Episode 309: Nicole Davis

Nicole Davis is SVP of digital and risk management at Marsh in New York City.

One of the great things about Revision Path is that each guest shows that you can really carve your own path to success in the design and tech industries, and Nicole Davis is no exception! As a digital product owner at global insurance company Marsh, Nicole's work involves walking the line between tech and business.

We talked about her new role at Marsh, and she spoke on the challenges that come when managing the overlap of product and risk management. We also touched on the concept of emotional intelligence, and she mentioned how important it is for digital product owners. Nicole also shared how she first got into this field, which was spurred by a love of economics. Nicole's drive for success is contagious, and her story definitely shows that. Learn more about her in this week's interview!


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From producing original articles and videos, to hosting creative and educational partnerships, our goal is to connect, support, and inspire designers and technologists.

To learn more, please visit us at design.google.

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown.

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Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Nicole Davis: Hi, my name is Nicole Davis. I reside in New York City and I am a digital product owner at Marsh and McLennan, within their digital group that they actually recently formed this time last year. So small group, they want to be more of a startup within a corporation.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. So it's kind of a new role for you so congratulations.

Nicole Davis: Thank you. Yes, it is brand new. I've been here for three months. Yes. Right. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So what does a digital product owner do?

Nicole Davis: I really walk the line between technology and business strategy. So I actually got hired because they were going to be launching this insurance product where they needed someone who has previous web design experience as well as mobile app design experience. So they needed someone who understands, just graphic design.

Nicole Davis: Because I work with an agency in the UK and they're the one putting together the experience design. But also our internal technology partners who are in our Phoenix office and making sure that we're hammering out the requirements for that insurance product. So making sure that we have existing systems that are in place that will enable this agency bring that vision to fruition. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What drew you to working for Marsh?

Nicole Davis: Many reasons, actually. I had been at Accenture for almost five years and I actually had been looking for a change. I really liked working there, but being a road warrior was exhausting and I was sick of being in a hotel Monday through Thursday. So when they came to me, they said, "Hey, this is a role that is minimal travel."

Nicole Davis: So I travel less than 10% of the time and that was one of the reasons why I took the job was travel, other incentives that were offered. And also, I mean it was the title. I knew that I would have a lot more responsibility in my role and I would have a team that I would be working with and managing.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. For those who are listening who might not be familiar, can you just kind of tell a little bit about what kind of company Marsh is? You think you mentioned insurance a little bit earlier, something like that.

Nicole Davis: Yeah, it's a company that they have a couple of subsidiaries one, Oliver Wyman. They actually have a digital group, a very expansive digital group and then they have other subsidiaries that work with corporations that put together benefits packages. They also work with companies to insure their employees.

Nicole Davis: So if you're in your own company and you want Mercer, if you, you know that benefits type of year, October, November and you're signing up for your benefits that's most likely underwritten by Marsh or even just that insurance product that you're seeing is underwritten by Marsh. And though Aetna might be your insurance carrier, Marsh is his insuring Aetna to then provide that product through your company. So you always see on the fine, fine print.

Nicole Davis: It's funny, I hadn't known this before. I was signing up for my benefits. I was changing my benefits when I was at Accenture and I'm like, because I really didn't understand what Marsh did exactly because I knew they were insurance but it was more of they insure other corporations.

Nicole Davis: And I saw on the fine, fine print bottom of Accenture's website it said underwritten by Marsh and McLennan, I'm like, "Oh, whoa, this company touches everything." So there's the personal insurance but there's also just property and casualty insurance and also just quite, again, quite ranked simply they insure other corporations.

Maurice Cherry: I got you. The insurance companies insurance or something like that. I got you. All right. So [inaudible 00:04:02]

Nicole Davis: Oh many. So coming from agency and consultancy, I have worked with insurance companies in the capacity of they're redesigning their website. So I never had to be an expert or a subject matter expert for insurance products as a whole. I had a generalist knowledge of them or should say minimalist knowledge of insurance. And so being, you know, launching in a brand new insurance product in an insurance company, I found myself actually educating myself on the different types of insurance. and I'm still educating myself.

Nicole Davis: I've always just come from the perspective of, Oh, I'm on a hospitality client and they want to redesign their website to sell more hotel bookings or even I'm on a car company project and they just want to redesign their website because they want to have attract customer, have customers be able to come to their website to buy more cars and things like that.

Nicole Davis: And so I never had to be an expert within the automobile industry or hospitality industry and in launching a product I need to understand a product insurance, insurance as a whole. And so that's actually been the number one challenge.

Nicole Davis: And I think just in general, starting a new company, learning new faces and names and what their role is and how they impact the group that you're working in. That also has been a challenge, but that one I don't think can be overcome. I think nothing can be overcome, but the insurance part, learning about insurance has been, it's been a learning curve.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean, I think coming onto a new company, onboarding it's always such a risky process because of course you want the person to spend enough time to get up to speed with just the processes of the company, but also you hire them to do a job. So you want them to hit the ground running and get to work.

