Women in IT Summit USA 2022: A spotlight on Alley Lyles-Jenkins

...and why consumers incorrectly interchange Web3 and the Metaverse

Alley Lyles-Jenkins, a Principal Consultant, Product Innovation a Slalom, will be talking about online safety within the Metaverse at this year’s Women in IT Summit USA 2022.

Ahead of the event on September 14, DiversityQ caught up with her to learn more about the barely understood topic and its impact on diversity, equity and inclusion.

You’ve been in tech for a while; what do you think of the meteoric evolution of Web 3.0? 

The internet constantly evolves, and this new era shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

Without the ability to create content-rich sites, web 1.0 provided a static experience for users. Web 2.0 brought us together with social media and dynamic websites. Web 3.0 looks to give us control of information, the ability to read and process user-generated content and to create a semantic data-powered web. 

Market research shows that Web3 is still a black box for the average consumer and ripe for mass education. In a swirl of newness, consumers incorrectly interchange “Web 3.0” and the “Metaverse” in conversations. And, some do not understand where virtual reality ends and Web3 begins. 

Are you one of those who think it’s an illusion, or is there clearly a shift taking place? 

There is a clear and gradual shift taking place. 

It’s exciting that it’s more commonplace for people to talk about Web3! If I were a betting woman, I’d attribute these energised conversations to Web3 coming more into the mainstream with (among many things) Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy, Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the ubiquity of IoT virtual assistants.

As technologists, an obvious opportunity exists: we need to explain Web3 so that it applies to the everyday consumer. We tend to geek out and explain the tech specs of Web3 with less emphasis on the practical benefits for consumers. Leaving the consumer with a salient question in return: “I am happy that Nas dropped an NFT album… but how does this affect me?” 

Do you think companies truly understand their responsibilities in this new Metaverse world?

Companies are going in with their investments. In the first five months of 2022, we saw a $120 billion+ investment in Metaverse technology and infrastructure. That’s more than double the total $57 billion spent the previous year.

Web3 is not only a new foundational layer of the world wide web; it is a fresh approach to corporate governance, value creation for customers, and stakeholder participation. It presents an opportunity where people are not merely products or beneficiaries of technology-powered business models but builders and owners of digitally unique. Whereas Web1 and Web2 made people’s products by monetising their data and socialising losses, Web3 strives for equilibrium, enabling people to read, write and own digital bread crumbs.

Non-tech and tech companies where cybersecurity is a significant priority are most likely to see the writings on the wall and make the first moves. Hackers are going after Web3 companies, specifically crypto exchanges and decentralised finance firms. Web2 was built on accessing content on one or a few central servers. Web3 focuses on decentralising content by spreading data across a distributed network of machines. New architecture equals unknown risk. Unknown risk equals new company initiatives. 

What will the tech industry miss out on if it does nothing to build an inclusive space? 

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace have gone beyond being politically correct and following the crowd. The benefits of inclusive spaces are ‌market-wide and business-wide, for starters. A vast range of talent pumps in more value.

Approximately 70% of diverse companies are better positioned to capture new markets. A diverse environment breeds creativity and innovation across various cultures, backgrounds, orientations, digital views, and creative spirits. 

Look at Singapore. Singapore ranks the highest in the world for digital readiness and is the world’s most technology-ready country. Singapore is a multicultural melting pot, and this diversity has served as an asset for the small island, adding massive value through innovation and disruptive technologies. Diversity is not just a concept: It’s an asset for businesses and their employees.

How can the tech industry ensure that it builds an inclusive Metaverse? What is missing to create a Metaverse where everyone can thrive, including women and people with disabilities? 

Inclusivity in the Metaverse is still fuzzy–and I’d expect it to be undefined. We’re embarking on a new phase that merits digital trust. We need a roadmap to ensure the Metaverse is ethical, safe, and inclusive with data privacy, equity, physical safety, ethics, and equity considerations. 

Opportunities in the Metaverse are geographically boundless, with ample opportunity for providers and consumers to democratise learning, development, and education.

As a speaker and role model, how do you attract more women into the tech industry?

I’m too humble to claim to be a role model for anything. 

My recruitment efforts as of late focus on school girls in STEM and people my age taking leaps. I speak at elementary schools and summer camps about my career. As a Product Strategist with superpowers in UX, I get excited when they get excited.

After earning a Master of Science degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, I pivoted into product strategy. For the latter group, I recruit women who often say, “I’ve been in human resources for 20 years. I could never do UX!” There’s a special place in my heart for this group because I came in through the bathroom window. 

Thinking that we need a “proper” degree for everything and that careers are straight trajectories is an old-school way of thinking. The world needs fresh thinkers to bring good trouble. 

Are you optimistic about the evolution of the Metaverse? 

We’re in the wild and headed west towards manifest destiny. 

I am thrilled at the art of the possible. I am thrilled and cautious. Cautious about who and what may get left behind in this developing technological paradigm. First, we need to get past the ongoing existential debate to make progress. 

Some people are bored or frustrated by the Metaverse existential debate. Still, I believe they’re mistaken: It’s sparking crucial conversations about the why, what, and how of the future of digital experiences, the internet, and the web. Neglecting the discussion ignores risk and opportunity.

Risk and opportunity lie in user experience, which will play a considerable role in onboarding. Extended Reality experiences are both revolutionary and evolutionary, taking the Universal Design principles into the planning design of the Metaverse, which makes it a more exciting experience for all users.

You can find out more about and book your place at this year’s Women in IT Summit USA 2022 here.

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