In our Centered on Your Success blog series, get to know our experts and how they measure success for clients. In this installment, meet Jeremy Gruenwald.
What’s your story?
My two main interests have always been music and technology – I’ve always sort of split my time and attention between those two areas (when not distracted by a dozen other hobbies). In college, I studied to be a music teacher and worked in the computer labs as my part-time job. After college, I started out as a music teacher and then, to supplement income, ended up doing IT and desktop support, too.
Around the time my oldest daughter was born, I decided to move fully into the tech industry and went back to school for computer science on nights and weekends while taking care of her during the day. There’s a lot of overlap between musicians and people in tech, so I found myself in good company in the technology space.
From there, I spent the first dozen years of my career as a full stack .Net developer, working my way up to architect. About seven years ago, I made another career pivot and decided to pursue consulting for the educational opportunities it offered, and I’ve been with Centric since.
When I first started in consulting, I ended up on a project with a heavy data component and really enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve been working intensively in data and analytics. Even though I now work in the data and analytics (D&A) space, I still make time for music as part of the Centric band!
Why did you decide to become part of your field?
In the late 90s and early 2000s the internet was exploding, and programming was a very exciting place to be. What initially drew me to the tech industry was that it seemed like a place where I could use my creativity and my technical knowledge to have a fulfilling career.
As for data and analytics in particular, I had a grounding in data from my programming work, but the big pivot came with consulting. I was working as a jack of all trades on technology projects for a variety of clients, and a customer needed a data migration that ended up being significantly more complicated than what they originally described.
I ended up getting a deep education in data engineering on the job while building a dynamic data-integration system for this client – something I hadn’t done before then. We continued to get more of these data- and analytics-focused projects – I gravitated toward them and haven’t looked back.
How are you working to guide your clients to success right now?
Clients come to me with data questions and data projects, and I encourage them to think about these as strategic business-focused opportunities. Data by itself does nothing – what’s really important is the value of information to make better decisions and operate more effectively. Information is at the center of business, so when I talk to clients, I try to keep the conversation focused on what we are trying to do from a business perspective. What are we trying to accomplish, and how can we use the information that we have to get there?
What does the success of your clients mean to you?
The reason I do this job is because in all areas of my life, I enjoy using my skills and experience to help. This may make me a “bad techie,” but I’m less interested in the specific technology and more interested in helping the people I encounter and figuring out how to make them more successful and more fulfilled.
I like using technology to free people up to use their brains and creativity for more interesting things and to answer more challenging problems.
What, in your opinion, do companies need the most help with right now?
Two things come to mind here. First, the D&A space is about making the vast amount of data that organizations have usable as information. That’s why we do what we do. The explosion of data in the last several years makes it hard for companies to know where to start, and they often focus on isolated data sources and processes rather than imagining the big picture.
The second thing is that the technology supporting data has fundamentally transformed in the last five to seven years, and there’s far more flexibility and opportunity than there used to be. Data projects no longer need to be an all-or-nothing “Big Bang.” Now, data warehousing projects can be creative, flexible, incremental and shift with the needs of the business.
What do you think they should be thinking about next?
The introduction and maturation of artificial intelligence and machine learning are exciting, but people need to remember that they require a solid foundation of well-organized data and a keen focus on the real business problem at hand to work. A lot of businesses say, “we want to do AI,” but they need to first ask themselves why. What are you trying to accomplish? The tech isn’t the solution, the tech is a means to an end. Feeding bad data into a machine learning algorithm will only give you even worse information.
With the new flexibility offered by cloud data platforms, companies should remember that the same data means different things to different people – at different speeds and different levels of detail. A one-size-fits-all approach often prioritizes completeness and accuracy for financial reporting while sacrificing many opportunities for value along the way.
What are you looking forward to in your industry?
Just like how operating systems, webpages and office software have gone from complicated tools that require technical knowledge to more accessible, user-friendly tools that anyone can use – a similar shift is happening now in the data space.
There’s a big generational shift happening where tricky ideas from a few years ago are hitting their second generation, and the same good idea is now more polished and easier to use. For example, the cloud data platform Snowflake took all the best ideas from ideas from Hadoop and made them easy. Underneath their best user-friendly features, Snowflake uses many of the same techniques that Hadoop invented, but Hadoop was very difficult to use, manage and maintain. I’m excited to see the next evolution in this space bring more examples like this.
What piece of career advice keeps you passionate and purposeful?
The piece of advice that has served me best as a consultant is: Whoever you’re speaking to, whether they’re a client, a colleague, or a vendor, first ask yourself, “Where are they coming from?” Listen, and try to see things from their perspective to decide how to best help.
What do you do when you’re not guiding clients?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and teenage daughters, cooking (especially barbecue), traveling and exploring new restaurants. Some of my happiest memories come from a 2,000-mile loop we drove around the American Southwest together, visiting small towns and exploring national parks.
What’s your favorite thing to do in the Chicago area?
In the summer, there’s nothing nicer than hanging out at Millennium Park or the Art Institute campus and taking a walk along the river.