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Ivanka Vranješ: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It


In the interview for Authority Magazine, Ivanka delves into her career progression, the unique strengths of Serengeti, and the transformative impact of artificial intelligence on the software development industry. She shares valuable insights on overcoming challenges, preparing for an AI-enhanced future, and the ethical considerations involved. Ivanka also highlights key traits that have been instrumental to her success and provides practical advice for navigating the disruptive influence of AI in the IT sector.

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Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Given my educational background, a degree in natural sciences and mathematics, and specialization in computer science, the IT industry was a natural choice and seemed like the only thing that made sense for my professional development. Now, 20 years later, I can proudly say I haven’t regretted it. Anyone who enjoys acquiring new ideas and knowledge and prefers abstract thought may find IT appealing.

My career path started with programming, then information system design and business analysis, all the way to project and program management and the director position. For the last few years, I have been employed as the director of software engineering at the software development company Serengeti.

As the importance of the synergy and coordination of the development and business domains became more widely recognized, roles that are more directly tied to the business side became increasingly more accessible. This is where it all began, and after working as a designer and programmer, and naturally going into the direction of management through business analysis, I led increasingly larger teams. Thus, I have come to my current position organically by taking on progressively larger and more responsible projects and clients.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Serengeti stands out due to our deep commitment to addressing client needs in the development of complex enterprise software, which we’ve been doing since 2007. With over 300 projects and rich experience in offsite software delivery, we have honed our expertise across several key business domains, including Hospitality, Manufacturing, Finance, Logistics, and Telecom.

One of the aspects that truly sets us apart is our combination of technical expertise and specific domain knowledge. This allows us to provide our clients with added value by delivering the right solutions tailored to their unique requirements. Our clients benefit not only from our technical skills but also from our understanding of their industry-specific challenges and needs.

This resulted in a long-standing partnership with most clients. Usually, the client approaches us with a complex challenge related to optimizing their software development processes. Our team doesn’t just develop a software solution; we immerse ourselves in understanding their industry, which enables us to offer innovative and highly effective solutions. This results in significant improvement in efficiency and productivity. This approach fosters a strong relationship, and we continue to collaborate on various projects, and we’ve been working with some clients for over a decade.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

In my opinion, three main characteristics that help in achieving success in every area are stepping outside the comfort zone, learning and being open to new insights, and listening to good advice.

1. Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

One of the most significant traits that has contributed to my success is the willingness to step out of my comfort zone. Transitioning from the role of a programmer to a business analyst and project manager was a major leap for me. This move required me to develop new skills and adapt to different responsibilities. Similarly, stepping into management positions was another such leap. Each of these transitions, though challenging, brought new knowledge and opened up fresh professional opportunities. For example, when I first took on a project management role, I had to quickly learn how to coordinate large teams and manage client expectations effectively. This experience not only enhanced my skill set but also paved the way for further career growth.

2. Continuous Learning

Continuous learning has been another crucial trait. I believe that being open to new knowledge and constantly seeking to learn more has been instrumental in my career. In the rapidly evolving field of IT, staying updated with the latest technologies and methodologies is essential. Over time, technologies have changed, and some I studied about during my time at university don’t exist anymore, while new technologies and methodologies are being developed. Also, in my team, I have developers of various ages, and to understand them better I had to learn about new trends and tools. The same is true in the project management field, where I took a lot of courses and exams, all with the same goal — to learn and be better at my job.

3. Listening to Good Advice

Good advice has also played a pivotal role in my journey. Being open to feedback and valuing others’ insights can provide perspectives that we might not have considered. Early in my career, I had a mentor who encouraged me not to doubt myself, to believe in my talents, and to overanalyze all of my possibilities. Also, when I initially received a managerial position offer, my family provided me with some insightful guidance. They stated that I should accept new difficulties at work rather than reject them no matter how challenging it seems.

Overall, these traits — stepping out of my comfort zone, continuous learning, and listening to good advice — have not only helped me grow professionally but also allowed me to find satisfaction and fulfillment in my career. By embracing these qualities, I have been able to overcome challenges and seize opportunities, leading to a successful and rewarding career in the IT industry.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

Since I am a mathematician, I am particularly pleased that mathematics is used in such a sophisticated way in AI and is at the very heart of AI.

