What drives a well-established drilling engineer with more than a decade of experience in the oil industry to quit his or her job and to immerse oneself in the innovative environment of artificial intelligence?

The driving factors in the case of Jacqueline Berger are a love for data and a need to operate in a more flexible, open-minded working environment. The path taken by Jacqueline is a true example of the power of adaptability and the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Having spent a decade working as a Subject Matter Expert for the international oil and gas industry, Jacqueline transferred to the IT industry in 2023, having previously earned a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics with a specialization in Data Science. She kicked off her career by obtaining a Master’s degree in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Leoben, during which she gained profound knowledge in empowering data to strengthen the process of making decisions and shaping business strategy.

Jacqueline believes in the power of diverse perspectives and aims to foster an inclusive environment in the tech industry.

Don’t miss the latest episode of the AImpactful video podcast, where Jacqueline shares her inspiring story and valuable insights on making a successful career switch into AI. Tune in to learn from her experiences and be motivated to take bold steps in your own career journey.

Transcript of the AImpactful Vodcast

Branislava Lovre: Welcome to AImpactful. Today we are speaking about the important topic of switching careers to the AI field and how to help others do the same. Our guest is Jacqueline Berger, a data scientist who moved into the IT field in 2023 and is now working on important AI projects. Welcome, Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Berger: Thank you for inviting me, Brana. I’m happy to be here.

Branislava Lovre: What motivated you to transition your career to the AI field and how did you begin that process?

Jacqueline Berger: I’m based in Vienna, in Austria, and I studied petroleum engineering and finished in, around 2009 and then spent around 11 years in the international oil and gas business. The job was really exciting. I was on these platforms for some years and then I moved into the more planning phase of this job where I could help planning the jobs, support the execution and evaluation afterward. So, it was lots of travel, good money, and fun and action. But when I became a mother, suddenly the job didn’t fit anymore to myself because it was really hard to combine family and job. So, let’s say the trigger or the reason to pivot was that I changed because I suddenly had a family and simply had to do something else to feel happy. And the reason I’m saying this is because I think many people in their life face changes, maybe motherhood or something else, maybe a disease or something that strikes them, you know. And then sometimes we need to redefine ourselves and find a new path. Originally, I didn’t know I wanted to pivot into AI. It was just that I knew I wanted to do something else. And IT for me seemed to be a good industry for the sake of, I was 35. I had a young child. So I was looking for an industry that is desperately in need of people, which they were. That allows for some flexibility, having a family which at least was communicated in the media, was not a big deal to work remotely sometimes. And that’s why I just said, okay, let’s go in this direction. Let’s try to learn programming and see what IT has to offer.

Branislava Lovre: Can we also speak a little bit more about the process of learning new things?

Jacqueline Berger: In the beginning, I thought I could just learn it on the side, because I was working part-time like 25 hours or something, and I thought in some free time I can just do some online courses, Coursera. But I found it not to be very satisfying, first of all, because it requires some extremely strict routines to book a slot. And then with a job and family, I was literally, completely loaded so that I didn’t manage to find this extra time. And what happened next? One of my work colleagues said, you know, my sister works in IT, let’s have a chat with her. So I just called her and she was super nice and invited me over for lunch and she told me her story. So she went the classical way. Her studies were in IT, at the Technical University in Vienna. And then she went into an IT job. And I just asked her, so what could I do? How should I start all this? And she referred me to some, again, Coursera courses, but with more context, saying, look into this topic and then this topic and then we talk again. Still wasn’t satisfying, but I was so happy to have, you know, a partner, someone like a role model to look at. And eventually I thought, if I don’t find myself a suitable place in my old job, and I really know I want to go in this direction. Then I went for educational leave and subscribed at the University of Applied Science for an informatics bachelor. So, that was my ultimate way into a new industry because I’m the person who needs face-to-face contact with people. I am a person who learns from people and not from manuals or videos, online videos only.

Branislava Lovre: What were the biggest challenges you faced while making this career shift and how did you overcome them?

