The Age of Transformation: From Deep Math to Diversity
Are we living in an age of transformation? Raquel Melo, Supply Chain and Manufacturing Expert at SAP, believes we are. She has witnessed a huge push towards diversity in Brazil, and more confidence in female leadership. On a global scale, she discusses how deep math will revolutionize tech
by Natascha Zeljko | 04 Mar, 2021
To start with, how do you explain your job to your parents? Because then you have to speak in a very direct and simple way.
People normally associate working with technology with software development, but this is only a part of the process. There are several roles like consulting, sales, product support, value engineering and others that you can go through. During my 15 years at SAP, I have gone through services delivery and product support, and I´m currently on a sales leadership role. Within these roles, I have been helping companies to build an intelligent enterprise by advising them on how to capture more value for their business through a more connected, flexible, individualized, and lean value network. In short: “How can we help your company run better?”
You have a degree in industrial engineering. What excites you about technology?
What excites me is technology’s ability to solve problems in several different areas, like health, the environment, the financial market, industry, transportation and so on. For example, farmers use sensors of temperature or humidity in crop fields, which allow them to monitor field conditions from everywhere and suggests irrigation points – through IoT (internet of things), we can connect different objects through which farmers can reduce wastage and increase crop yield. On the other hand, machine learning models can be used to predict illness and suggest treatments – helping diagnoses and future patient outcomes. Also, we see Blockchain technology being used in food supply chains, allowing people to trace products from suppliers around the world, and supporting an unprecedent transparency and better safety. With the advancement of technology (IoT, 5G, Artificial Intelligence, etc.), we are able to provide more individualized products and services than ever. There are thousands of possibilities, combining different technologies, software, regulations (GDPR). The exciting aspect is that there is always something new for you to do, to learn and to solve. In other words, “powering a connected future”.
Math is the art behind the scenes.
You’re a fan of a review called The Era of Mathematics. Do you think that we are living in the era of mathematics?
Definitely! Mathematics permeate economics, computing, social activity. People normally don’t observe this, but math is behind many important topics on our daily lives. For example, in my role helping companies to become intelligent enterprises, I discuss with them how to obtain a digitization supply chain leveraging sustainable competitive advantage, responding rapidly to disruptions and individualization requirements. To achieve this, there are algorithms that suggest optimized plans, balancing several business tradeoffs. And there’s a lot of deep math behind it. As we say: “Math is the art behind the scenes”. This subject is becoming more prominent, as we have increasing volume of data and demand for agile and accurate time-to-decision.
Years ago, someone with a degree in mathematics would have been told to go work for an insurance company. But now you can work anywhere with a math degree, especially in tech.
That’s true. When I graduated as an industrial engineer, the opportunities for someone with a math background revolved around teaching. It's interesting to look back and see how things have changed. As the world evolves, we can see more and more the importance of mathematics in the human, exact and biological sciences.
Let’s move on to the topic of women in tech. What is the situation like in Brazil when it comes to diversity? Are you an anomaly in your field, or is it common for women to work in science?
I think we’re in the middle of a journey. For example, on courses like engineering or computer science, women were a minority in my time at university. In Latin America, particularly in Brazil, this scenario is changing. There are women running important business in tech companies, and some are leading movements and building business networks. This topic is becoming more popular, and gender balance is more common in executives board agendas. Here at SAP Brazil, for example, there are initiatives in place to build diverse teams – the Autism at Work Program, the Black Employees Initiative. We can observe that having teams that combine a variety of abilities is very productive for companies and for our society. I see a more inclusive future in several ways!
Having diverse teams is key for success, as people begin to open their mind to different viewpoints, to avoid bias, to listen more.
It's all about visibility, and having role models for the younger generation, especially younger women. As they say: “If she can see it, she can be it”. Did you have any role models who inspired you on your path?
The first memory I have of women role models is related to a book called Nobel Prize Women in Scienceby Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. I remember being a kid and my mother reading us some of the stories, and it surprised me what those women had gone through at that time. The challenges they faced, the resilience, the dedication and passion they had for science inspired me.
Role models can be right around the corner, and it’s important to inspire each other. For example, you are part of the initiative She transforms IT. How are women changing the tech industry?
What I have observed is that it is more common to find women in tech industry today then years ago, and in different roles: developers, leadership, C-levels. This is interesting, as we can be part of the digital transformation of our customer´s journey, bringing our point of view and different skillsets, from deep tech to leadership. Having diverse teams is key for success, as people begin to open their mind to different viewpoints, to avoid bias, to listen more. This leads to a more informed decision-making process and improved results. On the other hand, I would like to highlight the importance of initiatives with young girls to keep encouraging them to pursue the exact sciences, and to prepare the next generations. For example, here in Brazil there are several initiatives in place that teach programming languages to young girls. This can awake an interest, a passion for possible future professions that they normally wouldn’t wonder about.
Sounds like times are changing for women. But people’s lives in general are completely transforming, and the pandemic has accelerated several trends. What are the greatest challenges of our times, and what are the biggest opportunities?
(Big questions, I know.)
I would say that one of the greatest challenges of our times is to keep growing on a sustainable way. A way in which we are more conscious about the impact that our actions have to the society, so that we can keep resources in use for longer periods. People are paying more attention to their actions and values: when buying a product or choosing a fund to invest in, we begin to ask ourselves, is this company committed to the ESG (environment, social, governance) criteria? It´s up to us to choose actions committed to our values. Regarding opportunities, quantum technology is something that attracts my attention. I believe that in a not-so-far future, we will be able to see practical applications of quantum computing. And when that happens, a real revolution will happen – a technological breakthrough! For example, supply chain optimization problems process millions of variables to find optimal solutions, in a scenario where many possible answers exist. And to do this nowadays we have powerful machines and algorithms that can provide answers in hours, minutes even. With quantum computing, we expect to have results with exponential speedup. Can you imagine how companies can benefit from this? Running plans at the push of a button! I’m anxious to live that reality.