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The Problem with Algorithms


May 15, 2018 - 6 Comments

Two year olds operate with a rather unique set of algorithms. Which is to say that they don’t follow the rules we adults have calculated for safety.

One Friday morning, my tiny human leapt off of the couch and for a brief millisecond, all systems stopped; heartbeat, breathing, digestion. My panicked instincts and trained reflexes rushed to save her while graphically portraying an infinite amount of calculations like trajectories, force-velocities, probabilities, and air resistance on how this situation might play out. Logic would conclude that jumping off the sofa isn’t a good idea.

She landed with a loud thud on both feet, and as my terrified eyes met hers – I saw she was gleaming at her new trick. A smile grew upon her sweet face as she broke into gleeful laughter. She stood up, dusted herself off, and clambered up the sofa again with smooth, childish grace and proceeded to repeat the performance. Again. And again. And again.

If only children had algorithms,” I thought. Being able to predict them, like I do my work, might make life a little more…relaxing.

At Cisco, I lead a team of analytics experts who methodically predict the “future” for Cisco sales. Which is to say that my job is to build a crystal ball; and cracking it open is my passion.

While translating 0s and 1s into digestive intelligence biscuits, we build models and tools and run statistics and algorithms to help the business better navigate the murky waters of the data underworld. Now and then we even come up with pretty analytics cupcakes. But mostly we arm the Sales team with the insights needed to bring in the bread, butter, cream, and steaks.

When it comes to data science and advanced analytics, it’s all about patterns. There is always a pattern to the way data behaves. If we can catch that, we can ride on its predictability to harness a glimpse into the future of our business.

Sometimes, it’s even in our nature to take risks – to go against the algorithm – to defy what the conclusion might’ve previously been – to see where it will take us next. Perhaps these uncharted territories are where success lies? It’s often in these moments where we get a gut feeling that tells us to trust our instincts. Yet many of us tend to shut it out in favor of proof, familiarity and remaining in our comfort zone. Why?

The rule of today’s working world is to be physically present in the office for the sake of innovation, collaboration and effectiveness. When even some of the other big players in our space are calling their employees back to the office, Cisco still maintains our strong telecommuting practice. Why?

If algorithms follow trends, patterns and behavior, then most likely it will point us to joining the great masses instead of being the outlier. But, sometimes the risk is worth the reward, and when you see how incredible Cisco is at innovating and collaborating BECAUSE of our technology? Well, it only makes sense for us to go against the algorithm here. Why join the crowd when we can stand out on our own?

Over the last couple of years my team has had reasonable success delving into analytics. Working diligently behind the scenes, we helped power the engines that drive decision-making. Not many people can say that they have the job of their dreams. I can. I am one of the luckiest people in the world because I work here at Cisco, right now.

And I get to do this while being able to watch my babies achieve their developmental milestones. (Yes, risky couch jumps and all)

This is all possible because Cisco trusts its employees and goes above and beyond to provide the best work environment, be it in the office or at home, to produce the best results. It’s not about fulfilling our quota of work hours but about delivering results. This amazing flexibility and trust is what keep my team and me motivated and fueled to work harder and reach higher. To go above and beyond, and to treat Cisco business like our own business.

If going against the rules is not the best algorithm ever, I don’t know what is. And that is how my daughter taught me that there’s fun to be had in the risk.

Changing the world, one byte at a time.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Feel so proud to be in this team! I love Cisco and love this team!

  2. Unlearning is key to Innovation

    • That is so true Anil! We have a lot to learn about unlearning!

    • That is so true Anil! We have a lot to learn about unlearning!

  3. like

  4. love! one byte at a time