Jacqueline Berger: I could cluster it into three domains. The first one definitely was the mental challenge. In my previous job, I worked for ten years and I was a subject matter expert, so people would come to me and ask me for technical advice. And doing this shift means you’re really starting from scratch technically. That was quite a hard hit at the beginning. However, I managed to overcome it by thinking, if I cannot contribute to my environment, technically, what else could I contribute? And then I started to focus more on the social side, you know. So I was in the university, apparently the oldest one in class. You can imagine it to be like around 30, 35 people, like a school class. And, the majority of the people was in their early twenties doing their first time at the university. We had like one or two with working experience in their thirties and I thought, what could I do there, probably. Unfortunately, we just started the program when Corona hit, so even if it was intended to be face to face, the entire first year was online and it was, nobody was prepared for that. So, the university, the lecturers, the students, and as you can imagine, there were some struggles. But, what happened is we met like the first three days and then we didn’t see each other anymore the entire year. So, it was very international, people came from all over the place, the furthest one from Australia to be in this class, and I decided, okay, I could do a social contribution and made it my goal to make this still a class, you know, where you feel not you are fighting, on your own and trying your best to survive because it was still some hard classes to study. And I called them up individually and we made some funny screenshots for Christmas, you know, this kind of stuff just to give it some team spirit. I tried to act as a bridge to help overcome this condition. And also, since I was the oldest one in class, I could very likely relate to the lecturers, actually a little bit more to the lecturers’ struggles, than the students’ struggles. So, I also tried to be the bridge between those two parties, like explaining the lecturers why some things are so hard for students to just put into action or to finish, while also explaining to students why it might be really hard for lecturers suddenly having their entire slides being presented online when the strategy was to do it face to face and asking them for some patience.

The second one is IT language. So, apparently every industry has its own vocabulary, and in the beginning it really feels like every, I don’t know, fifth word is so hard to understand and you start feeling stupid, and that makes it harder to continue. And I overcome that because in my old industry I already knew it was the same. When I started in oil and gas, people were using their own words, their own abbreviations, and I’ve already been through that. And I knew after at least a year or one and a half, you will talk the same language. So just be patient and don’t despair.

And the last challenge is that I thought I would go into IT because they need people so desperately. But, when it came to the part of applying for an internship, I got tons of rejections and I thought, how is that possible? They are crying for people and then they have someone, what’s wrong with me? And eventually I really found out I’m not the only one. It’s the same with my classmates who are younger, and I think there is really a problem of communication between the companies looking for people and the people looking for jobs. How did I overcome that? I noticed, my story is too hard to fit on an A4 paper. On one page, it’s not enough. People need to get to know me personally. So, I started to open a, or I started to populate my LinkedIn account, and started to get visible. I went to networking events, to meetups, so I really emphasized personal contact with people and with companies. And that really turned out to be extremely helpful for the future.

Branislava Lovre: How did your past jobs help you succeed in AI?

Jacqueline Berger: So, when I talk about my previous career, so, it was a big corporate. So, just simply knowing how big corporate works, what numbers are they looking at? What are the processes, already help me in my new job to feel, let’s say this part of uncertainty of having the first job it was already gone because you know what HR is doing? What is more or less the structure of a company and where to go if you need something, then it was, I had lots of international experience. So, I think I have lots of intercultural competencies talking to people from different nationalities, different backgrounds, because in oil and gas, you don’t have, I mean, you need some level of expertise, but it’s a really very diverse, let’s say, group of people that work there and that means they have a program, where they train you. Let’s say the first nine weeks, you go on a training camp, bring everybody on the same level, and then you go out to the field on the rig side to practice your expertise. So, I learned to talk with people from very different cultural, but also technical backgrounds, which helped me later to talk to people with IT backgrounds and business, for example. So, I found to be a rather useful translator for people with very different backgrounds because literally anybody in the company that I just work now can approach me and ask about the topic of AI, so translator in terms of having lots of experience with different people. That’s helped me a lot. And you also get some, you know, the mindset is simply different when you come from a different industry. And I’m sure it doesn’t matter which one and you go into a new business, you have that unique view and perspective that you can bring into the company. And that is really, really a strength. Not being already the expert, helps the experts seeing things in a different way.

Branislava Lovre: And what about skills? Which skills are so important?

