How I Went from Engineering to Advertising to Finance to InterWorks Analytics Consultant

Culture

How I Went from Engineering to Advertising to Finance to InterWorks Analytics Consultant

"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.

At a glance, the title of this post might make it seem like I was jumping around before InterWorks. I had a freshly earned electrical engineering degree in one hand, my left foot had barely pivoted from completing a marketing analytics internship at one of the biggest advertising agencies in Chicago, and my right foot was stepping into the world of corporate finance journalism at Bloomberg in New York City.

On paper, it really did look like I was all over the place. Below the surface, however, each of these seemingly erratic leaps of faith had one thing in common: my itch to follow a rapidly evolving interest in data.

The Lesser-Known Applications of Engineering

At first, I didn’t know it was data I was interested in. I’d never heard of data science or predictive analytics. I figured analytics was something done by guys locked away like Rapunzel in a skyrise cubicle, gaining corporate elevation because they’d made too much money to still live in their mom’s basement.

So, the way I saw it, I wasn’t analyzing data; I was solving a problem by analyzing signals. I was working on my engineering capstone project, developing a piece of software to detect an insect mating duet. Yep, you read that correctly. An insect mating duet – and I had a front row seat to the action.

As eager as you may be to hear about the mating rituals of insects, I’ll try to not distract from the main story here. After a lengthy stretch of failing miserably, my team and I got the algorithm working. It actually worked really well, and I was disappointed it was over. That got me thinking that perhaps I should find some more signals to detect. Ultimately, that’s how marketing analytics entered my life.

Changing Directions

If the sound of two lonely insects, broadcasting themselves desperately into the dark void of the night, could be reliably detected, then could that success be translated to detecting consumer purchasing patterns? The answer to that question was yes, which pretty much sealed the deal on where I wanted to go next. It wasn’t long before I was diving head first into an MBA program with an emphasis in marketing analytics.

After getting a taste for database marketing and direct mail campaigns as an optimization analyst intern in Chicago one summer, I realized I wanted to try a different angle of attack. I had been building dashboards in Excel, pulling data from client databases and developing narratives for various brand managers. Something was missing for me. I had an itch to feel the rush of making something new and exciting once again, and I wanted it to be more than a glorified spreadsheet.

Hello, Big Finance!

While working on my MBA, my assistantship provided many opportunities to network with a number of Bloomberg professionals, providing me with a unique opportunity to step into the world of corporate finance journalism upon graduation. One of my responsibilities in school had been to teach other students how to use Bloomberg terminals, and I was intrigued by the prospect of squeezing all sorts of information from their endless abyss of financial data.

Bloomberg offered me an internship in Manhattan working with the corporate finance reporting team, and I didn’t hesitate. I was ecstatic, ready to bend the corporate debt markets to my analytical will.

NY winter

Above: Walking through NY during one of the coldest winters in decades.

That’s not quite how things played out. My days were packed full of cataloging daily bond deals as well as the ups and downs of the high-yield bond market, lovingly referred to in the industry as “junk” debt. I was learning a ton of new information, and it was all interesting to me, but it wasn’t long before I felt a familiar itch. Once again, I felt compelled to escape the Excel spreadsheets and get back to pursuing the variety of data analysis that had captivated me in the first place.

I started searching for companies that were doing what I considered to be interesting and innovative things with data analysis. Having worked at a creative advertising agency where analysts weren’t positioned at the top of the food chain, I knew I wanted to be in an environment where data-driven work was a top priority rather than an afterthought.

Company culture and work/life balance was important to me, too. In Manhattan, one of the guys who sat next to me spent a total of five hours a day commuting to and from the office, on top of a minimum of ten hours at the desk. He had a young girl at home, and in my opinion, it was heartbreaking to know that he was watching an inert picture on his desk rather than soaking in the pleasure of seeing his daughter grow up. I didn’t want to wake up in five years to be in the same shoes as that coworker.

Finding My Unicorn

One of the companies that caught my eye seemed to be a long shot, like an unattainable unicorn that would disappear if I dared to reach out and touch it. Whereas other companies introduced their team with portraits full of suits and ties, this one had pictures of people being themselves out in the woods hiking with their kids, or surrounded by their nerdy hobbies. Where I would normally find stuffy, yawn-inducing corporate literature about mission statements and shareholder value, I was inspired by stories about real people pursuing their passions while building authentic two-way relationships with their clients.

The cherry on top?

They were playing ping pong and shooting pool in the office, while winning awards and overwhelming loyalty from their business partners. It was too good to be true. I sent in an application, not knowing if or when I’d hear back.

Pre-interview

Above: Right before my interview with InterWorks.

When I saw the email from InterWorks in my inbox, I had to do a Google search to make sure it wasn’t a documented scam. These people wanted to talk to me? They wanted me to come play pool in their office? To work as an analytics consultant, doing more than just moving numbers around on a spreadsheet? I progressed through the interview process, exploring whether or not we were a good fit for each other.

My Time at InterWorks Thus Far

It’s been over a year since I joined the InterWorks team as an analytics consultant. As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane coming home from a work adventure in Singapore. I’ve been to Costa Rica, Mexico, all over the United States, and I’ve helped people from nearly every industry work with their data.

Olympic Walk Singapore

Above: The Olympic Walk in Singapore. I trained for a half marathon here while working.

Helping people solve their problems is the best part of my work. I’ve had jobs where unanswered questions kept me up at night, and not in a good way. These days, if I’m staying up into the night working it’s because I don’t want to stop. It’s a game changer when you realize you’re surrounded by people who share that same feeling.

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More About the Author

Elliott Stam

Analytics Consultant
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