I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my work and forever thankful to my advisors for pushing me, but writing is not one of my natural abilities. Nevertheless, the request came at a rather interesting time for me, so I said yes. But let me take a step back.
“One day, the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.”
From one of my all-time favorite movies, that quote has been stuck in my head for more than half a decade. The first time I heard it, the quote resonated with the young geek in me and triggered my curiosity and desire to understand Artificial Intelligence (AI). That, in turn, pushed me to pursue a master’s degree and kickstart a career as an ML engineer. My years of research taught me that we are far from AI overlords, but the quote changed the lens with which I view the world.
So, I mentioned above that the request to write this article came at an interesting time for me. Why? I’m currently building a language model that can write meaningful phrases and sentences—as if written by a human being (where was this when I was writing my dissertation?!)
Natural Language Generation captured my interest at ADP when I discovered all the time and effort our client service associates put into crafting documents for our clients. I asked myself, “If we’re building machines to converse with us, why can’t we have them write for us, too?” Not only would that yield consistency in the quality and tone of our client responses, but for people like me, it may reduce an associate’s angst over a potentially time-consuming task and improve job satisfaction. That sounded like a win-win.
As I worked on the model, a friend joked that I was probably wasting my time on a project that my organization may never adopt. I disagreed. I’m blessed to work for wonderful, supportive leaders. Since I started at ADP, both my director and vice president have always encouraged me to challenge the status quo. Did I always succeed? Nope, but they created a safe space where I could take risks. Sometimes I fail, and that’s OK. It’s worth it to try.
I started working for ADP’s Retirement Services organization almost two years ago, thanks to a fantastic director who believed in me and gave me an opportunity despite my minimal experience. It was at a time when ADP ambitiously sought to build AI-centric products to make our client experience better. As a budding ML engineer, this was my happy place.
Although ADP has been around for over seven decades, a few years ago, we refocused on incorporating AI into our core strategy. This shift presented engineers with Machine Learning and Data Science backgrounds a unique opportunity. Sadly, for my peers at other companies, things they tell me they often face are a lack of opportunity, lack of problems to solve, and a limited scope due to the maturity of their company systems. You won’t find those things here.
We are still in an evolving space and actively innovating, which creates a ton of opportunity. I may be biased, but I think ADP is one of the best places for ML engineers and data scientists that love to innovate to grow their careers. Why? Besides a strong support system from senior leadership, we have a corporate focus to infuse AI into our products along with an unending stream of potential products and solutions to create.
Some parts of our company are still in the nascent stages of leveraging machine learning to improve our products. You may not find a lot of opportunities to build products from the ground up (although we are working on several!) inside a Fortune 500 company like ADP, but many also don’t have what we uniquely offer. ADP pays over 20% of the working population in the United States, giving ML engineers and data scientists a rare chance to work with some of the industry’s biggest datasets.
As an ADP ML engineer, I get the best of all worlds. I get to research and implement solutions for relevant problems and issues that impact the working world. For example, my team is currently tackling one of the biggest financial challenges in the country: retirement preparedness. We’re using comprehensive datasets from different organizations to enable us to teach people better financial planning habits and demonstrate the impact of those lessons on their financial future. I love to say we are, “Helping America Retire Better.” Every extra year of planned retirement that we deliver to people makes me happy. Impacting people’s lives through my work is what motivates me to come to work every day.
But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. This article wouldn’t be complete and would be slightly disingenuous if I didn’t talk about the challenges. Let’s be realistic. Everyone faces challenges at work.
One problem I see is that people love the hyper buzzwords: AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Data Science, oh my! But often, people don’t always see the value in the ideation phase. One of the great things about ADP is our culture of encouraging innovation that helps engineers move forward. Yes, maybe there were times people were wary of an idea, but no one ever discouraged me from working on a proof of concept.
Another challenge has to do with our scale, which is sometimes a blessing and a curse for ADP. Because of it, we need to work with teams across the organization and deal with conflicting opinions and priorities. Leaning into our core value of working as “One ADP,” many times, this helps us to resolve these issues, but it might take a few less-than-fun meetings or calls. These challenges can sometimes be annoying, and they take resilience to navigate through, but thanks to my amazing team and leadership support, I’ve never felt helpless or demotivated.
So, what do you say? Does this sound like a place for you? I’ll end by simply saying: give us a try. Apply and interview. I promise, once you meet us, you’ll understand why people stick around for a long time. I mean a really long time. Some of the smart and awesome engineers I work with had the pleasure of seeing the original Star Wars…in the movie theatre (no, I mean the first time!). Our multigenerational workforce is one of the things that makes this place culturally rich and diverse, but no less fun.
PS: The natural language model I’ve been working on wrote this article, so I hope you enjoyed it!
PPS: Just kidding. The model did generate some of the sentences I used in this piece, and hopefully, someday, it will be able to write an entire blog post for me!
Sanjay Varma Rudraraju is an Application Developer at ADP based in New Jersey.