Math to Marketing: An Unexpected Journey

As a kid, I certainly wasn’t any good at math, or so I thought.  I actually struggled with math until my last two years of high school when it suddenly all clicked.  Why?  Well because I had heeded the advice of a senior classmate who said, “you have to practice, and then do it again and again.”  She was right.  And as it turns out, so was my math teacher.  I started “getting it’, and my math scores soared.  So, when my math teacher (thank you Mr. Lehman), told me I could do anything with math including being an engineer, he opened my mind to new possibilities.   I quickly applied to San Jose State University as a math major, since it was late in the application process and I needed to land somewhere.  As an aside, I was also accepted as a EE at Santa Clara University, but could not go (that’s a story for another day).

So, math it was.  And math launched me to where I am today –  a senior executive in marketing.  The career journey to today was not one I could anticipate, predict, plan, or even dream of.  It just happened.  One step at a time – in a very unexpected journey.

I graduated from SJSU in 3 years with a BA in Math and a concentration in Computer Science. I thought I would do something with math, like teach, but my math buddies and professors quickly sent me to the Career Fair, and it was there that I met with numerous companies that wanted me as a software developer.   A whole new world of possibilities opened up for me.

I developed code for nearly 6 years at the beginning of my career, and loved every minute of it.  It was fun, rewarding and very satisfying to piece to together software to solve problems.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  One thing I did do when I started at the then “up start”, Sun Microsystems, was to develop 3D demos to showoff the capabilities of the new 3D graphics workstations.  I thrived in the environment and was more than happy and proud to show potential customers the new systems.  I was quickly noticed by some very smart marketing people as a potential new recruit into marketing.  My initial reaction: “marketing!  You got to be kidding me!  I’m never going into marketing!!! I’m an engineer!”   Well, they convinced me that I should try out technical marketing, so I figured why not?. One thing led to another and I went from writing code, to writing whitepapers, to writing PRDs, MRDs, and launching new products, new ideas into the market.

I rose quickly, and moved fast through an organization that encouraged diversity of ideas and skills.  From workstations to servers to software, I managed to always increase my knowledge, solve new challenges and make a difference.  I thrived in an environment that valued creativity and content knowledge and didn’t hold anyone back.  I was fortunate enough to work with some of the  smartest people on the planet and started marketing new technologies and innovations coming out of the CTO organization:  including Jini and JXTA technologies.  I worked closely with distinguished engineers on open sourcing these technologies to gain adoption, build communities, participate in new ecosystems, and drive our thought leadership even further.

Then came Java Marketing – oh what a ride!  The software leaders trusted me to help Java reach even further and we created java.net (an open collaborative site for all things Java), java.com (a massive consumer touchpoint to get Java), refresh the brand itself, monetize it and ultimately open source it.  From there I was tapped to head up corporate marketing for Sun.  Brand, advertising, global communications, everything to drive the brand reputation and deliver results for the business.  It was fantastic!  The journey at Sun ended roughly 5 years ago when Oracle acquired Sun.   It was had been an amazing ride with an amazing company.    An unexpected journey for not only me, but everyone that was there.  So, now 5 years later, and after having held several CMO and senior marketing positions, I still get the question….. math to marketing?  How, why?

Let me try to answer with three simple thoughts:

Reasoning

Math taught me to think through problems methodically.  Math also taught me to be creative in my approach to solving a problem.  Math taught me to see the beauty in the answer.  Math made my heart soar as a very complex problem unfolded into a simple answer.  The ceaseless step-by-step approach to solving problems has lent itself unbelievably well in all of my roles as a marketer. A marketer must be relentless in thinking through problems.  See all sides of a challenge and turn it into opportunity.  A marketer needs to be disciplined and drive for a conclusion.  Approaching marketing whether it is a brand reputation challenge, rising to the task of digitizing marketing, or measuring the ROI of marketing, is very similar to approaching a math problem.  And the results will make your heart sing.

Numbers!

Marketing is a blend of art and science, but it is a business!  When it comes to marketing, numbers matter.  The entire customer engagement model can now be measured, refined, analyzed at every step.  It is important for a marketer to understand the model and to determine the next path forward.  ROI of every marketing activity, program, campaign, etc can and should be analyzed.  Helping the company make their number by using marketing to drive business outcomes is an imperative.  Numbers have never mattered more to a marketing person than they do today.  Math people love numbers, love them!

Creativity

Engineers, scientists, mathematicians are creative!  They are artists of a different kind.  They invent what is next in the world.  They are the creators of the future.  They dabble in music, photography, painting, creative writing on the side.  They use their skills and their discipline to look at the world differently, to think of new ideas and to dream big.  They always have to take that step back to see the bigger picture.  And then have to use every angle to solve a problem, create or design something new.    Marketing needs that creativity to think different, to distinguish a product or technology and to create new ways to go to market.   Creativity is at the core of marketing, and I would argue creativity is at the core of math and engineering.

So, this unexpected journey from math to marketing, was not so unexpected.  It now all makes complete and total sense.

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