Maurice Cherry: I know I've been at places where I've had a long onboarding period, so I've had maybe three months to really slowly get into the business and learn things until you get to a point where you're more comfortable.

Maurice Cherry: And then I've also been at places where you were expected to perform on the first day. So I can only imagine like that level of velocity can make it difficult to really feel like you're, I don't know, like you're in the position in a way.

Nicole Davis: Yeah, you're absolutely correct. I mean, I remember before taking the job I'm like, "Oh, is this really the right fit? Is is really the right direction that I want to take?" A part of me knew wholeheartedly that I wanted this position. It was the right fit for me, but at the same time I'm like, okay, you know, just the challenge of okay I need to ramp up and understand, know my team members have them, you know, you want people to like you.

Nicole Davis: So there's that aspect of okay, trying to find that common interest. The time also is being spent doing that, but then also it was the second day being hired that they're like, "Okay, this is what you're going to be doing. This is a new product."

Nicole Davis: Once this individual comes back from vacation, you need to sit down with them and understand what they've been doing for the past three weeks because they're handing everything over to you and you then need to, the following week, jump on a plane to Iowa and meet your business partners, so yeah. Yeah, it's been challenging.

Maurice Cherry: So before Marsh, you mentioned working at Accenture for nearly five years. What was your time like there?

Nicole Davis: It's different. I mean, I think being in a management consultancy space, it it comes with its own set of challenges. I will say that when I started there, I was a part of a group that had been acquired by Accenture. So Accenture decided that they wanted to form, they'd always had a digital group, but it was more focused on data and analytics. And they made a push about five and a half, six years ago.

Nicole Davis: So about six months, a year before I started there, to start acquiring digital creative agencies. And so one of the creative agencies that they acquired was one actually that I had hired years ago. And so I actually knew people who work there and I started in that office, that new acquisitions office. And so for me, I'm used to working around creative and creative technologists.

Nicole Davis: But then once we merged offices and started, what I like to say working with Accenture proper, it was a little bit different. Because Accenture has their own culture, but then this agency that I work with, their culture was no different from the agency that I had worked with before. And heck, I knew some of the people, right?

Nicole Davis: And so you're just working with among creatives and it's pie in the sky thinking and doing storyboarding and vision boards and brainstorming sessions or different. And then when you now merge Accenture, they approach things quite frankly differently because it's more about business process management and process improvement. Not that I hadn't had that experience because I do, but I didn't realize that for some of the folks that I worked with, it was harder for them to navigate.

Nicole Davis: But there was a challenge because you're talking about just merging quite frankly, companies. But it was fun that I was quite frank, I had exposure to different clients. And I think too, when you're in that agency setting where you're fighting for clients that's different. Because you might lose a client where Accenture has long established clients and all you're doing now is saying, "Hey, Accenture now has this creative group. This is what we can do.".

Nicole Davis: So there isn't, Oh, they're not going to lose their clients because they already implemented an accounting system with them and now we're telling them, "Hey we can redesign your website and we can also launch a mobile app and if you needed a digital display or interface, we can help you with that too and teach you about design thinking.".

Nicole Davis: It was fun because there was that aspect of teaching people within Accenture proper, as I like to say about design, but also about like how we approach technology too. Because I think the way they approach technology is completely different. We, for us and the agency side or interactive side, our strategy engagements were eight weeks long. That was just new to them. Because we would have a working prototype eight, 10 weeks long max.

Nicole Davis: We'd have a working prototype by the end of it. We'd have user stories, everything. And for them their strategy is six months a year. I'm like, "Ugh."

Maurice Cherry: That was a long time.

Nicole Davis: Yeah. Yeah and for them what they would deliver is a long PowerPoint. So yeah, it was different, but it was cool.

Maurice Cherry: We've had some people that have been on the show that worked at Fjord. I don't know if that's-

Nicole Davis: Yeah. So I was a part of Acuity acquisition and when we merged offices, it was Acuity and Fjord. We initially moved into that New York studio together. So that's how I go [inaudible 00:11:50].

Nicole Davis: I was just always on like I sat on the 10th floor and Fjord on the eighth floor, but I was always on the eighth floor because much of the people that I had originally worked with, they were part of Acuity. They just slotted us differently, but I worked Fjord throughout my tenure at Accenture.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I've always been curious about working at an internal design agency like that. Because like you said, they've got these long standing clients. So when you come in it's a totally different ball game than if you were working at an agency or at a studio, or even doing work on your own. The scope and the scale is just completely different.

Nicole Davis: Oh yeah. Yes. I mean, so I was a part when I was at Accenture originally, I started in the digital enterprise architecture group, which is a part of Acuity. And so our goal was really working with, so I'd have a couple of experience or creative director, creative, experience manager or experience director and also creative director. And I would represent creative technology or digital enterprise architecture. And so it'd be three or four of us because we'd operate in pods.

Nicole Davis: And so of course you'd have again, a few people from Fjord, one or two people from Acuity and we'd be on side of the client and we would just put together a strategy and then again have potentially a working prototype and just have something that they can actually react to.

