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A Chance Encounter with School Official Leads to IBM Job

Jesus Olivera, who hails from Puerto Rico, recently received a master's degree in Data Analytics and Visualization from the Katz School of Science and Health.

By Dave DeFusco

The very act of migrating is entrepreneurial, a self-selected risk taken by an individual to better one’s circumstances. It’s a mindset that served Jesus Olivera well at the Katz School of Science and Health. Jesus, who was recently awarded a master’s degree in Data Analytics and Visualization, defied his family’s wishes to pursue a career in Puerto Rico by migrating to New York City in 2012 at the age of 22.

Jesus said plunging into a new culture gave him “strength and focus” because he not only needed to learn English, he had to adjust to the frenetic pace of the city and corporate life. “Everything you do in life requires a level of effort and hard work, so I didn’t think my experience was different from anyone else’s,” he said. When he experienced his first winter, his reaction was, he said jokingly, “What? There’s snow?”

He picked up English quickly and got a job in sales at a New York financial firm. After five years there and then three years at Madison Marquette, a commercial real estate firm where he assisted the chief financial officer with the development of the New York office budget, he realized that he was the only one in the office without a degree. He went back to school and, in 2019, obtained a bachelor’s degree in finance at State University of New York before joining Clearbrook, an advisory and consulting firm, as a business analyst in investor relations.

“I was motivated, and I knew that I was capable,” said Jesus. “But I was lucky, too, that I have had managers who have been very helpful and provided guidance. I just kept going.”

When COVID-19 hit, his work responsibilities shifted toward information technology, migrating the office to cloud computing, developing the company’s cybersecurity policy, creating an IT disaster recovery plan, automating data visualization and reporting tools, developing a data warehouse, and serving as a technical liaison with other departments.

Realizing he would benefit from additional training, Jesus began researching graduate schools. A chance encounter with a kind and attentive Katz School admissions officer at a career fair led to his enrollment in the Data Analytics and Visualization master’s program. Barely a year into his program, he was offered a job at IBM as a data scientist and engineer.

“Thanks to the data analytics master’s program, I have gained numerous technical skills that allowed me to join one of the most prestigious technology companies in the world,” he said.

Jesus helps corporate customers fill the gaps in their technology or business processes, creating proposals using data that he collects and refines, and works with data architects and scientists to create and deploy customized systems using IBM technology.

“I’m now designing and building solutions that I never thought I would,” he said. “I needed that extra level of academic experience from Katz to be able to talk about the technical side of the business at IBM with confidence.”

Of his experience at Katz, Jesus said he liked the small class sizes and that his professors were practitioners and, thus, experts in their fields. He also appreciated that the program was flexible enough to have his courses scheduled around the demands of his job at IBM and that, at the age of 32, he wasn’t the oldest student in his program. There was a seriousness of purpose to the Katz experience, he said, making teamwork with his classmates enjoyable and interactions with faculty rewarding.

When Jesus reflected recently on his journey in America, he concluded that the foundation for success is self-discipline, curiosity, a positive attitude and a commitment to one’s dreams no matter how big the obstacles. For his hard work, he was rewarded with a speaking slot at the Katz School’s recent commencement exercises.

From the podium, he paid tribute to his parents, who flew in from Puerto Rico to see their son graduate, calling them his “first role models and first teachers, their bountiful love always a source of inspiration and resilience in the face of adversity and challenge.” He then thanked them for making the trip—Mami y papi, gracias por estar aca conmigo esta manana.

“What an incredible journey these two years have been,” said Jesus. “With Covid lockdowns in New York City, social unrest and depressing news on TV, joining the Yeshiva community and making great friends with classmates and professors has truly been a wonderful gift and a blessing.”