Observations from Rebekah Tweed, Program Director at All Tech Is Human
I’m the Program Director at All Tech Is Human and also Assistant Producer of A BETTER TECH, public interest technology convention & career fair coming up on Oct. 14-15, hosted by NYU and supported by New America’s Public Interest Technology University Network. I’ve been studying Responsible Tech careers, talent, and hiring trends for about a year since I created a Responsible Tech Job Board.
I’m going to reflect briefly about the Responsible Tech Ecosystem through the lens of what I’ve learned over the past year sifting through the over a thousand jobs I’ve posted by hundreds of employers. These jobs are focused on limiting the harms of technology, diversifying the tech pipeline, and ensuring that technology is aligned with the public interest.
Learnings from the job board and conversations with hiring managers
- Our Responsible Tech Job Board curates and surfaces unique roles that were previously hard to find.
- Social change happens both from the inside, outside, and reimagining something new. The Responsible Tech movement is happening both within industry, from outside advocacy groups and research organizations, and also alternative tech models being launched.
I want to start by highlighting industry, which is a key component of the overall ecosystem. Most big tech companies have by now built in-house departments around responsible tech under various names like Responsible Innovation, Ethical AI, Responsible AI, Ethical and Humane use of technology, Algorithmic Accountability, etc. Over the past year, I’ve seen these departments grow and in some cases, balloon (and in one case, implode); but interestingly, more and more companies outside of tech are building these types of teams too as they’re increasingly amassing data and utilizing AI. Senior talent will be in increasingly high demand to fill these roles.
I want to point out some of the recent responsible tech job openings that caught my eye because they aren’t within traditional tech companies.
For instance, in the recent past:
- American Express hired a Director of Data Ethics.
- Mayo Clinic just hired a Senior Data Science Analyst for AI Ethics.
- Paypal hired a Head of Responsible AI.
- Workday is currently looking for a Machine Learning Trust Program Leader.
- BP hired a Digital Science Tech Associate for Digital Ethics.
- H&M has a robust Responsible AI and Data team and hired a few roles last year.
- Walmart recently hired a Senior Director of Digital Values.
At the very least, this is a signal of the maturation of the responsible tech field as it’s developing beyond traditional tech companies to include corporations in other sectors. Almost all of these companies start with senior hires but then have to staff up over time to actually build out these teams, so I anticipate many more opportunities in the coming months at every level.
Responsible Tech Roles Across the Ecosystem
Of course, different parts of the professional ecosystem appeal to different people — some people absolutely do not want to be a part of the tech industry while there are also those who would rather avoid academia, or government, or particular NGO’s. But because the field benefits from principled and passionate people at every outpost in this ecosystem, I make available on the Responsible Tech Job Board every type of opportunity to get involved in the field.
This is why you’ll find postings from NGO’s like the World Economic Forum and the U.N. alongside tech roles in local governments and various mayor’s offices; opportunities in the U.S. federal government like TechCongress and Presidential Innovation Fellows, jobs at tech policy think tanks like Brookings Institution’s Center for Tech Innovation; you’ll find openings at the many nonprofits like Algorithmic Justice League, ADL Center for Tech & Society, New America, as well as roles with the philanthropists that fund the work like Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Omidyar Network, and Ford Foundation. These are alongside ethical AI start-ups like Parity, Spectrum Labs, Fiddler, Virtuous, Anthropic. Additionally, Global Consultancies serve a very important function in the ecosystem, so you’ll find roles from firms like Deloitte, PwC, EY, Accenture, and Avanade. There are also tons of academic roles as professors and within University Research Institutes; and yes, large multinational corporations and big tech companies, as well.
Even though it’s a relatively nascent field, there is already a very robust ecosystem, so I try to touch on all of it with the job board.
Organizations within the Ecosystem
Industry is a vital part of the ecosystem, but honestly the countless non-profit organizations doing work on the ground are the beating heart of Responsible Tech. All Tech Is Human just released a list of hundreds of organizations and their resources in the Responsible Tech Guide, searchable on ResponsibleTechGuide.com, to make it easier for people to make sense of the entire field in order to see where they themselves can most effectively get involved.
Much of our programming is built around clarifying these murky pathways into the field of responsible tech and empowering people to carve out a specific path for themselves, because formalized paths have not yet fully developed. The field is no longer in its infancy, by any means, but it’s still very malleable, and everyone participating within the field right now is a part of firming up these pathways that will eventually feel like foregone conclusions.
The fact that there isn’t one single preferred path can be a challenge for people planning the next step in their careers — or the first. In fact, the most common hurdle named by the over 200 mentees in our inaugural mentorship program is “Knowing where to start.”
Academia and Responsible Tech
The interdisciplinary nature of the field can also pose a challenge in a university setting, where colleges within universitiesare siloed andoften structured as competitors or incentivized to be territorial — this is something I’ve found to be remarkable about New America’s Public Interest Technology – University Network, which is funding my work at NYU with A BETTER TECH. The PIT-UN is working to incentivize collaboration across 43 universities and counting, and across schools within universities that typically compete for resources — funding, job placements, students. PIT-UN is effectively funding collaborative projects that encourage knowledge sharing and joint efforts for the purpose of building the entire field.
For All Tech Is Human, as a part of the over 200 page Responsible Tech Guide that we released on September 15th, we put together a whole document just focused on University research institutes; we’ve featured 67 of them, and more are forming all the time. These programs straddle disciplines, housed in colleges as varied as computer science, engineering, information science, sociology, philosophy, arts & humanities, law, policy, design, business — across entire Universities.
In some cases, these Research Institutes are the point of entry for a University to begin offering graduate certificates or a new degree program, perhaps in response to the strong demand from students for these kinds of academic offerings.
Tech Journalism’s Role in the Ecosystem
At this point, I’d like to acknowledge the incredibly important role of journalists in developing this ecosystem, because these are the people raising awareness about these technologies and their effects on society to the public at large. Their articles are inviting the general public to think critically and reaching an audience that academic research alone just can’t.
Tech journalism helps move the needle culturally, not only forcing industry to have to account for shortcomings at the risk of facing public backlash, but also nudging institutions of higher education to include course offerings and degree programs that match the interests and values of their student bodies, which are shaped in part by the cultural conversations driven by journalists.
(My own flashpoint was Kashmir Hill’s bombshell for New York Times in January of 2020, “The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It”, about a then-unknown start-up, Clearview AI, which served to solidify my own interest in the field that was already forming out of my own experiences.)
Your Role in the Responsible Tech Ecosystem
The responsible tech ecosystem is full of people with unconventional and non-linear backgrounds, so don’t be afraid of getting involved if that’s you. All Tech Is Human is focused on filling in the gaps to help people get from whatever point they find themselves at right now — with whatever experience and background from whatever part of the world — to help people find opportunities, engage in some volunteer experience, match with mentors that can give valuable guidance, and ultimately get plugged in with opportunities to build a network (because somewhere in our 1900-member Slack, you’ll find what and who you need). I see these connections being forged every day. I found my first paid job in the field through the All Tech Is Human community, as well as my second job, and my third. This is the foundation of our programming — helping people find the information that they need and the community that they’re seeking, in order to build a network and gain opportunities to develop a lasting career in Responsible Tech.