Exclusive – IBM Big Data Evangelist James Kobielus Talks Analytics and Staying Flexible

Exclusive – IBM Big Data Evangelist James Kobielus Talks Analytics and Staying Flexible

James Kobielus is an analytics industry veteran and IBM’s Big Data Evangelist where he drives thought leadership activities in big data, data science, advanced analytics, and data management. He has published several business-technology books and is a big voice in Big Data when it comes to published articles, podcasts, technology press publications and social media.

icrunchdata News speaks with analytics thought leaders to discuss their career in big data, what they are currently working on and who they are outside of technology. We spoke to James recently about his work at IBM and what his interests are outside of the data.

James, thanks for speaking with us today. Let’s get started…

You started with IBM in April 2012 and are the Big Data Evangelist and Senior Program Director working with product management and marketing teams across the big data analytics portfolio. How has your role changed and evolved over the last 3+ years?

My role has steadily deepened and broadened. I’ve taken on a significant operational responsibility in IBM Analytics’ performance management organization. I manage the technical marketing sector in IBM Big Data & Analytics Hub, which is our principal content marketing site and channel. This is our single largest content-marketing sector, spanning our portfolio from business intelligence to big data, advanced analytics, data integration, database platforms, cloud data services, and beyond. In this capacity, I direct, oversee, and manage publication of thought-leadership content on data and analytics that is authored by subject matter experts in IBM, our customers, business partners, and independent analysts and bloggers.

Just as important, I direct the amplification, promotion, and engagement of all of this fresh content (blogs, videos, infographics, slideshares, etc.) across diverse social media channels. Also, I remain one of the principal thought-leadership subject matter experts at IBM on these topics. As big data evangelist, I publish regularly in BD&A Hub, as well as in other IBM and external blogs, publications, and other channels, including InfoWorld, Dataversity, a daily LinkedIn Pulse blog, and so forth. Not just that, but I regularly speak at IBM and external events in the big data analytics industry on these topics.

You recently published an article titled Customer Segmentation: The Fine Line Between Profiling and Personalization where you discuss marketing to a customer with personalized, data-driven marketing techniques while not making customers feel profiled and lumped into a group. Where do you see personalized, data-driven marketing going in the next 5 years?

Hidden persuaders will go well beyond their traditional sphere, advertising, into every aspect of customer engagement. It won’t even feel like persuasion, but simply like your own shopping list that continues to evolve moment by moment to keep pace with the dynamic flow of your daily existence. Persuasion will be so embedded in the experience of shopping, buying, and using products that we consumers won’t even perceive it as marketing or sales. Whether one regards this new order benignly as “trusty advisors” or “devious manipulators” reflects your personal, cultural, or ideological predisposition toward the concept of hidden persuaders. More of the actual “products” we’ll all be using will in fact be online services, many of which we’ll access 24×7 through our mobile, wearable, and embedded devices (i.e., smart car, smart home, smart appliances, etc.).

The entire marketing and sales process won’t involve any direct human contact—not even an outbound call center—but rather will be driven by back-end predictive recommendation engines. These will chug away constantly and silently behind the scenes, presenting us with continuously and algorithmically personalized options so “in the ballpark” that we’ll follow those recommendations more often than not. Some people will demand full transparency into the algorithmic machinery that’s driving the discrete algorithmic persuaders that permeate their lives. But most people won’t care or bother for an audit trail. Most people will tacitly accept the presence of these persuaders as a fact of life in the 21st century.

How do you see the role of a Data Scientist changing and evolving in the next 5 years?

The data scientist will become the core application developer in this new order of things. The assets they build and maintain—big data clusters, statistical models, machine learning algorithms, and so on—are becoming the chief intellectual property that drives recommendation engines, decision automation, next best actions, and so forth within cloud, mobile, social, Internet of Things, marketing automation, and other business and consumer apps. Consequently, the data scientist is rapidly evolving away from a high-skilled R&D function performed by premium university-educated talent toward an operational function that will need to be scaled and automated to a high degree by less pricey data-center IT staff positions who’ll need to be on call 24×7. Data scientist skills will rapidly become commoditized, just as low-level programming and system administration jobs became years ago. Like it or not, data scientists will be grown in the future through trade schools, vocational education programs, and other channels that will certify large numbers of freshly minted personnel who won’t require a 4-year college degree in mathematics, statistics, or some highly statistically oriented domain specialty.