Information technology has always been at the center of creating and implementing new trends, and artificial intelligence (AI) is inherently linked to IT, particularly in the context of software development. In this context, AI will play a major role in the future, to the extent that software development will be heavily reliant on it.

AI already plays an important role in automatically generating and completing code. For example, during the coding process itself, the code-writing assistants suggest whole lines or blocks of code to a programmer. This capability reduces the time spent in routine and repetitive coding and allows more focus on more complex problems and design.

AI certainly brings a lot of benefits, as mentioned above, and the role of programmers, their jobs, the necessary skills, and the way of working will change to an extreme extent. They will need to know how to use AI or be aware of the ways to manage AI to develop specific solutions. The current roles, such as Big Data professionals, ML engineers, security and AI specialists, QA engineers, data analysts, and UX/UI designers with an emphasis on AI, will also become increasingly more important.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Although Natural Language Processing (NLP), Large Language Models (LLM), and computer vision are important components of software development, I believe that machine learning (ML) technology has had the biggest influence on the field.

With its many uses, machine learning is transforming the software development sector. Enhancing code quality positively impacts productivity and efficiency by automating repetitive operations, freeing up engineers to work on more creative and challenging tasks.

For instance, there are tools that assist developers in writing code, such as GitHub Copilot and OpenAI’s Codex. These ML-powered programming tools are going beyond pure code writing; they can understand context and intent. This not only speeds up the development itself but also improves the quality of the final software and makes it more intuitive.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

As soon as language assistants appeared, with whom one could talk using natural language, it was immediately apparent that this would affect programming languages even more. Specifically, programming languages for AI processing are even simpler than natural ones because they are very structured and less complex in terms of linguistics. Solving problems through algorithms via AI is faster. As we’ve already discussed, code-writing tools have also been developed. Therefore, you can already successfully describe and get code in different programming languages, SQL queries, API calls…

For now, AI has limited opportunities in terms of its comprehension capabilities, but this will certainly improve a lot over time.

In that area, we already have some useful AI tools. For example, project management professionals could use PMI Infinity as one of such tools. It could automate the creation of detailed project timelines, and optimize resource allocation based on project needs and personnel availability (AI scheduling assistants). Additionally, AI tools could provide decision-making support by using AI to evaluate the impact of schedule changes on project outcomes or enable continuous improvement of project processes based on AI recommendations and historical data analysis.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

At Serengeti, we recognize that AI not only enhances software development but also significantly benefits the business sectors we serve. Therefore, we are preparing our personnel by focusing on a comprehensive understanding of both AI applications and the specific industries we support, such as government, hospitality, manufacturing, and finance.

Being familiar with the best AI techniques in both domains will be extremely beneficial to us as outsourcing organizations. Thus, it involves a combination of the following information: domain knowledge, computer science, and data science; additionally, data processing, machine learning, statistical research, and, naturally, mathematical foundations underlie all of these fields.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Based on my rich experience in the IT sector, gained over many years, I can certainly say that the introduction of new techniques, procedures, or technologies inevitably brings one major challenge — resistance to change, which is what happens every time an innovation is introduced. AI, in particular, may make some workers feel threatened, making them fear losing their jobs or finding it difficult to adjust to new working practices.

Another significant challenge is the skill gap. The fact that, at this moment, many IT personnel lack the specialized skills needed for AI, such as advanced analytics, data science, and machine learning, is a significant obstacle. Because of this, creating and implementing AI solutions become more challenging.

In order to address these issues, it’s critical to constantly implement training programs and continuous learning. Providing ongoing support and encouragement to staff is essential in helping them acquire the necessary skills and adjust to new technologies. By fostering an environment where employees feel valued and supported, we can mitigate resistance to change and ensure a smooth transition into an AI-enhanced future.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

Ensuring data privacy in a data-driven environment is a major ethical concern with artificial intelligence. How the public and private sectors gather and handle personal data is a crucial subject. Merely eliminating identifying information does not ensure that an individual having that information cannot be connected.

