robot revolution

Robotics exec talks plans for new Houston office and the future of automation

Marie Myers is the CFO of UiPath and is based in the company's new Houston office. Courtesy of UiPath

It's safe to say that Marie Myers — CFO of UiPath, which opened its 71-person office in Houston earlier this year — loves her job.

The robotics process automation company, which was founded in Romania before moving its headquarters to New York City last year, is in major growth mode. At the helm of the financial side of things is Myers, who has over 20 years of experience in technology.

When Myers was working on a spinoff project for HP, she started seeing the difference software automation makes on a company's bottom line.

"I realized RPA was the fastest way to drive efficiencies, so I started building bots," she tells InnovationMap. "During that time, I came across UiPath and I saw how impressive their technology was. In my more than two-decade career, I hadn't really come across a technology that I felt that had such an impressive impact in such a short time."

She drank the UiPath Kool-Aid, and when the company came to her adopted hometown of Houston to open an office to be its central, Midwestern location, she leapt at the opportunity to join the team. Now, with several months under her belt in the position and a growing office, Myers speaks with InnovationMap about the company's growth and the revolution that RPA is having in business.

InnovationMap: You've been in your role since January, but you've been in tech for a while now. How has the transition been for you?

Marie Myers: This has been one of the most exciting times for my career. I've been in tech for about two decades. I started with Compaq — quite an incredible company that started right here in Texas. It was a very famous startup in its own time, and I had a chance to be a part of that wave, which was really incredible. Then, it got bought out by HP, and then I pivoted and spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley for a couple decades.

I got involved in robotics process automation quite by happenstance about four years ago when HP decided to split. I was involved in setting up a company from the finance and legal perspective. I got challenged to drive some cost efficiency, so I turned to RPA as a means to drive some of that impact within my own organization of a couple thousand folks.

When the opportunity came up to be CFO for UiPath, I really jumped at it because it filled two important things for me. I wanted to be a leader of a finance organization and team. Secondly, I wanted to do something where I was really passionate about the technology. When I think about RPA, the world lights up for me. It's truly transformative.

IM: How did UiPath decide to open a Houston office? What made the city a key market?

MM: Houston — particularly Texas — are both important for us, from a customer perspective. We have some of our larger companies in the country here in Texas, so it was a natural place to look to build capability. Secondly, we're impressed with the overall quality of the market and the availability of different skills here as we build out our company.

IM: What are some goals UiPath has for its new Houston office?

MM: Overall, one of the key goals is to establish a strong Midwest presence for the company. Texas is an ideal location if you think about it for customers that range from the East to the West. Being in the middle is a good, central location. Also, as we grow and expand in Latin America, it's another interesting spot for us. So, one, to ensure that we are able to support the growth needs of the company throughout the United States and leverage the strategic location that Texas has.

I think the other goal is to build some of the core skills we need for the overall organization as we grow in the United States. UiPath is a relatively new player in the U.S., only been here a couple of years.

Finally, we've got terrific customers here, so what's important is to continue to support and nurture those customers. We have a big presence in oil and gas and the support companies within energy.

IM: Tell me about the Academic Alliance and how the company engages with students.

MM: Basically, we offer free training to the universities so that students can get first-hand experience for robotics process automation, which is part of our broader commitment we've made to ensure RBA is available in an open, democratized way.

We are big proponents of supporting students, and we had a great intern program this last summer. We had a double-digit number of interns — I think the largest population in the U.S. We love the fact that we have this access to universities that we can easily tap into.

Just a couple weeks ago we ran UiPath's first-ever hackathon for students in the United States. We had over 50 participants.

We're really excited about building out the ecosystem with the universities and the students here in Houston.

IM: What sort of misconceptions do you encounter within automation?

MM: First and foremost, a lot of it is misconceptions about RPA replacing jobs. I'd say it's a shift in the workforce — I witness this first hand because I had a team where we implemented and built bots. What happens is you create capacity and end up creating new jobs. You have roles of managing bots, bot controllers, bot librarians — these are roles that fundamentally didn't exist five years ago.

IM: What advice do you have for women in tech?

MM: I think it's so critical for women to be in the driving seat and in the forefront of technology. I have two daughters and I'm adamant about how they are exposed to robotics. I did a coffee talk in Houston not too long ago, and I really challenged the women to get out there and get digitally literate. It's really important as women that we don't let ourselves fall behind on technology and how they are impacting both our work and our families. So, staying informed, no matter how you do that — reading, podcasts, news. Another way is to join and network with associations. Myself and another woman important in this space are looking to create a network for women in automation. We want to build a group that will allow women to look for jobs, board roles, mentors, etc. in this industry.

IM: What role do you see Houston playing in the greater innovation conversation and where does the city have room to improve?

​MM: I'm a big fan of Houston. I'm Australian, but I feel like a Texas implant now. It's an incredibly diverse city, and I think that's one of its greatest strengths. You've got people from all walks of life from all parts of the world and a great education system. That creates a really unique backdrop for the technology-led era we're in. The historical strengths of the city have been predicated on the healthy oil and gas sector and medical sector — both are important industries going through major technology transformations. I think for Houston being able to capitalize on all that is a very unique opportunity. It will position Houston very well for the future. You've got the right ingredients here.

