The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative’s annual conference will feature analytics professionals including Anna Nicanorova WG11, vice president of engineering at data-driven marketing group Annalect.

In today’s corporate world, companies increasingly are looking to leverage data to inform their decisions and make business processes better. To that end, the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative is bringing together analytics professionals during its annual conference on May 15–16 to share their insights and best practices. Attendees at the event, “Successful Applications of Analytics: How Analytics Drives Disruption,” will hear from more than a dozen speakers and presenters, including Anna Nicanorova WG11. Wharton Magazine caught up with Nicanorova before the event to chat about one of the most valuable skills she honed at Wharton, the transformative power of coding, and her role as vice president of engineering at Annalect, a data-focused subsidiary of marketing communications company Omnicom Group.

Wharton Magazine: How are analytics propelling business innovation?

Anna Nicanorova: I wouldn’t be original in claiming that now is a truly exciting time to build things in the marketplace, thanks to innovation in analytics and technology. It has never been easier to identify patterns in enormous datasets—anyone with basic web tools and some coding know-how can build algorithms that once were only accessible to technical organizations like NASA and Europe’s CERN. Data infrastructure is no longer the bottleneck for most kinds of data analysis.

New methods of analytics have allowed companies like Annalect to get more creative with data. We have spurred new business models—for example, products that provide always-on data refresh and custom algorithms, capabilities that weren’t even imaginable in the early 2000s—as well as used algorithms for more unique and inventive business operations, like personalized advertisements and innovative applications of logistics.

WM: As Omnicom’s data division, what are some of the unique ways Annalect is harnessing analytics for the company?

AN: Annalect’s main mission is to provide agencies across Omnicom with the best data, tools, and technology to help them produce successful marketing strategies for clients. Early on, we invested in infrastructure to make accessing data easy and, as time progressed, built complementary tools and algorithms to make leveraging this data even easier. In line with this mission last year, we built and launched Omni, Omnicom’s marketing platform. Omni provides both media and creative agencies with access to differentiated, accurate, and representative consumer data that informs every stage of the marketing process. With its launch, we’ve made it possible for teams across Omnicom to more efficiently and effectively collaborate, plan and buy media, engage consumers with meaningful data-driven creative, and accurately measure the effects of marketing campaigns to drive the highest impact with every dollar spent.

WM: What moments in your life have been career-defining?

AN: Learning how to code completely changed my career trajectory. When I first started as an analyst at Annalect, our chief technology officer encouraged me to code to support the analysis I was doing. Although I knew the basics in R, I transitioned to coding in Python to allow more flexibility in leveraging various technologies for my analyses. Along the way, I picked up a few other programming languages, including SQL, Apache Pig, JavaScript, and Julia.

As time progressed and I wrote more code, I expanded from building algorithms and statistical models to building web applications, software, and hardware projects. This evolution led to a transition in my career from data science to being a full-stack developer and leading Annalect Labs, our experimental product team. My career development at Annalect has been driven by the opportunity and skill set to build the things I wanted that make data more accessible and interesting for my colleagues at Omnicom agencies. Knowing how to write code empowered me to build many original, and sometimes very experimental, prototypes and products for my company, as well as gave me a sort of “intellectual proximity” to the fundamental inner-workings of data and analytics.

WM: What skills did you learn at Wharton that have been most important in shaping your career?

AN: One crucial skill I picked up at Wharton and utilize daily is clear communication. In a time of data abundance and complex algorithms, it’s crucial to use communication to explain complex data results or technical infrastructure to nontechnical stakeholders. It’s easy to sprinkle conversation with buzzwords; however, it’s not as easy to clearly explain the inner workings of complicated models and demonstrate how they achieve tangible results. Closing the gap between business and data analysis through communication is the skill I consistently learned in all my Wharton classes—from accounting to strategy—and the one I am especially grateful for.

WM: What other work are you doing outside of Annalect?

AN: In my free time, I continue to experiment with technology. In the last year, I have dedicated a lot of time to building experiments in augmented reality on Microsoft’s HoloLens and coding robotic arms. I am also very passionate about education and frequently volunteer to teach kids how to code in public schools around New York and at science fairs. I also climb mountains, so my time off work is spent preparing mentally and physically for a climb. So far, I’ve climbed in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, the U.S., and Russia—you can find out more about my adventures on Maptia. In the little time I have left, I enjoy running around museums and art galleries in search of inspiration and studying Chinese.