Of course, in addition to privacy, copyright is another relevant concern that needs to be addressed. AI-generated content can occasionally have questionable copyright ownership, particularly when that work has commercial value. Organizations utilizing AI technologies may face legal difficulty due to the frequently ambiguous and evolving legal framework surrounding AI and copyright.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

I am aware that the IT business will face many problems and major changes because of artificial intelligence (AI).

One of the issues is the absence of specialized knowledge of AI technology, as was already highlighted. In response to this issue, we made an investment in ongoing education and training, sending our colleagues to receive further training from a specialized AI company. Furthermore, our staff members have access to open online learning platforms (like Pluralsight and Udemy) where they can enroll in courses to expand their skill set.

Regarding ethical guidelines and data privacy protection, we regularly monitor legal and regulatory changes in this section. For example, when the European Union introduced GDPR, we had to adapt our systems to ensure compliance with new regulations. This included revising how we collect, store, and process data.

In terms of domain expertise, we examined the requirements and current AI solutions in the hospitality industry by working with our partners who are experts in AI. In this instance, the assignment involved analyzing the survey’s outcomes on several company-wide topics, and there was a requirement which included classifying the free-text responses that were provided For each response, it was therefore required to automatically identify the categories and classify the response as positive or negative. For implementation, it was decided that it is more profitable (both in terms of finances and business) for the client not to develop a customized solution but to use the existing OpenAI GPT API, which allows the use of a large language model for categorization and sentiment determination tasks. Regarding data privacy, prior to data processing on the OpenAI API, anonymization was carried out so that company names and first and last names of persons would not be sent to external systems. Likewise, it was ensured that the data is not stored on the OpenAI service and is not used outside the context of survey analysis.

In AI projects, it is essential to adjust AI outputs to align with real-world conditions and stakeholder expectations.
Therefore, AI projects require a multidisciplinary approach, and such a team usually includes AI specialists, developers, data scientists, business analysts, and customer professionals. But do not forget — AI is still a tool, and the result should be checked and evaluated thoroughly.

And in the end, the most important thing is security. You don’t want your sensitive data to be exposed to the public by using some AI tools. In that area, we have already mentioned the privacy issue and anonymization of data. However, there is also sensitive company information that could be revealed by sharing raw information with an AI tool to get results. In that area, using secure channels for data transmission and maintaining data integrity through versioning and consistency checks is essential.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

A common belief is that artificial intelligence will take the place of human labor. AI, however, is meant to support human endeavors rather than take their place entirely. It can automate routine, repetitive jobs, but it also opens new job prospects that call for human oversight and innovation. While AI excels at certain tasks, it lacks cognitive flexibility and general comprehension that humans possess. It functions well in clear-cut, structured surroundings with rules, but struggles in chaotic, unclear settings.

AI is frequently believed to be perfect. However, artificial intelligence (AI) systems are only as good as the algorithms that power them and the data they are trained on. Inadequate algorithms or missing data can produce inaccurate findings.

Most people believe that implementing AI is simple and quick. However, putting AI ideas into practice may be difficult and time-consuming, requiring a great deal of experience and knowledge. It consists of model validation, mentoring, and data gathering and cleaning.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite “life lesson quotes” is: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” by Francis of Assisi.

This quote is also relevant for my path, I started step by step and progressed from solving programming tasks, thus gaining basic knowledge and skills that were necessary for progress, to more complex roles where I used the acquired knowledge for system design and business needs analysis and taking on leading roles.

The truth is that things that first appeared unachievable can be accomplished with steady effort, experience, and seizing opportunities. This quote proved to be wise in both personal and professional contexts.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As the team leader and IT department manager, I deal with a variety of ideas and worries that occasionally consume me. Sometimes this is associated with current and operational difficulties such as resource allocation and risk predictions. However, these are often also reflections on the long-term success and sustainability of our projects and initiatives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope that as many people as possible will have improved access to new streams through the deployment of this cutting-edge technology. Up until now, IT has made it possible for everyone interested to get involved, regardless of their location; AI might enhance this even further and guarantee even broader access to new opportunities. In addition, enhancing opportunities for everyone can be achieved through collaborating with businesses and giving support to regional projects, both of which will promote innovation and social fairness.

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