Majken Sander is an accomplished, global tech executive. As a solution architect, business analyst, and head of analyst relations at TimeXtender
, she is regularly called to speak at trade shows around the world.
In a recent interview with WITI, Majken spoke about how she got started in IT, along with her passion for both helping customers and speaking at international trade shows. She also shares some ideas for other women interested in tech careers or those aspiring to become industry speakers.
What's your educational background? What did you study that is related to your current work?
I majored in economics but also studied computer science. During my education, whenever I could choose between math or a second foreign language, I always chose math. Along the way, I studied soft skills for business and other related topics that I still use today, like project management, database programming, modeling, and data communications. I think that having all these items bundled up was unusual years back, but this diversification has helped me greatly throughout my IT career.
How did you become interested in data and business analytics?
I have an analytical mind and a great appreciation for math. Math has always come naturally to me when it comes to understanding concepts regarding systems, numbers, data, and patterns. I started programming at age 11 and found that easy to grasp, too. So, when I attended business school, I chose economics as a career path.
Already having a strong academic upbringing in programming and math, economics was rather easy. Economics was a pragmatic way to allow me to put my math training to work. In other words, studying economics in business school was a solid choice, as it allowed me to appreciate what all the numbers meant in the data. I studied statistics, financial transactions, and patterns, and I put them to great use by applying them to real-life situations.
For example, what patterns can we find? What does the data tell us? In the old enterprise resource planning systems, people wanted some kind of report. I was always inquisitive, asking about new scenarios about using data. Would you like to see the data in a different way or sorted in a different arrangement?
At that time, I started working with BI solutions and management information (it was not called analytics back then), including bar charts, histograms, and other types of visual data. The data usually tells a story, and by asking the right questions and framing the answers appropriately, you can learn a lot about your business, customers, trends, and the industry.
You have been involved with data science. Tell us about this field.
Years back, before data science became a designated skill set, you would see reports on paper instead of computer screens. On one end was someone writing SQL, who was often a programmer who coded the report, and on the other end was a business person, such as a finance executive asking for a report. Often times, the business person did not get what they had hoped to, but rather, what the programmer thought was appropriate based on "a gut feeling" instead of insights and solid business knowledge.
Today, data science is basically just another meaning for using data. A data scientist can ask all the questions, like: "I know you are looking for this, but have you considered this?" The data scientist possesses business and technology knowledge and therefore understands new ways to put data to use.
Data scientists are more open to predictive analytics and forecasting the future. A data scientist tries to put math and analytics behind the data to predict how something will look, as he or she is more qualified to use and leverage data in different ways. Using math and analytics leads to asking questions to help discovery clarity or discovering the right assumptions, which lead us to figure out the patterns and what they mean and could mean.
Lately, you have been talking about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the upcoming May 2018 deadline. What should companies be doing right now to prepare for GDPR?
Hopefully, they're already doing something. They need to understand their data systems and where their data resides—where it is stored, who has access, etc. This understanding means knowing who in IT and business is using the data internally, but also which external stakeholders have access, too. Who will answer questions from data consumers according to time requirements that the compliance dictates?
The company needs to have a full grasp of business processes. For example, can you just delete a customer? Some customers have the right to be "forgotten," but you might not be able to delete all customer records because some customer financial transactions require storing their data for a certain time period to adhere to tax laws. In short, you have a reason and a purpose to keep the data and need to understand this.
The other item is customer privacy. Do you store the data in some place outside the legacy system? Do you store historical data in a place where you are able to report? Do customers have unique identifiers? You need to take these steps to be compliant. Taking GDPR seriously can be a way to show you care about data, privacy, customers, and regulatory compliance. Showing you care about these things might even help a company create a competitive advantage.
You're a business analyst and solution architect at TimeXtender. Tell us more about what you do at this global, technology company.
At TimeXtender, I help customers realize what they need and then help them determine what is required for them to have a solid BI and analytics architecture for becoming more data-driven as they look for informational support in making business decisions. My job means not only solving today's challenges but having a BI and analytics environment that will help them solve issues for years to come. Solving these issues now is the idea of building something that is prepared for the future.
Companies are in different stages, life cycles, and maturity, and they use data in various ways. I help them get new ideas about how to use their data in relation to the journey they are on and where they want to go on their way to better and stronger BI and analytics.
My job is about building a system with the right architecture. I provide information to help them build a solution to find more data and to open their eyes to using their data in new ways. In short, helping them find greater business value out of their data is what it all boils down to.
How did you get started speaking at technology trade shows? If a woman in technology wanted to start speaking, what steps should she take?
I attended shows and conferences years back, listened to speakers, and sometimes disagreed with some of the things that the speakers said. I also noticed that some topics were left untouched or uncovered.
I started asking questions and speaking with people. I recall being at one conference that I was attending and asking a couple of speakers why they didn't cover a particular topic. They introduced me to the conference chair, and encouraged me to write down what was missing from the review. Writing these things down put me on a path toward becoming a show presenter.
I then started to create abstracts for the call for papers on topics that I wanted the answers to and that I thought would be beneficial to share with others. I began submitting these abstracts and networking, and I eventually started speaking on topics that I learned from working with customers and sharing my experience from being in the field for many years.
Many of my presentations included insights from customers, best practices, pitfalls to avoid, and lessons learned, and suffice to say, audiences that were eager for this information generally received them very well. I kept growing my background and experience, and that helped, too. Once you've presented a couple times, it gets easier. At the end of the day, it's about business value.
For a woman interested in speaking, I would say, "Go for it!" Just make the move. Begin by networking and submitting abstracts. Search for calls for papers and proposals and get on email lists for conferences that are looking for speakers. Use social media to network and promote yourself, and research what conferences people are speaking at. Develop something to share. Watch other people's presentations on the internet, or attend some events and learn from them. Study the person and the presentations. You will get rejected for your efforts but that is okay—keep striving. Offer something unique and have fun with it.
Any closing advice you would give a young girl interested in technology, information technology, engineering, or computer science?
Pay little attention to what is commonly referred to as the "gender gap," and just work hard to try and reach your goals. Go for STEM/tech as heavy as you can handle—engineering, computer science, and the like. It's much easier to get noticed by gaining advanced skills and training rather than taking a lighter load and trying to simply break in.
Feed your inner geek, if you have one, and share it with the world. Also, develop a deep understanding of words and communication skills. Learn how to write, develop presentations, speak in front of groups, and share ideas and business values. These are all valuable skills for any company.