The growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning will create millions of new jobs over the next few years. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) specialists are in the most "in demand" employees across all industries, according to the World Economic Forum's new Future of Jobs report, 2020, yet there are only a few hundred thousand engineers trained in AI and ML worldwide. As more organizations embrace digital transformation by moving to the cloud to make machine learning a reality, they’re using creative training initiatives to close the machine learning skills gap. Capital One’s AWS DeepRacer League is one excellent example of this.
As an organization, Capital One has been on a multi-year journey to transform into a technology company that also happens to be a bank, instead of a bank that uses technology. The company has invested in their digital transformation—exiting data centers and going all-in on cloud with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
As their ability to operate like a tech company evolves, Capital One has focused on building a culture of continued learning and development for their employees, and that’s what led a team of associates at the company to organize an internal AWS DeepRacer League in 2019.
How AWS DeepRacer works
AWS DeepRacer provides an interesting and fun way to get started with machine learning through a cloud-based 3D racing simulator and a fully autonomous 1/18th scale race car driven by reinforcement learning. This type of machine learning relies on the small-scale cars to learn from their environment through a reward system. For example, staying within a vehicle lane earns a reward while veering out of a lane results in no reward.
With AWS DeepRacer, individuals train reinforcement learning models in a simulation environment via the AWS DeepRacer console to race around a virtual track. The reinforcement learning models can also be deployed to a physical AWS DeepRacer race car, where it can race on a physical track for prizes—like a trip to compete in the AWS DeepRacer League Championship Cup at the annual AWS re:Invent conference.
AWS DeepRacer also has a number of leagues—available physically and virtually—where participants compete to see whose learning model gets their car across the finish line fastest. Tens of thousands of developers have experienced AWS DeepRacer, and AWS has held more than 200 events to help companies upskill their employees in machine learning. Organizations like Capital One have created their own league to further invest in their employees’ skills through a fun, interactive competition.
"Learning a new skill like machine learning may seem intimidating, especially to those without a deep technical background. The AWS DeepRacer program introduces the ability to learn machine learning in an easy, hands-on, fun way outside of the traditional classroom," said Lisa Tovar, Capital One’s Senior Manager of Technology. "Over the course of the competition, associates from all backgrounds learned machine learning and a strong community formed—associates were helping one another while at the same time competing against one another. That’s when we knew we had to bring this program back and inspire even more associates to collaboratively learn and discover the power of machine learning."
Turning a remote 2020 into an opportunity for a virtual Kids Cup League
With more than 350 participants in the 2019 Capital One AWS DeepRacer League, the appetite of the company’s associates was undeniable, leading Tovar to organize a 2020 edition. The Capital One DeepRacer team started preparing themselves for an even bigger 2020 internal league, that was, until the COVID-19 pandemic led to remote workforces and education, along with the threat of cancelling the event altogether. Tovar and her team turned this challenge into an opportunity by focusing the 2020 league on kids and pioneering the first-ever virtual AWS DeepRacer League for kids, culminating in a Capital One AWS DeepRacer Kids Cup.
"The AWS DeepRacer Kids Cup was an incredible opportunity to inspire a new generation to learn and love technology," said Cadence Weber, Tech College Learning Manager at Capital One. "This was the first time most of our participants had heard of machine learning, and I hope in the future they'll trace their interest in this career back to this exposure."
With support from AWS, the family-friendly virtual competition gathered more than 250 children from over 200 families.
"We learned how algorithms help run the car. The self-learning part was amazing to know," said one young participant. "I couldn’t believe a car could teach itself to drive around the track. How cool is that? It was fun watching the training simulation video and tweaking the model. I also learned fast doesn’t always mean winning. And that it takes time and patience to get a good model."
High school senior Aidan from Glen Allen, Virginia walked away from the Capital One AWS DeepRacer Kids Cup enthusiastic about pursuing a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). STEM piqued Aiden’s interest while he was in middle school, an appreciation that he’s since carried into the IT and computer science specialty center he attends in high school.
"This definitely motivated me to keep pursuing tech and machine learning," said Aidan. "Getting to work hands-on with AI inspired me. It’s more than just knowing what AI is, but actually getting to create algorithms is completely different and so fun."
High school sophomore Lakshay didn't have a machine learning background before he took part in the Capital One AWS DeepRacer Kids Cup. But the STEM classes he took when he was younger instilled in him a passion to "constantly learn new things," he said. “Although I already had a deep interest in tech, this event definitely made it stronger. To me, machine learning is a very interesting topic that keeps on evolving. I would love to continue in it."
AWS's mission has always been to make machine learning more accessible through its products, services, and programs—including AWS DeepRacer—and Capital One extending this program to kids furthers that goal.
"When we launched DeepRacer, we wanted to quite literally have developers and data scientists get hands-on with machine learning in a fun and interactive way," said Swami Sivasubramanian, Vice President of Amazon Machine Learning at AWS. "There are so many opportunities in machine learning to make the world a better place, and we won’t realize the golden age of machine learning unless the next generation of technologists get excited about these technologies. It is even more encouraging and exciting to see young people get started with DeepRacer, and getting excited about machine learning and coding in general."
Get started with an AWS DeepRacer League.
If you’re a student, an educator, an employer, or a U.S. Veteran, visit the AWS Educate page for content and programs.