Data Analytics as a Stand-in for Life

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Living alone for the first time is hard enough.  Living alone for the first time, working 40 hours a week in an industry you’ve barely touched – data analytics (as a likely English major) – that’s a little harder.

But like most Davidson students, I like a good challenge. Had I been flushed down a vapid, unstimulating internship with little to do except get coffee for my boss, I might have exploded.  That’s why it’s so fortunate that my stint so far at Stratifyd Inc. has been nothing short of eye-opening.  So new is this upstart startup in the lanky suburbs of South Charlotte that I was treated just like a full-time employee.  I was constantly pulled into meetings with senior executives, grafted with something only heard in college-student legends, perhaps in whispers or rumors but rarely ever documented – real responsibility.  It is this blessed “real responsibility” that has defined my tenure here at Stratifyd, and something that, now that I have it, I never want to let go.

Learning (and Selling) Signals

First of all, a little background on the industry: I’m working in a field so new that if you work in it you’re either at IBM or a startup.  Stratifyd competes in the tech field of Business Intelligence, a subset of Big Data that focuses on making the transformation from data to actionable insights ever-faster.  There are companies that help clients gather data, and then there are companies that help them act on it.  Stratifyd exists in that in-between that analyzes data to the point where you can act on it.  Our flagship service, Signals, takes clients’ unstructured, raw textual data – whether in the form of Yelp reviews, chatroom data, tweets, or even crime reports – and automatically analyzes all of it to determine what people are saying, how they’re saying it, and where they’re coming from.  It’s a powerful engine, but it comes with the typical startup pitfalls, including game-breaking glitches that have sometimes led me to question theodicy. And yet I have to keep using it, keep trudging in its imperfect mud.

Kenny Xu '19 in front of Stratifyd marketing poster

Kenny Xu ’19 on the job as Marketing Intern at Stratifyd

As Stratifyd’s Marketing Intern, my responsibility is to produce content and use social media to promote my company’s brand and get customers, working through – but not getting stuck in – that occasional mud of technical difficulty. I have to sell my company’s attributes, its services, its strengths, even on days like the one a few weeks ago when our CEO had to stand up all day because we ran out of chairs.

But it’s self-sacrifice like the CEO’s example that defines the company culture and that keeps us going.  The computer science guys frequently pull all-nighters to get the platform up in time for the launch party of our newest update.  The executives have to bring them lunch because they’re working so hard.  And all the while, the marketing team works to sell this thing, bugs and all.

Don’t get me wrong – bugs don’t mean an inferior product, especially in this industry. Our service is so new and so revolutionary, it is bound to have bugs. And a company so new and revolutionary needs to squeeze out every last ounce of its talent that it can.  That’s why, since I quickly established myself a highly competent writer, I have been given jobs that stretched me far and wide past my job description.  I discuss marketing and sales strategy with the executive VP of sales, Brad, and create promotional materials from our talks.  I lobbied the Head of Marketing, Alan (who also hired me), to change the format of our blog.  I even created the Stratifyd Wikipedia page.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Workplace Happiness

This business experience has expanded my horizons and my understanding of my own abilities and potential. I’ve never had an experience like the one I’m currently having at Stratifyd.  My fear, however, is that I will never have one like it again.  I fear that this kind of organizational freedom, flexibility, and responsibility will never come to me again as I’m sucked into the office politics of big corporations and forced under the tax mill of big government.  I’ve always been a freedom-loving person, and the liberty afforded to me here at Stratifyd, combined with the independence offered to me by Davidson, may have spoiled me for the real world.

And yet I know it’s coming – the deduction from my check I see going to Uncle Sam now only forebodes the future bureaucratic nightmares to come.  So while I may enjoy my time here at Stratifyd, I enjoy it with caution, careful not to take it for granted, and careful to build the kinds of relationships that I hope will land me in a similar job when I’m out of college and have to really take it up on my own. I am so thankful to the Davidson College Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative for connecting me with this internship.

“At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own.” – Lord Acton (perhaps in a slightly different context than my own but with equal truth value)

 

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About Author

Kenny Xu '19

Kenny Xu '19 is an English major from Princeton, NJ, and is a William H. Terry Fellow. This summer, he is working at Stratifyd as part of Davidson's Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation Internship program.

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