At the age of 17, Imogen Low left Brisbane Grammar Girls School to work as a machine learning engineer for a global tech company and has since co-founded her own AI business, nwo.ai.
She is a rare person who found her career path early in life thanks to curiosity, drive, and a passion for technology.
“When I was in high school, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do – I wanted to follow a career in technology,” Imogen told Information Age on a Teams video call last week.
“I was really inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s story and Steve Jobs’ story and I really wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
It wasn’t so much the money and fame that drove her in those formative years – though those aspect no doubt helped – but the way her entrepreneurial heroes used technology to solve real-world problems.
Imogen identified a few problems she wanted to solve, one of which was the ability for people to navigate large multi-level facilities like hospitals, shopping centres, and school campuses.
She wanted to build an app. The only problem was that the necessary skills – including 3D modelling – weren’t exactly on the year 12 curriculum.
“When I was at school we learned a bit of HTML and CSS, you know, basic web technologies, which definitely wasn't enough to build out this solution,” Imogen said.
“So the first thing I did was follow my curiosity for technology and try to find my own way to solve these problems.”
After an online computer science course from Harvard University and poking around various resources on the internet, Imogen built out her app called Elevator and was recognised as one of Australia’s top young innovators, winning a technology scholarship from Westpac and a National iAward from the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).
Noticing her skills, software company SAP tapped Imogen on the shoulder and gave her an opportunity to join the company as part of a team of interns and graduates.
Here was a cohort of young men who had finished three or four years of university study when in walked a 17-year-old girl who just left high school.
“There wasn’t a lot of trust to begin with,” Imogen told Information Age.
“There wasn’t a lot of confidence in my abilities to work on the same sorts of problems as the rest of the team. They would give me basic tasks like doing documentation and a lot of design-related tasks.
“But I didn’t want to do any design, I didn’t want to do any branding.”
Imogen worked to prove herself against the bias from her team because of her youth (she estimates being five or six years younger than the others in the group) and her gender (she was the only female).
She said she had to “instill confidence” in her team and get them to “understand what [she] was capable of” – which she did, finally getting her hands on projects that involved edge computing, natural language processing, computer vision, and augmented and virtual reality.
Within a couple of years, Imogen decided she wanted to move to Asia and convinced her manager to set her up with a new role in Singapore.
Here, she met her co-founders for nwo.ai, a behavioural analytics platform that tracks and forecasts global trends using machine learning, aged 22.
Now based in New York, and the CTO of her own company at just 24, Imogen has taken huge strides toward her dream of becoming the next Zuckerberg or Jobs.
She is a staunch advocate for lifelong learning and has proven how you can build a career out of your interests and passions.
“Having a degree behind you gives you a certain level of credibility,” Imogen said when asked about the need for formal education.
“But it doesn’t really prepare you to think outside the box or come up with innovative, groundbreaking ideas.
“There are certain qualities you have to build for yourself by asking questions, always trying to understand how things work, and just by being excited about new change and developments.”