Information, the ability to turn it into something meaningful, and the methods used to improve understanding of the previously unknown, have fascinated me since a very early age. A passion for learning has fully defined who I am and has been a constant motivational force throughout my career.
Let me tell you, I learned to read at a very early age and spent a good part of my childhood mesmerized by the new worlds I could access through books. As a child, I had big dreams that were not limited to the obvious opportunities available to a girl born in a small town, in a third world country, to parents with somewhat limited educational opportunities. My parents, however, clearly understood the value of education and of exposure to new knowledge, and instilled in me the passion for never stopping learning and always going after my dreams.
In the early 80s, I became the happy owner of a Commodore 64, later upgraded to a Commodore 128, and my destiny was sealed. When the time came to choose a university major it was only natural to gravitate to Computer and Systems Engineering, given my interest in programming, logic, and reasoning. As a requisite for graduation to receive my Systems Engineering diploma, I wrote an Artificial Intelligence thesis called “A Deductive Approach to the Synthesis of Computer Programs”, which used LISP language to automatically generate computer code based on a mathematical specification. Those were the times when PCs came with a 20 MB hard disk, but my PC did not even have one. I had to continuously swap floppy disks in and out to interpret or compile the code. Those were fun times!
As I started working in an IT department after graduation, I started to get more curious about the business side. To get a better understanding of the business world, I got an MBA while working as an assistant to professors in the Economics and MIS departments. Once I had my MBA I spent over 15 years working for organizations like Informix Software, IBM, Microsoft, and Citrix, mostly in regional and global sales and marketing roles.
I also began a different, and very important phase in my life: becoming a mother to my 3 children. Later on, inspired by technology developments and my passion for learning, I decided to start my own ecommerce business commercializing educational toys for discovery and development of children’s multiple intelligences. I gave special emphasis to smart toys for girls as most of the fun and challenging toys were marketed exclusively to boys. This gave me an opportunity to teach myself the intricacies of e-commerce, search engine optimization, internet marketing, the use of social networks for business purposes and web analytics. Many organizations these days are struggling with their digital transformation, so for me, this was an amazing opportunity to transform my skills and learn from scratch what it took to build a business leveraging digital channels while some of these technologies were at a very early stage and I could practically grow with them.
But life doesn’t stand still and we have to keep going no matter what, right? Amazon started selling all the products I sold, shipping them for free through prime and I could no longer compete. At the same time, our family relocated to North Carolina, which gave me an opportunity to define my next career step. It turned out to be a perfect time to improve my educational foundation again, focusing on something that I loved and that I considered very close to my interests and abilities: analytics. At the time there was only one school in the country preparing Data Scientists at the Master level, they had been doing it for several years, and they were excellent at it. What school was that? NC State University and, fortunately, we had just moved to North Carolina.
Serendipity is a magical thing, you know. Getting my Master of Science in Analytics at NC State was one of the best decisions of my life. I acquired skills that gave me a whole new appreciation for data, for how data can be used for the benefit of better decision making and for the creation of new products and services, and overall for how to pursue the holy grail of turning data into competitive advantage.
After graduation, I spent about 3 years in the startup world as VP of Marketing and Analytics and interim co-CEO for a local startup, and as a founder of an analytics firm (Dashlytics) where I offered services helping organizations optimize their business, product, and marketing strategies by analyzing social media data and turning it into insight that would enrich existing strategies.
In 2015, I returned to IBM motivated by their work with 2 of the most exciting technologies of the last few years: Apache Spark and the Watson APIs, which together are a very powerful combination for turning data into competitive advantage. I am now also pursuing a Strategic Management Graduate Certificate at Harvard Extension School as I believe this combination of technology, business, data science, and strategy knowledge can further empower my natural skill as a dot connector. Today’s world and business challenges do not belong to a single dimension. They are multi-dimensional in nature and it is through multi-dimensional skills that we as a society will better prepare to address them. Analytics will power the future and I am excited to make it part of my personal journey as well!
Meet Ana Maria Echeverri: An Avid Reader, Dot Connector, and Mom to 3 Fantastic kids