Where the city is going to have to continue to build is specifically around some of these skills for the future. Artificial intelligence and having that depth of experience is an area the city struggles in. Certainly other cities like Seattle and San Francisco have tens of years of experience from companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon that have been able to build deep AI. In Houston, that skillset is going to come more from oil and gas, where they've been building some of those skills, just not in the same breath and not in the same depth as those other cities. I think the real opportunity is to nourish and nurture this in the academic institutions and then take that talent out of the academic institutions and integrate them into the corporations.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Free mental health care, local COVID-19 testing, and a new great to fund an ongoing study — here's your latest roundup of research news. Image via Getty Images

As Houston heads toward the end of summer with no major vaccine or treatment confirmed for COVID-19, local research institutions are still hard at work on various coronavirus-focused innovations.

Free mental health care, local COVID-19 testing, and a new great to fund an ongoing study — here's your latest roundup of research news.

Baylor College of Medicine genomics team to partner for local COVID-19 testing

Houston millionaire to start biotech accelerator for companies focusing on regenerative medicine

Two departments at BCM are working with the county on COVID-19 testing. Getty Images

Two Baylor College of Medicine institutions have teamed up to aid in local COVID-19 testing. The Human Genome Sequencing Center and the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research — under the leadership of BCM — are partnering with local public health departments to provide polymerase chain reaction testing of COVID-19 samples, according to a news release from BCM.

"We are pleased to work with the outstanding local government groups in this critical public health effort," says Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the HGSC and Wofford Cain chair and professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor, in the release. "We are proud of the tireless determination and expertise of our centers and college staff that enabled the rapid development of this robust testing capacity to serve the greater Houston community."

Baylor is among the testing providers for Harris County Public Health, and people can receive testing following a pre-screening questionnaire online.

"We are fortunate to have Baylor College of Medicine as a close partner during the COVID-19 pandemic," says Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, in the release. "This is a challenging time for our community and as the need for increased testing capacity and getting results to residents faster has grown, Baylor has risen to the occasion. There are countless unsung heroes across Harris County who have stepped up to the plate during this pandemic and Baylor College of Medicine is one of them."

COVID-19 testing samples are collected from testing sites and delivered to the Alkek Center. After isolating the virus, genomic material is extracted and sent to the HGSC to quantitative reverse transcription PCR testing. Should the sample's RNA sequence match the virus, then it is positive for COVID-19. The sequencing must test positive three times to be considered overall positive.

Results are returned within 48 hours, and the lab has a capacity of more than 1,000 samples a day. Since May, the team has tested over 30,000 samples.

"We knew we had all the pieces to stand up a testing center fast – large scale clinical sequencing, experts in virology and molecular biology, and a secure way to return results to patients," says Ginger Metcalf, Human Genome Sequencing Center Director of Project Development, in the release. "We are also fortunate to have such great partners at Harris County Public Health, who have done an amazing job of gathering, tracking and delivering samples, especially for the most at-risk members of our community."

National Science Foundation renews Rice University funding amid pandemic

José Onuchic (left) and Peter Wolynes are co-directors of the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics at Rice University. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics has been granted a five-year extension from the National Science Foundation. The grant for $12.9 million will aid in continuing the CTBP's work at the intersection of biology and physics.

The center — which was founded in 2001 at the University of California, San Diego, before moving to Rice in 2011 — is led by Peter Wolynes and José Onuchic.

"We have four major areas at the center," Onuchic says in a news release. "The first is in chromatin theory and modeling, developing the underlying mathematical theory to explain the nucleus of the cell — what Peter calls the 'new nuclear physics.' The second is to test ideas based on the data being created by experimentalists. The third is to understand information processing by gene networks in general, with some applications related to metabolism in cancer. The fourth is to study the cytoskeleton and molecular motors. And the synergy between all of these areas is very important."

Onuchic adds that an upcoming donation of a supercomputer by AMD will help the center's ongoing research into COVID-19 and four institutions — Rice, Northeastern, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston — are working collaboratively on the study,

"We're all set to move on doing major COVID-related molecular simulations on day one," he says in the release. "The full functioning of a center requires a synergy of participation. Rice is the main player with people from multiple departments, but Baylor, Northeastern and Houston play critical roles."

University of Houston offers free mental health therapy for restaurant workers

Texas restaurant workers can get free mental health care from a UH initiative. Photo via Elle Hughes/Pexels

Through a collaboration with Southern Smoke and Mental Health America of Greater Houston, the University of Houston Clinical Psychology program launched a a free mental health care program for Texas-based food and beverage employees and their children.

"During normal times this is a high stress industry where people work very hard in environments where they are just blowing and going all the time," says John P. Vincent, professor of psychology and director of the UH Center for Forensic Psychology, in a news release.

The program has 14 graduate students who converse with a total of 30 patients and meet weekly with supervisors at UH.

"This opportunity allows our clinical program to reach people in the community who usually don't have access to mental health services," says Carla Sharp, professor of psychology and director of clinical training, in the release.

For restaurant industry workers looking for help and care, they can visit the Mental Health Services page on Southern Smoke's website.

According to Vincent, this is just the beginning.

"We're discussing it," says Vincent in the release. "But as far as I'm concerned it can just keep going and going."

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