Jacqueline Berger: When you ask about skills from my career, I would like to add the skills I discovered during motherhood because empathy, flexibility and patience, these were really things that I learned being a mother. And surprisingly, these soft skills are so valuable as well. You can imagine in IT, I don’t like to be stereotyped, but there is a predominant part of people being introverts or, you know, rather the calm type of person. And then it is extremely helpful to have some empathy to know what, what does the other side need or what does this person want to tell the other person? That’s something definitely that I took with me.

Branislava Lovre: What advice would you give to professionals from non-tech backgrounds who are considering a move into AI?

Jacqueline Berger: Starting something new is not an easy task, so be patient and kind to yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes and to not be the best and don’t compare yourself with others. I really would recommend you, compare yourself today, with yourself the week or the month before, because when I was in class, yes, there were people having much better skills in certain areas. And still now in my job, there are people that know much more than I do, that would just not make any sense to compare apples and apples. Right. So just compare yourself. And the last one is that it’s really okay to be scared. Starting something new is something that is not easy and requires a lot of courage and also support from the people around you. And what I’ve learned is you still grow out of your comfort zone and when you start being scared, it just means that now you’re doing something really, really brave and great and then try to let that feeling, you know, just rather tell you, like, I’m afraid I can’t do this, I’m afraid it’s okay. Something really great is going to happen now. We need people with all different backgrounds, so if you want to change, now is really a good time. The salaries are good and also it gives you lots of flexibility, not only where you want to work, but also a little bit to define the job. Because since, some job roles like a data scientist are relatively new, that means you can also be, you can also shape your role in the company a little bit because data science in one company doesn’t necessarily do the same as the data scientist in another company. So you can have an impact. For example, where I currently work, due to my social skills, I also emphasized on the data science part of making the AI relatable to everyone in the company, not only the 5% experts in the domain, but AI is also important for people working in their jobs to boost their productivity, for example. So it’s important for HR, for controlling, for everyone. So, and I was able to bring this nuance of the job into my role and it was very positively perceived from the company. So, let’s assume, you know, yes, I want to go there, but I don’t know how to start. I would recommend the first thing you do is you talk to people. You meet people who are in that domain or in a similar domain. Why? Because looking at job descriptions doesn’t really tell you much. And also knowing how to program, for example, doesn’t tell you what a program is doing. I really encourage people to be curious and go to meetups and go to events and just talk to the people and say, so what are you currently working on? How does a day look in the life of a, I don’t know, data scientist, programmer or whatever? Just go out and ask the people, also if it helps to listen to podcasts. There are some really good podcasts already available, like yours. Who is interviewing either specific job roles or people in certain companies and asking them what are their challenges with AI? So if I may refer you to one podcast, for example, “State of Process Automation”, where the interviewer asks different people about the challenges in the company with automation, and lately also very much in the context of AI, that is extremely interesting to listen to. Or if you want to know about job roles, in English there is a “Women In Technology Spotlight” and I think she has almost interviewed like 100 professionals mainly women in the tech domain. And then you can just listen to that and see what these people are doing. So that doesn’t require that direct contact with people. But you can also gather some insights.

Branislava Lovre: Could you also share some advice from the Remarkable?

Jacqueline Berger: So “IAmRemarkable” started in Google when they found out apparently the number of people who think they accomplished something in their job, for women in particular, was extremely low. They saw a tendency that women do not acknowledge their achievements. So, Google decided to look a little bit closer into this and they found it’s not only a thing about women, it’s about minorities in general. They started this great initiative where they have a 90-minute workshop and it’s for free, where you are discussing beliefs in yourself and why we are programmed sometimes to not acknowledge our achievements. You know, we are rather focusing on the next step, on the next step, than taking our time, looking backward and celebrating like, yay, I’ve done that, for example, like a great podcast interview. And so, so one recommendation I can give from this initiative is to have like a little jar glass, you know? And every time you do something that you’re proud of, you write it on a piece of paper and you put it in that glass. And at some point, when times get harder or things get darker and then you sit down and you open the glass and you start reading, oh, cool, I did a podcast interview. Oh, I managed to finish that course and it will cheer you up a lot. So that’s what I wanted to give you. Also, as a recommendation, literally anybody can do it is not only for career changes. Every person can do that.

Branislava Lovre: This is a perfect message for the end of this episode. Thank you so much for your time.

Jacqueline Berger: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Branislava Lovre: You watched another episode of AImpactful. Thank you, and see you next week.