Women's History Month Mar 06, 2024

Kate Highnam - Women's History Month

Brynn Dalton
Meet Kate Highnam, a member of Ardent’s Technology Research and Innovation (TRI) Lab. With her expertise in data science and her commitment to excellence, Kate embodies the spirit of innovation and collaboration that defines Ardent’s TRI Lab.


The Journey: Could you share with us your journey in the technology/consulting industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

“I am a data scientist on the TRI Lab team,” Kate shares, “tasked with assisting in AI use cases. Whenever AI comes into play, I provide recommendations on models or advise against using certain technologies when they’re unnecessary.”

Kate’s journey into the world of technology was influenced by her upbringing in a computer science-centric family. “I come from a computer science family, so I was raised with a passion for puzzles and data,” she recalls fondly.

After pursuing computer science in her undergraduate studies and conducting research in drones, Kate ventured into the industry as a software engineer. However, she soon discovered her true calling lay in data science. “I relearned that I really loved data, and it wasn’t the path for me,” she reflects. “So, I left industry after three years, transitioning from software engineering to data engineering and finally into machine learning.”

Currently pursuing her Ph.D. while working part-time at Ardent, Kate’s research focuses on machine learning and cybersecurity, an intersection  she is deeply passionate about. Her journey to Ardent was propelled by her collaboration with Mireille Estephan, Ardent CTO, in a previous role and her familial ties to government work, making her transition into the TRI Lab team a natural fit.

Making an Impact: Can you share a project or initiative you have been involved with at Ardent that you feel had a significant impact on the organization or customers and the role you played?

Despite her short tenure at Ardent, Kate’s contributions have already left a lasting impression. “The TRI Lab team is fascinating, with a wide variety of skill sets,” she explains. “I provide insights from years of research and working with machine learning researchers to determine the feasibility of AI applications across different projects.”

One notable project involves developing a tool to enhance AI security—an endeavor essential in an era where trust in AI is paramount. “AI has its own threats, especially in government deployments,” Kate elaborates. “We’re currently working towards building tools that support responsible and impactful machine learning applications.”

Overcoming Challenges: Throughout your career in technology or consulting, what challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

For Kate, challenges are not obstacles but opportunities for growth. “I have grown to find enjoyment when faced with the feeling that I don’t have the skills I need to solve a problem,” she shares. “It’s humbling and enjoyable because it challenges me to strive for the next big thing.”

In navigating the challenges of her profession, Kate has developed a unique approach centered on the power of human connection and effective communication. “One way I overcome challenges is by being as sociable as possible,” she shares. “The people you connect with emotionally and professionally can always help with growth.” Kate’s ability to forge meaningful connections underscores the importance of collaboration and support in overcoming professional hurdles.

“One technique I use is asking someone, ‘are we exploring an emotion or solving a problem?’ It clarifies how the person wants you to respond and sets the tone for constructive dialogue.” Another technique Kate employs is inspired by her love for gaming. “I ask someone, ‘what is your HP bar for feedback?'” she shares. “There are some days when you feel so emotional about your work that feedback almost becomes a personal attack, meaning you have low HP and cannot take much constructive feedback without permanently damaging the relationship with that person.” By gauging the recipient’s receptiveness to feedback, Kate ensures that the exchange is productive and beneficial for all parties involved.

Words of Wisdom: Reflecting on your career journey, what advice would you give to those just starting their careers in the technology or consulting sectors? Is there anything you wish you had known earlier in your career?

“Encourage more women to celebrate their achievements in tech and improve the pipeline to get more women into the industry,” she advocates passionately. “Don’t limit yourself based on stereotypes – you have the potential to thrive in tech.” Her advice underscores the importance of breaking barriers, embracing diversity, and exploring the different opportunities within the technology landscape.

Kate also emphasizes the importance of exploring diverse career paths within the technology sector, as it is something she wishes she knew sooner. “I also always tell people, especially those in computer science or any other STEM field, that there are more jobs than just a Software Engineer,” she adds. “In many degrees, you’re taught to go for certain titles, but you are not limited. Do not feel tied down to a certain title or field just because you ‘feel limited’ by your practical background.”

As we recognize Kate’s achievements and contributions, let us also embrace her spirit of exploration, daring to push the boundaries of what is possible and charting new horizons in the ever-expanding frontier of tech, data science, and artificial intelligence.