You started on Twitter @JamesKobielus in March 2008 and since then you’ve tweeted 54,900 times including one of your most recent ones, “Another ordinary Sunday pondering what to tweet. Not pondering too hard. Twitter just chugs on without me. That’s reassuring.” Define your Twitter strategy in 140 characters or less.

JK compressing expressing constantly authentically professionally personally promoting emoting joking jamming hamming around.

You earned your Masters in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison is always ranked well on ‘top cities to live in the US’ lists. How often do you get back to Madison and what are some of the biggest changes in the city since you graduated?

My wife and I left Madison in 1985, the year after we got married and earned our respective masters degrees. We’ve been back exactly once, in the late 90s, on vacation with our children. It looked much the same as it had been, but with a few new buildings. We’ve been in northern Virginia for 30 years, come September. We would have stayed in the Midwest if there’d been job opportunities at the time. We’ve never once regretted leaving. It was a nice enough place, though. My father was from Wisconsin and I still have family there and in the Chicago area. I’m from the Detroit suburbs originally. I consider myself more a Wolverine than a Badger. My undergraduate degree was from University of Michigan Ann Arbor. I grew up 25 miles east of there in Livonia.

If today, you could have a conversation with yourself on the day of your graduation, what advice would you give him?

I’ve had three graduations: high school, college, and grad school. Here’s what I’d advise younger me on each of those occasions:

High school graduation in June 1976: “You’re 17. You cannot possibly know what the job opportunities will be in your 20s, 30s, and beyond into the 21st century. So just acquire the broadest, most diverse education that you possibly can. You may very well end up making your career in a field that doesn’t yet exist doing a job using technologies that won’t be invented until several decades from now. So stay flexible.”

College graduation in May 1980: “You’re 21. You have just completed the 4 most demanding academic years of your life, as an honors student in economics at a top public university. Prepare now for several years of soul-numbing underemployment before you find the job that actually launches you onto your eventual career. It won’t be in any field that you’ve studied. Every last thing that you just learned, both in college and in K-12, will be utterly useless in your career, or incredibly important. You cannot possibly know which is which yet. So stay flexible.”

Grad school graduation in May 1984: “You’re 25. You’ve just earned a master’s in journalism that’s really quite irrelevant to your ultimate career. You didn’t need the diploma, because you had all the requisite talents practically from birth. Besides, you’re not going to become a journalist, in any strict sense, but you will become someone whose career success will depend on having a journalistic discipline as a well-published author. But you cannot possibly know what subject matter you’ll make your career writing about. In fact, you haven’t begun to acquire the knowledge base upon which your ultimate reputation in your career will depend. You’ll teach all that to yourself as you go along. So stay flexible.”

What do you wish you had more time to do outside of the office?

Do nothing.

It appears that you are very much into music. If you could only listen to three bands or musicians for the rest of your life, which three would you choose?

If my musical options were limited to just three artists, I would never listen to music again. I think it’s clear from my tweeting behavior that what gives me pleasure is a diversity of artists, genres, and styles. If I don’t have access to diverse music, I’d rather sit on my desert island and listen to tropical breezes. But if you want to know who/what I own and CURRENTLY listen to as my default comfort-music in most circumstances, here are the top three: Beatles boxset, best of Dandy Warhols, Stuart Moxham “The Huddle House.”

James, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions today!

Article written by Todd Nevins for icrunchdata News Austin, Texas USA


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About the Author
The Editorial Team at icrunchdata News covers breaking news and perspective in Data Science, Analytics, Big Data, Machine Learning and everything Technology.
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