DB & BI managers do some of
today’s most essential work
Databases and business intelligence in general are essential to almost every business; these DB and BI pros help their companies get the most out of their data assets
“BI is the information every business needs. It requires processing volumes of data, analyzing and presenting it in a digestible format.” – Shadan Malik, iDashboards
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Databases today are integral parts of virtually every business, but not all companies have mastered the art of making optimal use of their data. That’s why many companies are looking at more formal ways to utilize business intelligence (BI).
“BI is the information every business needs to gain clear insight into its operations, finance, customer service and the external environment it operates in,” explains Shadan Malik, CEO of iDashboards (Troy, MI). This, he says, requires “processing volumes of data, analyzing that information and presenting it in an easy to view, digestible format.”
BI is a growing field, Malik says, because of the increasing amount of data being generated by businesses and organizations in almost every industry. The employees he hires for his business need strong quantitative and analytical skills and an understanding of the importance of teamwork. Of course, strength in a programming language or in using databases is also necessary.
Kirsten Schwark develops solutions for iDashboards
It’s Kirsten Schwark’s job to develop software that provides BI dashboard solutions. She works as a senior software developer on the iDashboards product.
“It’s a data-visualization tool,” Schwark explains. “Business users utilize it to look at their data.”
She was originally hired to work in Java, “but then I started working more on the visual aspect.” Now she’s involved in the whole product, from the server side to the client side.
Schwark has always been on the cutting edge of BI. She graduated from Oakland University (Rochester, MI) with a BS in math and a CS minor, and went on for a 1995 MS in math from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI).
In her first job, with Vector Research, Schwark developed a tool for the military healthcare system. “It projected populations into the future and developed models based on those projections.”
Because of her math training, she had been hired as a data quality analyst. “But I found that work tedious. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been automated!” she says.
So she learned how to write a program to do the calculations for her. She found she enjoyed software development much more than analysis.
At iDashboards, Schwark is part of the entire development cycle. “I work on the design and it goes to Shadan Malik, the CEO, who makes suggestions. Then it comes back to me and I tweak the product.”
The company and its product are not geared toward a specific industry, and Schwark likes that. “iDashboards is a general tool that can take data and visualize it so you can use it in ways that are important to you.”
In addition to her work, Schwark runs a weekly after-school math program at her son’s grade school, using games and activities. “I want to make math accessible to kids,” she says.
She’s also an active participant in a users’ group for Java. “As a software developer, it’s important to support the community,” she feels.
David Sievers is a managing director at Goldman Sachs
David Sievers attended New York University while holding down a job. He completed an associate’s degree in applied science in 1999 and a BSCS in 2003.
“I certainly didn’t follow the typical track,” Sievers agrees. “I was a professional musician by the time I graduated from high school, and I had the opportunity to travel after graduation.
“It was my dream to spend my life as a professional musician. I had no idea that I’d end up as a managing director at Goldman Sachs,” he says.
But the life of a struggling musician lost its luster. “I wanted to pursue a career that could provide a better upside, and that’s how I ended up in technology,” he says.
Moving from music to computers was natural for Sievers. “In improvisational music it’s all about putting patterns together. In technology you also process patterns. The ability to recognize patterns and combine them in creative ways is one of the skills that makes me successful at what I do.”
Much of Sievers’ day is spent understanding business problems and thinking of ways to utilize available technology to solve them. “I find myself being very creative on one hand and very analytical on the other.”
In 2008 Sievers was named a managing director at Goldman Sachs & Co (New York, NY). He is the global head of custody and control. “We deliver technology solutions for operations,” the department that makes sure all transactions that happen in the course of the day are accounted for.
When Sievers first joined Goldman Sachs in 1996 he had no background in investment banking or financial services. “I was hired as a consultant to work on a project testing the installation of a mainframe application,” he explains. He took courses to learn more about the business and was soon able to combine his technical skills with the business end. He moved into a full-time position in 1997.
“I spend a tremendous part of my day thinking about complex problems that involve highly distributed processing in a
realtime global computing environment,” he says. “My focus has always been on looking for problems where the most effective solution is not yet in place, and thinking of innovative ways to solve them.”
Sievers is still involved in the music business. He has a recording studio in his home and is writing the score for a short film. “Of course it’s more of a hobby now,” the managing director says with a smile.
IDA’s Deborah Stockdale works with the intelligence community
Deborah Stockdale has worked in database design and BI throughout her career. Most of those thirty-plus years were spent in Silicon Valley, but early this year she joined the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA, Alexandria, VA) as a research member. She was recruited by an IDA director who thought her background would be a perfect fit for a program the institute was working on.
Her job, Stockdale says, is to help release data from “data jail.” She’s working with the intelligence community to improve transparency and accountability.
“Transparency means that the data is accessible, reliable and understood,” she explains. “Then we can use that information to measure accountability.”
It sounds simple, but it’s definitely not. “We’re dealing with environments that aren’t limited to traditional business systems.”
Stockdale is pulling together information from all types of sources, from databases to handwritten phone messages. “We have to introduce the context of the information,” she adds. “You can’t just look at the word or information; you have to consider the context in which it’s offered.”
When Deborah Stockdale graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a BS in business administration in 1976, she went to work in statistical analysis and modeling.
“It was a lot of data, and back then it tended to be in 25-column spreadsheets on huge pieces of paper. I figured there had to be a better way.”
“My laziness drove me to the computer environment where I learned Fortran and enjoyed it,” she says with a laugh.
