During assembly on Monday, December 9, current parent Bhavani Amirthalingam, who is senior vice president and chief digital information officer at Ameren, spoke about her career in computer science. Her appearance coincides with Computer Science Education Week, an annual program focused on raising awareness and interest in the field.
Amirthalingam's interest in tech was piqued in middle school. When she was 12, her school in India acquired computers, but students only had access to them for an hour or two a day. She loved them so much she began spending Saturdays in the computer lab. In high school, she told her father that she wanted to pursue computer science as a career. He acknowledged her head for numbers but told her she'd be better off pursuing engineering, finance, accounting or economics — that computer science was a great hobby, but not the stuff of a career.
That brought Amirthalingam to her first piece of advice: follow your passion when it comes to your hobbies, because you may make a career from them. She gave her own journey as an example. After earning a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Madras, India, and an MBA in information management from the S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research in Mumbai, she took a job with Sony in New York City. Then, after accepting a job with World Wide Technology — back when it was a startup — she moved to St. Louis. After 15 years with WWT, she took her passion for computer science into a rapidly changing industry: energy. Most recently, she joined Ameren, where she is helping to leverage technology in the delivery of electricity.
She says this area of computer science is very exciting because it's in the midst of so much change. For the past century, the delivery of electricity stayed pretty much the same. Over the last five to 10 years, it has changed profoundly. It's set to change even more profoundly in the next 10, thanks to decarbonization, decentralization, consumer-generated energy from solar panels and digitization of the energy grid. Amirthalingam noted that the primary reason for electricity outages is overgrown vegetation. Now, using drones, the company photographs the footprint of their service area, and then reviews the images, so that they can spot problems before they happen and do preventative maintenance. They will soon be implementing smart meters to measure how energy is used by consumers, second by second, in order to help them use energy more efficiently.
Amirthalingam said tech touches everything we do in every moment of our day, and the world is going to keep changing at a rapid pace. She gave the example of brain implants that are used to help patients control seizures and ingestible sensors that allow doctors to view a patient's gut in a non-invasive way. Tech will also change the job market in unprecedented, and unpredictable, ways. In the next several decades, many jobs that currently exist are likely to disappear, and many others that we can't imagine will take their place. Amirthalingam said students should try to be lifelong learners. There may not be a way to know exactly what the future of work will be, but if you stay flexible and curious, and have a very open mind as far as what your career might be, it will allow you to adapt.
Her last point was that technology, just like everything else, has a good and a bad side to it. She noted that in 2010, when Apple launched the iPad, Steve Jobs described it as "the ultimate education device." A few years later, in an interview, he admitted that he did not allow his kids to use Apple devices at home, because they can be a really bad addiction. She added that Bill Gates' daughter did not own a cell phone until she was 14.
Amirthalingam's final piece of advice: Don't become a slave to technology — use it as a tool, and be mindful about how you use it.