This week, we were very excited to learn from speaker, author, and data visualization expert, Mico Yuk. An active proponent of humanizing analytics, Mico is the Co-Founder of BI Brianz and co-host of the Analytics on Fire Podcast.
Mico, can you tell us a bit about your background and how it lead to a career in data?
At age 12 I was fascinated with the two things: Computers and Architectural Design. I graduated from high school at 15 wanting to attend art school, but instead graduated as a Computer Engineer as the thought of becoming a starving artist was not an option with Caribbean parents. My first job was as a Sr. Research Analyst, known today as a data scientist, building models in SAAS (not sexy!). A year later, while seeking new opportunities, I was hired to use a tool called Xcelsius to design supply chain dashboards. The rest is history. I admit, exploiting data was not my focus, creating compelling data visualizations was.
What has been the biggest surprise in your career?
The failure rate of BI projects for the last 10-15 years is staggering! Per Gartner, seven out of every ten BI projects are deemed as failures. Every year companies spend millions of dollars on technology hoping to solve this problem. If they took a fraction of that money and invested it on the softer elements of BI projects such as the user experience, innovative user engagement techniques, and upskilling their existing teams, the failure rate could be extinguished.
What are some of the biggest challenges in leading today? How are you thinking about dealing with those challenges?
Leadership can be hard, but it’s even more challenging when you’re a double minority (black & female) running a global analytics consulting firm. Last year at the Black Tech Mecca event hosted by Google I presented data to show that less than 1% of blacks occupy tech jobs in the US. In the business intelligence and analytics world, there are no role models that look like me in this industry and as a result I’ve had to find great mentors from different walks of life. In addition, I continue to use my influence and social visibility to champion the #WIT (women in technology) cause at all times. I support and mentor a few executive women in the field. It’s important that us women support each other.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a similar career path to yours?
Do It. Data is the new oil. Data is a currency of its own. In this field the sky is the limit, as the uses and applications of data are infinite. Data like the internet, will eventually drive every facet of our lives. Think of it as getting a ride to space on NASA’s first space shuttle, and getting to choose any planet to explore!
What can women in the workplace do today to help build the foundation for successful careers?
Defy gravity. That is what I strive to do. I was blessed to grow up in the Caribbean where my parents never told me there was a box. I saw no barriers. I always encourage the women I mentor to look at the opportunities, not the challenges. Give the benefit of the doubt to those ignorant of the challenges we face. Seek out those around you who may need help. Join external networking groups like Women 2.0 or She++ to keep close tabs with like-minded women. We know that as women we have to work harder, so instill it into your mindset. Don’t be average. Exceed expectations and take on new challenges. I’m tired of hearing about the lack of opportunities. After working with 50+ large global companies you’d be surprised to see how many men will help to champion your cause. We’re in an era where many men in this field have daughters, and have finally realized that unless they help to create the change, their daughters will face the same challenges we do. Don’t limit your support channels.
“Study, learn, copy and then pave the way for someone else.”
Do you think that data can help build a more diverse and equal workplace? How so?
Absolutely! As Peter Drucker said ‘you can't manage what you can't measure’. This is also true when it comes to tackling the diversity problem in tech. It’s not enough to talk about the problem, once you quantify it, the numbers speak for themselves. Less than 25% of tech jobs are filled by females. Not only is this disappointing, it doesn’t reflect the world we live in. Thanks to social media, anemic stats like those embarrass big company executives who would otherwise continue to turn a blind eye to the matter. They realize that eventually their brand could be affected. The threat of being seen as a racist brand is enough to cause most companies to prioritize and address the problem quickly and openly before it is reflected on wall street.
How do you think individuals can use data to advance their ideas or careers?
There is an old saying, if you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you’re going. The same applies to diversity and the workplace. Research and understand the stats, but don’t allow them to affect your goals. Instead, use them to educate those around you and create awareness. Again, thanks to social media it’s easy to find women who are doing amazing things in our field. Study, learn, copy and then pave the way for someone else.
Thank you for sharing your stories with us, Mico!