Nish Parekh, 29, leads IBM’s client and partner program teaching businesses how to use Watson technology. Here’s how she got this cool job:
At first, I wanted to be a doctor. But I realized that I love the business world, so I majored in finance with a minor in biology. After college I did pharmaceutical sales. But I wanted to learn a bit of more of the technical side, so I went to work for an electronic medical record company (EMR). That’s where I spent the majority of my mid-twenties, focusing on how to get hospitals up and running [using their services]. I worked on the pharmacy side, creating a pharmacy product for the company and launching it in the market.
Some of my work at the EMR company was in detention centers and jails, figuring out the best way to get medicine to inmates. My job was to go in and say, “Let’s figure out how to get the pharmacy to run more efficiently so that we can get the medication to the right inmates.” To figure these things out, it took thinking about all the different steps and strategy behind it to make sure the inmates were safe and also getting the medication they needed.
With the EMR job, we launched a brand-new product. It went to many different markets, including government-sponsored hospitals, private hospitals, and international markets. It was great experience to launch and kick-start and figure out how to get the product out. I got this IBM job because a friend reached out to me and said that IBM was starting a technical team that’s built around the partnership program for Watson. I always loved technology–even at the EMR job I used it to create the new program. So I put my resume together and shot it out to him.
Even when it wasn’t necessarily AI, I always wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology. With Watson, I could become familiar with the technology just by exploring the developer cloud online. You see it all there, you see all the different APIs (application program interfaces), you see demos to each of the APIs. The nice thing about where we are today is you or I could go on there right now and start playing with it. You don’t need a developer to understand the basics and use it.
My first role was to lead our technical team, so I work for the CTO for the Watson ecosystem. The mission was: Let’s build out this technical team and create an agile technical process to help consumers and developers use the technology. I did that for about a year, and then had a craving to go back into the client-facing role. So I switched over to the business side of Watson and focused on our digital agencies and created our digital agency program. It works with companies and other marketing organizations to help them help their brand create Watson-related solutions or cognitive solutions.
This role touches so many different industries. I work with companies of all sizes and help them use the Watson technology. These partners embed the technology and essentially create a product for consumers or other companies. For example, one of the companies I love talking about is Meeka. It’s a mobile app designed to help with wedding planning. They use a lot of our Watson APIs and Watson Services like dialogue–which essentially helps you have a dialogue with the consumer–natural language classifier, retrieve and rank. This all helps it act as a digital personal assistant to help you figure out your wedding plans and all the logistics behind it.
For my job at Watson, it’s about understanding there are two parts: the platform and the APIs. You can think of the APIs as building blocks or Legos–the things you put together in different ways to create products. The other half are the actual products. Separating those two buckets makes everything else a lot clearer–APIs are the building blocks to build your own solution, and there are products you can buy that you can then build on top.
While there’s certainly technology involved, my role is more on the business side with technological chops. Once a company has shown interest in it using the Watson technology and cognitive AI, I help them strategize use cases where they could leverage IBM’s technology. It requires being able to understand what an API is, and also being able to explain the technology and why they need it to a business executive.
There are companies I work with in the commerce and retail space, and another in marketing and advertising. I like that I’m learning about the sports industry, the hospitality industry, legal, etc.
The same goes for Watson. They bring in a lot of people from different parts of IBM, as well as some folks from outside IBM. Seeing the mix and all these people work together is fun. I get to learn from them.
Also, one of the greatest things about my job is the ability to stay on top of the latest and greatest technology. AI is up and coming; it’s exciting to be a part of that moment.
The very first thing to do is familiarize yourself with what AI is. That’s very important, because I truly think that AI will change the world. With that, people will say, “Oh, you get it; you get that AI is going to extend your expertise.”
Just that one nugget of information [understanding what the new technology is and how it’s changing how people do business] will open a lot of doors for you. It personally has for myself.