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My Career in Data Episode 37: Chris Wey, President, Data Modernization, Rocket Software

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Welcome back to a new episode of My Career in Data – a DATAVERSITY Talks podcast where we sit down with professionals to discuss how they have built their careers around data.

This week we talk with Chris Wey, the President of Data Modernization at Rocket Software, about the importance of curiosity and the value of diving in headfirst.

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Learn more about Rocket Software.

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Full transcript:

(Intro Start) SHANNON: Hello, and welcome to My Career in Data, a podcast where we discuss with industry leaders and experts how they have built their careers. I’m your host, Shannon Kempe. And today we’re talking to Chris Wey from Rocket Software. (Intro End)

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SHANNON: Hello, and welcome! My name is Shannon Kempe, and I’m the Chief Digital Officer at DATAVERSITY, and this is My Career in Data: a DATAVERSITY Talks podcast dedicated to learning from those who have careers in Data Management, to understand how they got there, and to be talking with people who helped make those careers a little bit easier. To keep up-to-date in the latest in Data Management Education, go to DATAVERSITY dot net forward slash subscribe. Today, we are joined by Chris Wey, the Data Modernization President at Rocket Software. And normally this is where a podcast host would read a short bio of the guest, but in this podcast, your bio is what we’re here to talk about. Chris, hello, and welcome!

CHRIS: Welcome. Thank you! It’s so great to be here, Shannon.

SHANNON: Oh, so glad you could join us. So tell me. Okay, so you’re the Data–Data Modernization President at Rocket Software. So what is Rocket Software? And what is it that you do? What does that title mean?

CHRIS: Rocket Software, we’ve been around for a bit more than 30 years, and we help enterprises across the globe modernize their IT environments; and we help them modernize their data, their applications, and their infrastructure. And so it’s a really exciting company where we get to work with some of the world’s largest companies, and their very, very complex IT environments. And these complex environments have thousands of applications and servers and data centers all over the world. They’re using public clouds, they have their own data centers, they have their own computers. And so all of these applications and infrastructure within our customers’ environment are very veritable playground for a company like this–us that really help customers modernize their IT environments, because the reality is, so many of these customers have been around for decades, and so the complexity is huge. And we help customers simplify and modernize.

SHANNON: Oh, very cool. So that works it into the title. How did you get this this title? And what is it that you do specifically for–for Rocket Software?

CHRIS: So I lead one of our business units at the company. Our business unit is focused on data modernization, and that really focuses on that data that customers have within their environments. And data is such an important part of our customers, businesses–whether they’re in the insurance industry, or financial services, or governments across the globe, or retailers–there’s so much data out there, and so we help our customers modernize their data environments.

SHANNON: Very cool. So tell me, Chris, was this the dream when you were just a wee person in uh elementary school? Was this the dream? Like, I’m gonna grow up and be a Data Modernization President?

CHRIS: Well, um not exactly. I think I didn’t totally know this type of job existed, you know. (Laughs)

SHANNON: Yeah. Yeah. So what was the dream? What was the dream when you were a kid?

CHRIS Well, I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot, believe it or not

SHANNON: Very cool.

CHRIS: My uncle flew B52s in the Air Force. And I had the chance to go on the air force base and visit the big jets and bombers on the Air Force base, and as a young child, that was incredibly exciting. I like to go fast, whether that’s in cars or planes, and I had good eyesight and good hand-eye coordination, but then over time, unfortunately, the–the motion sickness was not a good thing for me, and so your pilot wasn’t gonna do it. Yeah.

SHANNON: There’s so many things–details there that they need. Yeah. So what’s and then what changed? So, so as you–as you got older, and uh became an adult, you know, what became the new passion and what–what did you start to become more interested in?

CHRIS: Well, I was always good at math. Enjoyed numbers, good at engineering. And so I went to

(continued) college, and I studied engineering, electrical engineering and was able to get a job with IBM coming out of school, which is really exciting. And I worked at IBM for more than a decade. And

(continued) coming into the first job out of school, I started in sales operations as kind of a data analyst within the sales operations team for our semiconductor business, and got to really enjoying data right out of school with IBM.

SHANNON: Oh, that’s exciting. So how are you working with–with data there?

