“I am the best wiffle ball pitcher ever,” Cognius Data Analyst Noah Olenchek jokes as he reflects back on his time at Boston College. “Okay, well, maybe not ‘the best ever,’ but I did pitch every inning of our BC intramural wiffle ball championship of 2015,” he laughs as he describes the mugs his team won.
Noah graduated the same year as his wiffle ball championship title with a B.S. in Mathematics and a B.A. in Economics. In addition to a few other intramural sports (basketball, soccer, dodge ball, football), he spent a lot of time working in BC Dining Services and volunteering as a Peer Leadership Consultant. To this day, he is adamant that Stuart is the best BC Dining Hall.
Noah grew up all over the U.S.- Northeast, South, Midwest. As a result, he has ended up a Green Bay Packers fan, and with a job working in the Boston finance world right after college. He considers one of his most important professional achievements determining that he didn’t want to stay there.
“I had been working at State Street right out of BC… It was fine, but the work wasn’t necessarily creative. I had plenty of opportunity in my math classes to attack a problem in different ways: Here’s a result, try to prove it. You have tools to do it, but you also have a lot of freedom to figure it out.” That kind of freedom wasn’t quite as apparent in a environment as structured as banking, so once he figured that out, he began searching for other opportunities. Noah chatted with his good friend and roommate Philippe Syz (also BC ‘15) who suggested Cognius.
Cognius is a 3-year-old online media/marketing company, specializing in email engagement. Noah uses a lot of the analytical skills he learned in college to oversee the content of said emails. Since transitioning to Cognius this past June, Noah’s day-to-day now consists of a lot of programming, confidence intervals, and variable variation.
His favorite part?: “The decisions I make every day can have a direct effect on how much money we make. Having that responsibility, and when it works out, is really cool.”
His biggest challenge is prioritization on which projects can he work on to make the company the most money. Generating new ideas, designing fair tests of those ideas, and determining the proper reaction to test results are together the bulk of his work. Recognizing that a test has failed and moving on from it can be frustrating, but is essential to moving the company forward.
The ability to examine a problem from all angles is deeply ingrained in the liberal arts education and Jesuit ideology. Noah’s thankful for the skill set his BC education gave him. Sometimes he will work out a conclusion for a project that he thinks will make his clients the most amount of money, and then realize he forgot a variable and go back to rework it. Noah thanks his time as a math major for his ability to present his findings logically and to anticipate scrutinizing questions about his work.
Another responsibility Noah has in his new job is screening resumes. So what advice does Noah have for anyone wanting to work in a similar role?
- We highly value analytical thinking. In my own career, my math degree was very helpful for that. I wouldn’t say I necessarily use a ton of things directly from class, except maybe my Linear Programming class (Math), and Statistics (Econ).
- The things we look for for data analyst is that you demonstrate your ability for analytical thinking on your resume: gathering data, answering questions, etc. One of the most important questions in our interview screening is to ask the interviewee to run us through an entire analytical project they’ve done in school or work or life. For example, I did a Financial Econometrics project where I studied changes in baseball attendance year over year. We look for a detailed answer about what the candidate was testing, the data they collected, the conclusions they reached, and what they would have done differently. There are plenty of opportunities to gain this kind of experience at BC, and not just for math and econ majors. If you’re interested in becoming a data analyst, get yourself involved with a data project, and be able to explain it to others
- Find the right workplace fit. I would think seriously about what you like about your classes. Because what I didn’t realize or think about enough (before I joined Cognius) was why I liked my math classes: I liked them because I had the chance to be creative and tackle problems that did not necessarily have a procedural answer. Whatever you find enjoyable about going to BC, try to find a job that has those elements.