Eventually Stockdale discovered that it was the data itself she found most interesting. “It was a natural affinity,” she says. “It’s the notion of optimization, set theory, efficiency, enabling: an interesting mix.”
The “natural affinity,” she thinks, is partly due to her training as a classical cellist. She gravitated to the cello in third grade and has played ever since.
“Playing music involves code interpretation and pattern recognition,” she says. “It’s actually very much like database work.”
Of course databases don’t provide that context without help.
“If we can make the computer responsive to us as humans we’re going to get a lot more benefit,” she says. “Right now we’re slaves to the computer in the sense that we have to adjust so the computer can bring back results.”
The goal, she believes, will be to ask the computer a question and get back the answer. “That has been driving me throughout my whole career: to get the machine to be a real benefit and not an intrusive factor.”
Juan Garcia works on the GIS team at State Farm
While he was still living in his native Colombia, Juan Garcia was a founding member of a geographic information systems (GIS) company. “That same year I got married and that was not a good combination,” he says. Starting a company required a lot of work and travel. Garcia knew he had to find a better work-life balance.
He had studied CE in college, expecting that to be his career path. But as a senior he took a course in GIS and loved the field. After his graduation in 1995 his jobs, and of course his new company, all had to do with computers and programming. “I didn’t feel my education would be complete until I had taken some formal training in computer science,” he says.
The solution, he decided, was to bring his family to the U.S. and work on a graduate degree. While he was a student he found a job with State Farm Insurance Companies (Bloomington, IL), “so I wouldn’t have to use all my savings for school and living expenses,” he says. He received his MS in applied CS from Illinois State University in 2006.
At first he worked as a GIS specialist in county government, but soon State Farm called him. “The company was looking for an experienced GIS specialist who liked living in the Midwest,” Garcia says. “I jumped at the opportunity.”
He’s been with State Farm for two years now as a systems analyst, working on the GIS team to support the company’s spatial analysis needs.
“For example, when you go to statefarm.com, type in your address and want to search for agents in your area, our team supports the tools that do that job in the background,” he explains. “Basically, we translate the address to a point on the earth and do a spatial query.”
His department also supports risk measurement, such as hurricanes or wildfires, for specific locations. “These are the kinds of queries only GIS can solve,” Garcia points out.
He wears many hats in his job: designer, developer, sometimes project lead. He’s currently working on a project to let the State Farm underwriters run queries that will generate maps and the risk potential for specific areas.
Computers helped ease the transitions the Garcia family made moving from Colombia to Illinois. “Everything was different,” Garcia says. “I came from a big city to a small town, I no longer ran my own company, and I had to switch gears to a slower life. I thought I knew enough English to get by, but I discovered that what I knew wasn’t enough so I had more to study.”
Fortunately, he notes, there’s no language barrier with computers. “Technical people understand each other.”
Siew Lee-Roswell is a consultant with FHLBank SF
Siew Lee-Roswell traveled a long way to her present career at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. She was born in Malaysia, got her 1987 BSCS at the University of Melbourne, Australia and went to work in Singapore. Later her Singapore employer sent her to Germany to work on a project. In Germany she “met a guy from the U.S.,” and eventually moved here to marry him.
Settled in the U.S., she found a job with FHLBank San Francisco. Today she’s a senior application consultant for the bank, responsible for handling any issues that arise from applications being used in the legislative and marketing departments. “I do enhancements, gather data from the database. Whatever they need, I’m there to help them,” she says.
Many of her projects are small, others span months and years. “We have a project team, but with my business knowledge I’m often called on to help out with things like design and testing,” she says.
When she was in college computers were still relatively new. CS was an exciting new career where she could utilize her love of math. “And now the technology has changed so much; you’re always doing something new,” she says happily.
One of the new things she’s working on is a revamp of the application for the bank’s affordable housing program. “The program is at a stage where we’re ready to migrate the data from the legacy system to the new one,” she says. “I’ll make sure the data is transferred cleanly.”
Greg Fontenot, SVP and HR director at FHLBank of San Francisco, has a word to say about the bank’s approach to diversity. “All the individuals who work here bring their own life and work experiences, background and perspectives to the bank,” he says. “This helps each of us look at situations from a variety of angles.
“Different experience combined with dialogue helps new ideas and solutions to come out.”
Greg Terry: HRIS admin at CACI
After he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 with a BA in psychology, Greg Terry worked with a dot-com. But the business went under, and he moved to a supposedly temporary job in data entry with CACI (Arlington, VA), a professional services and IT solutions provider for the federal government.
“Shortly after I came on, CACI was undergoing an upgrade of its human resources data system,” he recalls. “The HRIS manager thought it would be a good fit for me to come to HR.” From there he transitioned into his present job as HRIS administrator, responsible for managing the HR database. “We make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date,” he explains.
That means ensuring that end users are able to input data to the database accurately, and in a way that lets the HRIS team run its reports. He also establishes procedures so end users know how to enter the data properly.
“I’m also responsible for managing security, like reminding people to change passwords,” he says. “But my biggest responsibility is providing upper management with personnel-related reports. I have to feel comfortable that the data is accurate to make sure the reports are accurate.”
Terry went to college on an athletic scholarship, playing football for four years. “But my mother insisted that academics came first, so I didn’t look into other sports,” he says.
Between psychology and football, Terry had a good foundation for his current job. “You have to be willing to work as part of a team,” he says. “Football taught me how to work with others.”
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