Principal Applied Scientist in Machine Learning Products at Xero
Edward Kim is a Principal Applied Scientist in Machine Learning Products at Xero, where he leads a team of scientists towards building intelligent software for millions of small businesses across the globe. Currently, his research portfolio includes state-of-the-art deep learning applications as well as machine learning systems design. Prior to his work in software for small businesses, he worked on AI for materials and chemicals development at Citrine Informatics, and received his PhD in Materials Science at MIT where he researched applications of natural language processing in materials discovery.
Could you please describe Xero’s company culture and how it fosters creativity and innovation? What do you think are the benefits of strong company culture?
Xero’s unique company culture can be attributed to many factors, but at the core of what makes Xero so special is our unwavering commitment to small businesses around the world, of all sizes and backgrounds. This is the common goal that drives our talented thinkers, creators and educators daily.
Among other causes we champion, such as diversity and inclusion, sustainability, transparency, and hard work, team members have the freedom to shape their careers and be proud of the work they are doing to help small businesses succeed.
Do you think there’s a lack of diversity and inclusion in tech? If so, why do you think that is? What can we do to change the landscape of diversity and inclusion in tech?
It’s undeniably the case that there is a problem. I’ve been spending my focus these days on how, specifically, we can make it better. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed the many ways in which the deck is stacked against minorities. Many factors, both societal and political, contribute.
To hold themselves accountable to their diversity and inclusion goals, traditionally, tech companies will distribute annual workplace statistics and reconfirm their dedication to improving equality, which is meaningful in its own way. However, as data illustrates, team members who identify as BIPOC, women, persons living with disabilities and/or LGBTQ+ still face an uphill battle in the industry.
According to HR Tech Group’s 2021 Diversity in Tech Dashboard, which looks at the BC tech sector, only 8.3% of employees self-identified as two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA+), 2.9% self-identified as a person living with disabilities (apparent or non-apparent), and 0.7% self-identified as Indigenous peoples. These numbers are shocking. Clearly, we can and should do significantly better.
All that is to say, actions will always outweigh words. These are just some ways we can work to help change the landscape of diversity and inclusion in tech:
Critically assessing hiring and promotionary paths – start at the very beginning and eliminate any real or perceived biases. Ask yourself if job descriptions set an unrealistic number of required skills, and/or if they state or imply anything beyond the core competencies of the role. Ask yourself if the hiring processes are fair and accommodating to applicants from all walks of life.
Challenging the status quo – because not challenging it is tantamount to endorsing it. Embracing discomfort is one of the first steps to effecting meaningful change, and there is great power even in just opening a conversation about how to improve the diversity of a team, or teasing apart why a certain decision may have been biased.
Prioritizing internal training programs – create programs and bootcamps, and partner with external groups who help provide additional education resources for your employees.
What methods do you think are most effective in attracting new employees during talent shortages? What do you think are the benefits of working at a company that is actively engaged in attracting new employees?
Ultimately, we’re seeing that social status, “the grind,” and glamorizing overworking are leading folks to seek opportunities that better align with their own values and needs. Companies are starting to see the old ways of working are no longer viable, and it is time to evolve.
As a business, Xero focuses on ensuring every team member has an employee experience that will support their needs. Whether it is our flexible working policies, professional development and training courses, or initiatives like our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Xero employees have the opportunity to show up fully at work as their authentic selves, and have their voices heard. The benefit of attracting new talent and nurturing existing team members is that we’re able to continually strengthen diversity in all that we do.
Xero is one of the few human-focused companies in the world of accounting software. Why do you think it’s important to have a company that focuses on humans? How do you think human-focused companies can make a difference in the world?
By focusing on the human factor, we are able to encourage an entire ecosystem, from customers to partners to investors to employees, to put humans first – through authenticity, inclusivity, and approachability. I am personally moved by the real, tangible impact Xero has on businesses we partner with. A great example is when the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) shared its experience with the team, noting the alignment to reach common goals. This shows me that human-focused companies, particularly in technology and finance, can and will open doors and support more people from all walks of life.
Are there any tips you can give to new small business owners on how to be successful? What do you think is the most important thing for small businesses to remember?
In an age where time is precious, reevaluating where you allocate your resources and energy is key. When it comes to running a successful business, flexibility is also important. Accessing your data and tools easily from anywhere and keeping essentials like invoicing and payroll at your fingertips will ensure you are never missing a beat.
Lastly, I encourage you to do your research on which accounting solutions make the most sense for you and your business. There are many reputable sources to help you make the most informed decisions and vocal communities that can provide advice based on their experiences. Remember, think about what you’re trying to achieve, and how different platforms can help get you where you want to go.