Behind the data: Shahira Ellaboudy

Welcome to our "Behind the Data" series, where we delve into engaging discussions with our top data annotators. This series shines a spotlight on the individuals who play a pivotal role in the development and training of AI.

Shahira, affectionately known as Shay, is one of our top-performing data labelers who has successfully transitioned into the role of AI Project Lead. Shay's journey with Pareto is both unique and inspiring. Before joining us, she was living out of her van, traveling across the country, and working with a network of other digital nomad women. Despite the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle, Shay found a way to channel her passion for impactful work into the evolving landscape of AI. Here, she shares her experiences, challenges, and views on this fascinating journey.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I'm Shay. I have a background in molecular biology, specifically in virology, where I spent four years studying picorna-like viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, building up a research team, and writing grants. Eventually, I faced an existential crisis, questioning the broader impact of my work and feeling constrained by the academic environment. The potential for human impact in academia is high, but it's heavily dependent on the lab environment and funding, which often feels out of your control. After submitting two NIH grants, I sought a role where I could have more autonomy and see the tangible impact of my efforts.

How did you hear about us?

I found Pareto through their outreach efforts while I was traveling. At the time, I was tutoring remotely and building a network by visiting universities. I was living in a van, traveling, and working through platforms like Wyzant, which takes a significant cut of earnings. Discovering Pareto provided a new opportunity that aligned well with my nomadic lifestyle.

What were your initial thoughts? Did you know what to expect?

When I first heard about Pareto, I was skeptical and even discussed with my parents whether it was a scam. However, after researching, I realized the value and burgeoning market for implementing human expertise in AI training. It struck me as something I wanted to contribute to, and the intellectual challenge was exciting. Despite some initial frustrations, I felt a sense of belonging and purpose plugging into Pareto’s grand vision of helping build sophisticated AI models by democratizing and internationalizing access to meaningful work.

Did you face a learning curve when you started your first AI training project? How did you navigate this?

At the time Pareto first reached out to me as an AI trainer, I was facing challenges due to my unique living situation in a caravan, which made meeting deadlines difficult. However, the support staff was extemely understanding of my situation and provided flexibility and guidance while I navigated through initial hurdles in physical circumstances and oriented to the Pareto remote workplace.Once I joined full-time, the onboarding process was straightforward, thanks to the support staff and project managers who answered my questions effectively and who continue to teach me everyday. I still have a lot to learn, but Pareto’s strength really is its people. Whenever I’m struggling to keep up, someone on my team is patient and knowledgeable enough to lead me through it.

How did you fit it into your schedule?

The timing of Pareto's initial onboarding was chaotic for me. I was living within a month-long caravan in Mexico and sharing space with other digital nomads. Despite the lack of stable internet and personal space, I managed to work whenever we had a connection. Luckily, Pareto’s projects allow trainers to work at all hours. This flexibility let me continue my travels while contributing to AI projects when possible, which ended up being a pretty scattered 12 hours a week.

What parts of AI training did you find enjoyable?

I most enjoyed the human impact of AI training. It is so much more effective and accessible to educate students in my knowledge domains by training an LLM, rather than continuing with my tutoring business on a 1 on 1 basis. Working with companies producing well-informed LLMs for the public really aligned with my passion for increasing access to high-level information and education.

How did the community help?

The community aspect became more prominent over time. Initially, I was more of a hermit, but as I engaged more with the team, it became way more enjoyable. In the future, we’re working on even more community programming and a game channel to further catalyze the connections among our trainers.

What led you to accept an offer and what made you interested?

I have a systems brain and like to think about the bigger picture. I also did a lot of personnel management at my lab and have been thinking ever since about how I would improve my management style. So as an AI trainer, I was pretty immediately interested in how Pareto manages workers via crowdwork and how one goes about organizing talent to tackle high-level problems. My unique perspective from doing ground-level AI training work helps me think about projects from the worker point of view, while my experiences in research, help lend empathy to our data clients’ needs. These tandem perspectives of data and worker experience made the role appealing and a natural fit.

What are your views on the future impact of AI on the job market? Do you think AI will take away jobs?

I believe the AI industry will certainly continue to grow, and while jobs will evolve, everyone has something to contribute to AI training. Pareto can help accelerate retraining and ensure people with domain-specific expertise are rewarded for their contributions.

If you could suggest improvements for Pareto, what would they be?

I'd love to see more integration of workers into our community and internal processes. Providing more avenues for career growth and professional development, even for those who may choose a different path, would be beneficial. Encouraging more social interaction could lead to stronger connections and a more supportive work environment.

Do you have any advice for the larger AI trainer community that wants to get better at this role and contribute more effectively?

If you want to help out in a greater capacity, reach out to your project managers! We are growing rapidly right now, so If it’s a good fit, we will move forward right away. We love self-starters and folks willing to step up. Don't hesitate to voice concerns or ask questions, as it can help address issues others might be facing as well. Well-voiced vulnerability is strength.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Nothing else, besides my excitement to be working with the top 0.01% of data talent and the #1 team for data solutions. I can’t wait to see what this year brings for Pareto – watch out!

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