CHRIS: Yeah, well, in the sales operations role, we had salespeople across the globe that were selling our various offerings to our enterprise customers, and we had just converted from fax machines to a Lotus Notes database. And so yeah, sales reports would come in from the salespeople, they used to come in on the fax machines, and we collect them. And now we had centralized everything into a consolidated Lotus Notes database. And I was made the IT and the database administrator in the sales operations team for all of the reports, and what was the interesting thing is, everybody would send their formats in a slightly different way. And the fields were different. And the, you know, the way they would describe the products were different, because there was no standardization in the fields and the data elements within the database. And so it was, it was a lot of fun. I got to essentially help harmonize the data and make it consistent, so that we could actually report on the consolidated sales forecasts from all of our sellers across the globe, because we had a centralized database, but we didn’t have any data governance, and we didn’t have any data quality. And we didn’t have any data consistency. And as somebody that was, you know, kind of OCD, like myself, I was like, Oh, I can–I can fix this problem.

SHANNON:I love that. I love that! So–so then where did you go from there?

CHRIS: From there? You know, I think, you know, that was I started with this one database, and this one business problem on how do we help our executives that are trying to understand the sales forecast from all of the sellers across the globe to listening to the salespeople, and when they were not getting what they wanted from the company, because we were in sales operations really, kind of felt like a representative or a helper of the various folks in the field offices, whether that was in Europe, or across the states, or in Asia Pacific, and helping them what they–to get what they needed out of headquarters. And so we would

(continued) hear that, you know, “Great job improving the sales forecast process, but we have all these other–other problems with the–the things in headquarters.” And so, I was a curious person, and I went and followed up with the different areas of the business and found that we had a whole smattering of databases across the enterprise that didn’t really talk to each other, because the thing with these Lotus Notes databases at the time, whereas they were really easy to fire up. But then you had just a proliferation of databases. It’s kind of like, you know, BI reports these days, or, you know, who knows Salesforce dashboards, right, you get all these things popping up. And so we had all these databases, they didn’t talk to each other, they weren’t consistent, and things would get stuck. And the salespeople and the customers wouldn’t get their parts. And then we had unhappy customers. And so I kind of started with fixing the data quality in the database that we had, and then expanding from there, and trying to help the rest of the division at that time, fix their data quality and (continued) their data consistency problems, to essentially help our customers get what they needed from our division.

SHANNON:I love it. So–so far, you said a couple of key things that, you know, I’ve heard and–and we’ve been learning a lot from from other interviews is curiosity is such an important thing and problem-solving. Here’s a problem that we have is this causing me a lot of time and we can be more efficient if we do–if we standardize and create some quality and create some standards.

(continued) I love that.

(continued) All right. So tell me, so how do you go from there to Rocket Software? What’s your what’s–how? Tell me more about your journey.

CHRIS: Yeah, well, I spent about 13 years at IBM and I started in the semiconductor business where we were making memory and processors and custom processors for our customers and then eventually made my way into the software

(continued) business at IBM, which was a big business that helped customers with data quality, data management; we had various databases–still do– around DB2 and other databases that are big for enterprise customers. And in the software business, I actually got to know and meet some of the leadership at Rocket Software. And so that was a really exciting time for me, I’d spent some time getting into the business of

(continued) acquisitions and mergers and divestitures with IBM, which we did a lot of at the time. And, and so that was a very exciting time for me. And that,

(continued) that opportunity, and meeting the team at Rocket Software was a connection that was really important to me that as I moved on in my career and went to two other companies, ultimately came back and worked with Rocket Software. And I’ve been here for three and a half years, and it’s been wonderful.

SHANNON: Amazing, that’s great. So,

(continued) So tell me, then, Chris, you’ve been working with data for a while. So since college, really and coming out of college, you know, so what is your definition of “data”?

CHRIS: I think data is central to everything that we do in business, and even our home and our personal finances. I mean, I think, you know, you there’s always some people out there that you’ll meet, and they’re like, “No, I’m an intuitive person, and I’m gonna look at the face that the person makes. And if they, you know, really wink this way, or, you know, look this other way, then I’ve made my decision,” right? But for most every other person, data is essential of our decision-making processes. And we want to see, you know, which direction is our checkbook headed, or where, you know, my bank account or my value of my home or in the business? Is my bookings going up or down, is my revenue going up or down, are my costs and expenses going up or down, and that those fundamental data elements are so important to what we do. And so this exercise in aggregating data, consolidating it, making sure that the quality is high, putting it into a report, and that data lifecycle is such an important part of everything that businesses do. I’ve had a passion for it since I was very young. I had, you know, I was fortunate enough to work with it coming out of school. As you mentioned, that curiosity, I think, is a big factor in having an interest in the–in the analytical tendencies, the curiosity, getting rolling; have a desire to roll up your sleeves. And I think if those are things that you like doing, then, you know, data is a type of business for you.

