AI or IT.
What’s your job at Blue Radix?
Britta: “My name is Britta Meixner, and I’m a Scientific Data Engineer. I advise the Blue Radix management team on technical implementations. I keep track of new technologies enabling us to introduce innovative products to customers. I also design, build and maintain a scalable and future-proof IT environment. Other tasks include implementing proof of concepts for new technologies and setups; I design and realize solutions when we start using these new technologies. One of these is the Azure IoT Hub, which lets us send results from the Data Science Team to greenhouses, steering installations autonomously.”
“A day in a Data Scientist’s life entails a range of tasks,” explains Saheli De, who works as a Data Scientist at Blue Radix. “Developing new functionalities for our customers involves preparing, cleaning and analyzing the data that comes from the climate computers and other data platforms. In this phase we work closely with our product development team to understand the dynamics and strategies involved in the greenhouse. Then there’s extensive discussion of strategies to solve the business requirement, leading to building models using cutting-edge AI technologies like machine learning. The essence of the job lies in translating the horticulture industry’s business requirements into data science solutions.”
Gosia Piekarska works as a Blue Radix Test Engineer and is responsible for implementing testing procedures, shaping the testing process, and software testing. “My job is to check the quality of the infrastructure and components in both Crop Controller and the energy domain. My work is my hobby; I’m always trying to improve my software testing knowledge in my spare time. I’m particularly interested in Test Automation, Data Analysis and DevOps.”
What do you like about working with new AI tech solutions for horticulture?
Britta: “There’s often no standard way of doing something when creating new AI solutions. Every new project requires new skills and technology knowledge. I can never stop learning in my job. Staying up to speed on new developments and technologies is the key to success. This makes my job demanding, but at the same time it never gets boring.”
Saheli adds: “The tech industry is growing rapidly, and being the flag-bearer of AI in horticulture lets you design unique and sustainable solutions. Imagine walking into a supermarket picking up a tomato that was produced with the help of your algorithms! That’s powerful!”
“I always love working on the cutting-edge technology solutions, because they introduce the innovations which are so desperately needed in our world,” says Gosia. “I think that sustainable technology in the food-growing industry is critical for people’s well-being.”
What skills are needed to work in the AI tech-field?
“You need a broad spectrum of knowledge to make our solutions work in the greenhouse, from network protocols and operating systems, databases and APIs, to data pipelines. It’s only the combination of these which enables us to steer a greenhouse autonomously,” explains Britta. “Because the IT infrastructure differs in every greenhouse, we must be able to create solutions that quickly adjust to a wide range of situations. So alongside a very broad technical knowledge, you also need to be flexible, and to understand new situations and requirements quickly.”
Saheli adds: “Data Science in particular is a mix of mathematics, statistics, and computer science skills. Horticulture-related skills are a benefit, but not mandatory in my role.”
Gosia: “Constant learning of both broad technologies and tools. On top of that, don’t forget soft skills.”
How do you think the future of working with AI will look?
Britta: “Data Scientists now focus mainly on a deep understanding of algorithms and data sets to be able to get the most accurate results for steering the greenhouse. This is often done in controlled offline setups. But there’s still a large gap before these algorithms are ready to be integrated into production environments to produce real-world data for the greenhouse. Data science and data engineering have to work together early in the development process to close this gap. That lets us deliver new features and improvements to existing functionalities faster.”
Saheli: “As we say at Blue Radix: ‘Algorithms can feed the world’. We believe that algorithm-based solutions, like our Crop Controller, offer growers worldwide a digital brain for their greenhouse. The dream is to work towards a symbiotic utopia of growers and AI-driven solutions.”
Gosia adds: “The key will be the AI-human interaction and how to deliver AI solutions to customers who don’t necessarily have a deep technical understanding of AI systems. This is important in horticulture, because advanced controlled systems are relatively new in this industry.”
How can we generate enthusiasm among women for tech jobs in AI or IT?
Britta: “Women have different styles of working, thinking and communicating than men. While that might cause confusion here and there, it can really help a team to reach their goals faster, and to find better solutions. If we are to encourage more women to take up AI or IT jobs, it’s important to reach true equality in opportunities and pay in every job out there. We need to remove gender stereotypes in daily work, while also avoiding them in early childhood and at schools.”
Saheli: “I completely agree with Britta, we need to generate opportunities for both genders to be able to access and experience meaningful interaction with technology from a very young age. I strongly believe that curiosity is the key to science. Stay curious and keep asking questions!”
Gosia: “We can’t shape our world if we’re not involved. Working in IT offers enormous opportunities for women to make their mark. I also believe there are great career prospects if you choose a future working in AI, IT and sustainability. There are so many great challenges, and you can really contribute to a better world. The best would be to provide successful examples and stories of women working in AI, to encourage young girls to join the field.”