Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazer: Jordan McDonald

  • Senior Manager of Data & Analytics at EY. 

    What does your typical day look like?

    I have a reputation for getting up early, more out of habit than personal preference, but this serves me well during the work week. I have a number of tasks to complete before my laptop lid snaps open, including exercise (both physical and mental!), reading, a morning walk on the beach, and focusing on my goals for the day.

    Although I don't always have the luxury of doing so, I try to divide my working day into two distinct segments. The first of which focuses on meetings, planning, and administrative tasks. The second part of my day is spent working intensely and intently, which may entail deciphering complicated data, creating software for a client, or writing (proposals, documentation, and code!). Since unforeseen demands or changed priorities may develop, this framework is not always feasible to implement in a dynamic, fast-paced working environment, BUT I find the structure worth pursuing.

    After work, leisure re-enters my day as I let my interests come to the fore in an unstructured way. These can include things like viewing the sunset, playing chess, and dabbling in artistic pursuits.

    What are you currently working on?

    Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been the technologies that have been the tip of my spear throughout my career. I've had the good fortune to oversee the development of AI/ML solutions for a variety of sectors, including insurance, marketing, e-commerce, and more. This continues to be my main area of focus at EY, but I lean upon my flexible skillset and ability to adapt to assist the practice as required.

    This frequently results in simultaneous impact over several projects and strategic initiatives. Currently, I'm supporting a colleague who is building an analytics platform for a client, generating materials to enable more successful business development for AI/ML, project managing a small team in a client delivery, and performing a variety of other tendril-like duties.

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to those who are driven to attain lofty goals, passion is a contagious intangible element that is key to my sense of job satisfaction. When I initially met the members of the leadership team for EY's data and analytics practice, I was awestruck by the volume and scale of the projects they had delivered for their clients. In addition, I felt the team was enthusiastic about AI/ML as a technology and had faith in the business value it could bring to EY's clients. Furthermore, I wanted to put myself to the test once more in the crucible of client-facing professional services after a few years of success within product development organisations.

    Did you always want to work in this industry (tech)?

    We are frequently asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" during our formative years, particularly during our adolescence. As you begin to prepare for your A-levels, decisions regarding the future must be made, the significance of this question only amplifies as the jaws of time begin to close, and you must choose a direction for the next phase of your life.

    “Web Designer" was my early response to that question. An answer I gave without fully understanding the nature of the job and the breadth of roles available in the technology industry. Despite these knowledge gaps, I chose a degree in computer science (well done, past me!). Throughout my university career, I grappled with imposter syndrome to the extent that I considered changing course to become a teacher! As I learned from my peers, lecturers, industry events, and exposure to new technologies (particularly AI/ML), I realised that my gut instinct pull to the software industry, was in fact quite fitting.

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    The pursuit of self-development has always been the north star in my career. I see my career as a means to improve my ability to function in the world. I gain confidence in my ability to navigate the world by exposing myself to new people, technologies, challenges, rousing successes, and the occasional crushing failure. I am a firm believer that feelings of autonomy, opportunity, and the ability to shape one's own destiny contribute significantly to life and job satisfaction. In my work, whatever the company, whatever the industry, if personal development is being catalysed, I will be pleased...especially if it is aligned with communication, a skill I consider to be the most important trait to allow you to succeed as a professional.

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry?

    If you had asked me this question six months ago, I would have cited the critical benefits of job security while also having the flexibility to actively pursue forward career advancement. It is difficult to give this advice now as an immediate answer given many organisations have lately faced difficult economic conditions, which have resulted in widely publicised (and unfortunate) outcomes. Despite this I believe Northern Ireland's technology ecosystem will continue to prosper in the future, remaining a rich industry in which to build your career.

    Furthermore, the number of brilliant and accomplished people I encounter on a daily basis continues to astonish me. The people I work with provide most of my critical learnings throughout my job.

    How do you see this technology impacting on our lives?

    Given my interest in AI/ML technology, I'll respond via that perspective. Off the top of my head (or the tip of my pen!) here are some of the ways in which AI is likely to impact our lives:

    - Healthcare: AI is being used to develop new medical technologies and improve patient outcomes. For example, AI-powered systems can analyse medical images to diagnose diseases and assist doctors in providing personalised treatment plans.

    - Transportation: AI is being used to improve the efficiency of transportation systems, reduce traffic congestion, and make driving safer.

    - Workplace: AI is being used to automate repetitive tasks, improve efficiency, and increase productivity.

    Overall, the influence of AI on our lives will be determined by how we use it, and it is critical to address the ethical implications of AI and its potential for harmful use.

    What inspired you to work in this field?

    As a prior answer to one of the questions suggests, my choice to enter the software industry was motivated more by pragmatism than inspiration! Even as a naive adolescent, it was readily evident to me that Northern Ireland's software space was fast expanding, with both locally established and external enterprises flourishing. Aligning my career path with a developing industry felt like a sensible move to me (once again, congratulations to my prior self!).

    While it was a less important factor, I recall vividly creating a website for my ICT A-Level using the infamous Microsoft Frontpage application; while it is not an industry-standard tool, it introduced me to the sense of accomplishment that comes from creation. In this situation, the development of a website hampered by dreadful JavaScript.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    The term "recent" can be interpreted in a variety of ways; for me, it refers to a relatively short period of time, notably the last few years. Given my technical expertise and day-to-day focus on AI/ML technologies, you could expect me to read from the hymn sheet and provide an answer consistent with those topics. However, I feel that advances in genetic engineering have claimed the crown of most significant technological innovation, with CRISPR acting as the tip of the iceberg, enabling us to heal previously incurable cell disorders to increasing crop yields. What if disease and famine were not constants in human civilization?

    Aside: I have not addressed some of the difficult ethical quandaries surrounding genetic engineering, of which there are many.

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    Few things are more important to me than a good night's sleep. For me, an important aspect of sleep is not only sleeping but also waking! With that in mind, my most prized possession is my "Lumie" wake-up light, whose simulated sunlight combats the desire to snooze and allows me to wake up alert.

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