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SHANNON: I love it. So tell me, Chris, how are you working with data today to help you with your day-to-day job?

CHRIS: Well, one of the there’s probably two aspects to it. I think one is as an internal customer, of my customer–of my company’s IT department, right? So my company’s IT department looks very much like an IT department at many large companies where they have a database team, and they’re consolidating all of the financial information. And there’s a data warehousing or data lake, where we consolidate all of the information across the company. And then there’s a reporting in a business intelligence system that sits on top of that, that delivers hundreds, if not thousands, of reports to employees across the company. And so I’m a customer of that information as the president of our business unit here, and having an understanding of what is the fundamental data of my business, and how is my business doing and is it doing well or not? And understanding the detail, by geography, by customer, by product, by specific feature, right? These are important information, data that I want to know about, you know, the performance of the business and so that’s one aspect, but then as a business unit, and we’re a software company

(continued) that helps our customers modernize their data, one of the most exciting areas that I love is around the area of data intelligence. And so we help our customers understanding how data travels through the organization from start to finish; from the time it gets created, as it travels to different databases, and ETL scripts, and transformations, and warehouses and BI reports, and we help customers understand that trajectory, we call that data lineage. And that’s an extraordinarily exciting area for me on how we build that software and then help our customers take advantage of that to understand where their data came from inside their company.

SHANNON: That’s great. I really like that. You know, and I love that you mentioned earlier too, that, you know, we’re using data in our daily lives, not just at work. So whether we know it or not.

(continued) It’s everywhere.

(continued) So do you see the importance of data management and the number of jobs working with data increasing or decreasing over the next 10 years? And why?

CHRIS: I mean, I might be biased, because I love data, but I think it’s gonna go up into the right, there’s, you know, and, and maybe my rationale for that, Shannon, is probably that there’s so much data getting generated, and a lot of that data is messy data. And so what you want to find out is, you know, what’s the–what’s the signal within that mess of data. So we want to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. And in order to improve the signal to noise ratio, you want to have more intelligent people looking at all the data. And you know, we certainly probably can’t get through the podcast without talking about AI. But you know, AI will certainly have a part in improving the quality of data, but I think the massive amount of data, the increase of what’s happening in the data space, makes it interesting. And so again, if you’re a curious individual, technical, want to analyze data look for insights, I think with the massive increase in data that’s happening, that’s just generated out of all the systems that are collecting data, generating data, analyzing data, I think there’s going to be more data jobs over time than there are today, over the coming 10 or 20 years.

SHANNON: Ugh I love it. So what advice then would you give to people looking to get into a career in Data Management; either in the broad scheme of things, because it’s a very broad scope of data management, but or it to a specific data job?

CHRIS: Yeah. Well, I think there’s data everywhere you go, whether you’re, you know, at home or in the workplace, and my advice to people is roll up your sleeves and dig in. And so if you’ve got that curiosity factor, if you want to get into the data business, get familiar with Microsoft Excel, as a starting point, pull up a spreadsheet from your business, ask around, find that data, and dig in and start looking at the trends, and the patterns, and what’s happening with the business, or what’s happening with the numbers, or what’s happening with the data inside your enterprise, and ask questions, be curious, do analysis. And as you go through that process, you’re going to build a set of insights on what you believe is happening with the business or the data. And that insight is something that’s valuable. And so as you

(continued) essentially create that insight, and you share that insight(s) with high reps within the organization, those insights will be valuable and well received from others. And I think from there, it’s off to the races, and you’re gonna find yourself having a job for life in the analyzing data.

SHANNON: Oh, I love that. So that sounds like you know, anywhere you are, you can just start really being aware of what data you’re creating, what data you’re using, and start asking and use that curiosity to find out what other people are using to build those insights. So you don’t even have to have data in your job title to start a career in Data Management.

