By Mo Zhou, Senior Consultant, IBM Global Business Services
One year ago, I was thrilled to watch IBM’s Watson computer win on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! at a special viewing party at Yale University. It was the second year of my MBA program, and I had already accepted a job offer from IBM, so I was rooting for my own team. I was so excited that I stayed until the very end to get the last Watson T-shirt they handed out as a door prize. Today, my profile picture on Facebook shows me proudly wearing the shirt.
So, you could say I’m a poster child for IBM.
But I really represent something that’s much bigger than IBM. I’m pursuing one of the most exciting and important new professions that’s coming on strong in the 21st century: business analytics. I’m a consultant who combines expertise in analytics technology with business know-how. I call myself a business strategy quant.
I had another thrill a couple of weeks ago when Steve Lohr of the New York Times interviewed me for a story about the need for more people with my skills to turn the huge amount of data in our world into useful insights. The story was published today and will hopefully encourage even more students to follow my professional path.
Business analytics is the practice of using some of the latest advances in computer science, involving really sophisticated mathematical algorithms, to help businesses work better. The way I think about it, I’m using my skills to build a smarter planet–one organization at a time.
I never could have imagined this life when I was a child growing up in China. I dreamed of being a secret agent, like 007. But what really fascinated me was numbers. I competed in the Chinese Mathematics Olympiad, and, after my family moved to California, I completed college-level advanced calculus courses during my junior year in high school. Even though few girls study electrical engineering, I chose it as my major at the University of Illinois because my high school science adviser told me it was the toughest course. Later, at Yale, I chose strategy as a focus partly because it was a gap in my skills. It was there that I got my first taste of what consulting is really like by participating in a Yale course sponsored by IBM where I advised a real company. My husband says I always pick the hard challenges that make my life miserable. I love what I do, though.
At IBM, I’m on the road most weeks working with clients. For my last project, I helped a health insurance company come up with a strategy for educating what it expects to be a flood of new individual customers after health care reform goes into effect in 2014. I used text analytics and association algorithms to help them discover the most important topics for each kind of customer.
I’m like a detective. I help my clients uncover insights that are hidden in massive amounts of data. And I help them develop strategies that are driven by facts rather than by hunches and intuition.
I considered working for companies in Silicon Valley, but I chose IBM because it has the strongest tradition of getting patents and producing cutting-edge technology. More young people like me are realizing what a great company IBM is. Watson helps change perceptions. I think IBM is the company of the future—where people like me can help build a smarter planet. I plan on working here for a long time.