Today is my one year anniversary since joining Element AI and “drinking from a fire hose” is the only expression I feel accurately describes my incredible ride over the last 365 days. Element AI was born as 8 people in October 2016, grew to around 60 when I joined last May and has now exploded to just under 300 outstanding individuals located in 5 offices across 4 countries. At a mere 18 months of age, the sun already never sets on Element AI. It is both a bit mind-boggling and simply outstanding; I am so grateful to be a contributing member of this audacious venture.
Intense personal growth is definitely the theme for me over this past year. Scaling at lightning speed means responsibilities increase even as one stands still; this is simultaneously exhilarating and destabilizing. Moments of high-flying confidence on one task can be followed by racking self-doubt on another. Achieving incredible team victories and surviving painful personal failures can happen on the same day or within the same week and are part of the learning curve. The polarity or volume of emotions experienced in myself and in all those around me was not something I had anticipated; a year later, I now understand this better. We all want to trust quickly and deliver reliably but the fact is that we are mostly strangers learning to work together. Even at an accelerated pace, trust takes time to build and our constantly evolving work environment with new recruits, role changes, and business reorientations makes it tricky; requiring tons of empathy and check-ins to ease frictions. As someone who prides myself on embracing ambiguity and bringing order to chaos, even I have been stretched into new territory resulting in tremendous and sometimes punishing personal and professional growth. Even at my age, I can confirm that there is still no better way to accelerate learning than falling on your face, dusting yourself off and giving it another go with hopefully a bit more wisdom than the last round. Luckily, Element AI is a safe place to test, fail and retry, that is if you can keep your ego at bay and let go of perfectionist tendencies.
I feel immense gratitude for the entirety of this experience. From the dark moments of profound insecurity and self-doubt to the liberating moments of self-assurance, where calculated risks yield moments of soaring glory. I know without an iota of a doubt that in a year, three years or ten years, I will look back and view this period as extremely formative. To finally see failure as an option but to know it is not a death penalty; to continuously learn lessons in humility by confessing to not knowing the answer and still be open to learn; and most of all, realizing that I am doing my best with the information available which means that sometimes decisions will need to strike a balance between facts and intuition especially in a fast-paced landscape like AI where much of the terrain is uncharted.
I recently watched an incredibly grounding talk by Molly Graham, who helped scale Facebook, Quip, and the ChenZuckerberg Initiative. She outlines 9 lessons she wished she had known prior to her scaling adventures. Listening to her explain each lesson in detail brought waves of relief coupled with joy because she normalized many aspects of my seemingly unique experience at Element AI.
I highly recommend investing 38 minutes to watch this talk, especially if you are an employee of a rapidly scaling organization but even if you’re not, these lessons are cross-sector and everlasting.
Molly also summarizes 3 key mindset behaviours that will contribute to one’s ability to weather the changes inherent to scaling organizations. I deeply believe that the right mindset will make or break one’s performance at a startup like Element AI. As Molly mentions throughout her talk, our main job is the learn fast and to give away parts of our job as quickly as possible. There is no place for ego.
What we all should remember
- adding more people doesn’t make less work for you, it only enables the entire company to do more;
- scaling may mean giving away part of your job at times, which can make you feel insecure, but it is an important skill to learn as it can make you extremely successful in fast scaling organizations;
- letting emotions govern is a recipe to impede progress;
- this is a cycle, as you get anxious or insecure, worry not, excitement is around the corner again as you will soon be tackling new challenges and opportunities.
For me, there is truly something magical about the shared aspiration at Element AI to build the next big tech giant, a lofty goal, I know, but one that I honestly believe we are striving to achieve. The sheer volume of brilliant talent circulating in our halls is admirable, it forces me to pinch myself almost daily. Never in my life have I had casual lunchtime conversations about algorithms that optimize drone surface distribution; the impact of style-transfer on art; how AI will completely disrupt certain industries or how explainable AI will be the path to trust. This is the magic of working at Element AI and it makes me so happy.
So on this my 1st year anniversary, I want to thank every single person at Element AI that has played a role in making my time here so wonderful. I feel truly blessed to always have beautiful minds to challenge and teach me, big hearts that keep me sane and feeling appreciated, comedians who make me laugh, gatekeepers that ensure I stay focused and caretakers who make sure I go home in a timely fashion, eat at the appropriate times and unwind at the bar on occasion. Thank you, thank you, thank you! ❤ I am grateful to each of you, and know that your actions mean more to me than you know!
Cheers to the next 365!!