CHRIS: That’s right. No, I think there’s so many jobs now that are

(continued) related to data whether that’s an analyst, business analyst, a data analyst, a

(continued) you know, business operations, there’s most titles

(continued) in the in the in the in corporations today, you’re touching

(continued) analyzing data. And you know, we have these amazing conversations inside our company on a regular basis that says, “Well, you know, marketing has some data people, and it has some data people and business units and sales and HR,” and everybody is hiring people that are interesting,interested in data. They have

(continued) some technical skills and data analysis. And they’re looking to build insights and understanding from the data that’s there. And so we say, well, how can we connect the individuals across the company, create communities of practice, have them share insights with one another, in addition to the higher levels of management? And so there’s really just an ongoing trend of data, because again, going back to the explosion of data, and you want to understand, what’s the signal, what’s the message, what’s the narrative at the end of the day that’s happening. If you understand the business and what trajectory the business is going into, you need people to really spend the time to pay attention to the details of what’s happening in the business, and that’s where the data analysis comes in. And I think it’s just a great opportunity for everybody to roll up their sleeves there.

SHANNON: I love it. So and, Chris, when you’re hiring for your team, you know, who are working with customers and their data and is there a specific skill set that you’re looking for? It’s what is–what is it that you look for when you’re?

Well, I think there’s probably a couple of skill sets that I’ve probably already mentioned, and then maybe a new one that I’ll throw in. I think that curiosity is really important. I think the analytical skills are critical, right? So you have to want to know, answers, right? And you have to ask questions and ask questions on a regular basis, you have to have the technical knowledge to play with the data and to understand what the data means. But then I think people skills are also really important, and that might be surprising, I think, in the type of data job. But the question is, what do you do with that data? Once it comes out of the database, once you’ve analyzed it, once you’ve figured out some things? Well, you need to not sit on that data and put it into a chat box, you need to call people, you need to talk to other people in different organizations, and you need to feed on that curiosity. And if you’re a data analyst in sales, and you see something that marketing or

(continued) operations, or it might want to know about, you need to communicate with those other individuals. And so I think those people skills, interaction and that curiosity factor, combined with the analytical skills are probably the top three things that I think are important in a data job.

SHANNON: AhI love it, such great advice, and you’re right, people skills are so important. Communication is so important. We forget that sometimes when working with numbers. (laughs)

(continued) Just wanna get lost in the data. I have done that myself many a time.

(continued) Well, Chris, thank you, I want it. So I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, you know, if somebody wanted to solicit the services of Rocket Software, where would they go? How would they find you?

CHRIS: The best place to go is Rocket Software dot com. And we’ve got a wonderful new website, a great new branding and logo that we’re really proud of. We’ve been sponsoring the rock–the Boston Red Sox recently, which is really fun.

(continued) You wouldn’t believe how much data is in baseball. I mean, that’s a new, interesting thing that some of the data folks at our company have been talking to me about so that’s a really interesting part of the overall story.

(continued) Rocket Software We welcome you to come take a look.

SHANNON: Oh, what a fun way to play with data, too, because you’re right, so many stats in baseball. So many. So then the Red–Red Sox. Is that your favorite team?

CHRIS: Yeah, as a Bostonian, Red Sox.

SHANNON: You have to be–diehard. (laughs)

CHRIS: And the Celtics. Absolutely.

SHANNON: Is it, I think it’s a city law. Right? (laughs)

CHRIS: I think so. I mean, you really it’s–it’s you’re not very welcome in Boston if you’re not a local fan.

SHANNON: I know Boston Red Sox fans here in Oregon who are just still so very diehard, it’s great. I love it. It’s a great community. Well, Chris, thank you so much! Anything else you want to add?

CHRIS: It’s really been a pleasure to be on the podcast, Shannon, I really appreciate it,

(continued) a great conversation, I just wish there would be many more folks in the–in the data type of roles, because there’s so much of it, and we just need all the insights we can get, and it’s a lot of fun. And so I really encourage anybody that’s interested to roll up their sleeves and dig in.

SHANNON: I love it. Great advice, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

CHRIS: Right.

SHANNON: And to all of our listeners out there, if you’d like to keep up-to-date in the latest podcasts and the latest in Data Management Education, you may go to DATAVERSITY dot net forward slash subscribe. Until next time, stay curious, everyone!

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