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Jen Cole, SVP & GM of Enterprise at Appen – Interview Series

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Jen Cole joined Appen in November 2021 and comes to Appen with over 22 years of experience building enterprise marketing and data platforms, leading go to market teams, and scaling the delivery of technology enabled services. As SVP & GM, Enterprise Jen is responsible for the success of Appen’s Enterprise business including go-to-market strategy, sales, delivery, and operations to ensure continued growth and sustained client success.

Prior to joining Appen Jen was the President at Sincro, an Ansira company, where she led a 1000 person global team building advertising technology, ecommerce platforms, and marketing solutions for distributed ecosystem business environments. Prior to that Jen was the SVP Digital at CDK Global focused on growing digital capabilities within CDK’s end to end technology solutions for the automotive retail sector.

Jen has an MA in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Psychology from Colgate University.

Could you share with us what a day in your life at Appen entails?

I lead teams from all around the globe, so my days are mainly spent connecting with team members to help them be successful. These days we do much of our work over Microsoft Teams, so I often start my day with calls with my European teams. The middle of the day is taken up with the US team and the end is with Australia and the Philippines. I love the range of experiences having teams around the globe provides!

Like I said, my focus is on helping my teams be successful, whether that be by building the right support systems, ensuring we have good employee development, or equipping my teams with tools and skills needed to effectively take care of our customers. I am often the voice of our customers across the different teams within Appen, including our product development organization, and so I spend time prioritizing, building business cases, and influencing where we focus our resources.

I do spend a lot of time assessing data, assimilating information, and making decisions, often very quickly, so that we are staying ahead of trends and pivoting as needed in our rapidly evolving space.

And, as much as possible, I am engaging with our customers. For example, a real highlight of this last quarter has been the resurgence of in-person events and conferences; you just can’t beat the in-person experience of engaging with hundreds of experts in one location.

You have both an MA and a BA in psychology, how has this knowledge of human psychology assisted you in managing large teams?

I have always appreciated the diverse perspectives that individuals bring to the table every day and have enjoyed studying the impact that our varying experiences have on how we approach life and work. Throughout my professional career, I’ve been a student of team dynamics and the art of assembling great diverse talent, leveraging individual differences to create highly effective teams.

What are some traits that you have consistently seen in people who work well in AI teams?

Curiosity: There is so much to learn, you have to be a constant learner to be in AI.

Agility: The models are never perfect and will never be done; this space is about perpetual refinement and pivoting.

Ethics: There is a lot of power in AI, so it is important to have people dedicated to building ethical AI and to continuously testing assumptions and biases.

The AI industry is known for facing a lack of ethnic and gender diversity, could you discuss the challenges of hiring and managing a diverse team? 

I have been a female working in technology for the last 23 years, so I’ve personally had a lot of experience being the only woman in the room. It can be challenging to fit in, to find allies, and to feel comfortable being yourself. Addressing the challenge is threefold:

1: Focus on hiring more diverse teams

2: Create strong development opportunities internally so that ethnic and gender diversity spans all levels, and

3: Create an environment where all people can be their authentic selves.

In Forbes, you were quoted about the importance of celebrating and broadcasting new customer meetings and wins. How is this handled when managing such large teams?

We get our whole team from around the globe together for monthly calls, and during those calls, we dedicate a significant amount of time to highlighting use cases of the work we are doing for our customers.

We are also dedicating significant time and resources to creating playbooks for our teams. This is about leveraging learnings from the work we do for our customers to improve our processes, tools, and trainings. None of our customers have the exact same use cases, and my team does an incredible job bringing their expertise and creativity to the table to help our customers with their unique challenges. Given the fact that we have been in this space for 25 years and work with thousands of businesses around the world, we can always do more to take advantage of our deep learnings and bring these to the table as a foundation to effectively meeting each customer’s unique needs.

The key to creating a great culture is to create a culture of learning where teams proactively share and help one another grow in order to bring the best to our customers.

At the end of the day, how do you keep these teams happy and motivated?

Listen to our teams: We have impressively experienced and passionate people with great ideas.

Be accountable and real: I’ve found people are happier and more motivated if they feel they can trust their leaders.

Treat one another with grace: It has been a challenging few years in the world, people need to support one another.

Make time for just getting to know one another: We are largely a remote company, so I’ve found you must be deliberate and creative about building teams.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your work at Appen?

We work with companies who build an outstanding range of AI-fueled capabilities, and these companies are on a continuous journey that involves a wide range of data needs and support. From easy or fully-scaled projects well suited for self-service to nascent initiatives that require heavy testing and learning to incredibly complex projects that require back and forth iteration with our experts, I am proud of our ability to meet our customers wherever they are in their AI journey. We are continuously flexing with them, and this certainly keeps our work interesting!

Antoine Tardif is a Futurist who is passionate about the future of AI and robotics. He is the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 AI & blockchain projects. He is the Co-Founder of Securities.io a news website focusing on digital assets, digital securities and investing. He is a founding partner of unite.AI & a member of the Forbes Technology Council.