Nicole Davis: Again, with Accenture they didn't do that. It was all new to them. But yeah, for them there they were able to see our value immediately because they just again, it was just always funny how they're like, "Oh my God, you guys are just amazing. The client loves you." I'm like, "Oh okay. Yeah, no big deal."

Maurice Cherry: What were some of your highlights from working there?

Nicole Davis: I like traveling to cities, but yeah. I think traveling with teams, meeting new people. Meeting new, awesome people, meeting new people who ... Can I swear?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Sure.

Nicole Davis: Meeting assholes was not fun, but really cool creative people internationally. I think that was awesome. Traveling, I remember I went to, we were putting, it was a project that was six weeks long. Again, small pod and they were shocked. It was a medical company, pharmaceutical company and they were shocked at what we delivered.

Nicole Davis: And we had to do a three-day, it was supposed to be a five-day workshop that ended up turning into a two-day workshop and was going to London literally the day before we were doing this workshop and working our butts off doing that two-day workshop. Client loved it and end up staying an extra day and just having drinks, meeting again, different people and working with the clients, selling. Again, already long existing relationship with Accenture.

Nicole Davis: They're not going anywhere. They have $1 billion relationship with this client, but we were able to sell additional work and also again, sell additional work that actually spanned years because that that project was about three years ago. So that was fun working with teams that again, just global teams because you understand how these teams were set up and why they work the way that they do, their expectations.

Nicole Davis: I remember, I think I learned quite a bit about just quite frankly emotional intelligence. How you need to, I don't want to say adjust, yeah, adjust yourself and speaking. The expectation that someone has from a communication standpoint is completely different when you're talking to someone who's French or who's Australian, who's in South America.

Nicole Davis: And I still think knowing your EQ that is important. I think that's what I learned, as well. Yeah, just other benefits. Fjord, we always have in-office parties and we would make sure that we did fun outings, as well. Picnic in the park, leaving the office 1:00, 2:00 and doing picnic in the park and having drinks and having chefs come in on-site. Having a DJ come in the office. So things like that I think were a lot of fun and yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. When you look, I guess, I mean, first back at your work with Accenture, but also with the work that you're doing at Marsh. It sounds like at some times there might be this overlap maybe of product and risk management. How do you manage that when it happens?

Nicole Davis: Oh goodness. So I think there's the product that you're launching, but also knowing, I think it's the cost and also being that it's insurance, there's a regulatory component that you have to be very much aware of. And so I think that's it. When you think about risk, there's technology risks, there's product barriers, there's monetary risk or revenue, but you being that it's insurance, it's regularly.

Nicole Davis: You want to make sure that, quite frankly what we're doing is not going to find the company as a whole and tarnish their brand. So, I mean, it's honestly, it's a fine line. I mean, anything that we're doing, I'm working so closely with legal and compliance more than I had when I was at Accenture [inaudible 00:18:06] and other places. Honestly, it made me put on my first, one of my first jobs was working at HSBC.

Nicole Davis: And so it honestly just made me think of that. I remember changing even a sentence on the website, thank God when I was at HSBC, our legal department was six floors below. So I would be like, "Hey." And I had close relationships with legal and I would go over and say, "Hey, we're going to change this sentence. What do you think?" And we would sit for an hour talking about why.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Nicole Davis: Yeah. So I mean, it's honestly the same thing, but now launching a product and knowing the technology implications and also you have the policy management corp that we're working with and also the claims vendor that we're working with. Some of the changes that we're trying to make, there's different state regulations that you have to take into account and you have to think about how that impacts the customer experience on the website.

Nicole Davis: And also just kind of being like, okay, if we can't make this change in Massachusetts, but we can in Michigan, we might have to think about just coding. So that's why I think it's important to, for me, I need to understand what our technology team can do.

Nicole Davis: How they're coding even what a feature that looks so simple and generic. You might see a disclosure on a site, but that disclosure, if you're on a different state, you're seeing a completely different disclosure and guess what? That disclosure needs to be approved by legal and compliance.

Maurice Cherry: It kind of reminds me, as you mentioned, that it reminds me about how a lot of websites, about a year or so ago, were scrambling with GDPR and what that meant in terms of compliance and stuff.

Nicole Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, yeah. It's always so funny how people-

Nicole Davis: Yeah. Yeah. It's always so funny how people... I always explain what I do to different people and, and they just think, Oh, web design. Oh, you can just, you can help me. [inaudible 00:20:13] and I'm like [inaudible 00:20:15].

Maurice Cherry: Sorry that was, I've gotten that one, I don't know how many times, but yeah.

Nicole Davis: I'm like, you have no idea. You're just seeing this end product and this 10 page site with an application and they think it took nothing. I'm like, this was about a year of work, or six months of work and a lot of conversations, a lot of meeting, exhaustive meetings. So yeah, like this morning I had about three different meetings regarding fees for different States and how it needs to be displayed for customers who are not logged in versus logged in, and also legal and compliance saying, okay, oh that approval that we got, we can't advertise this product in State A. And they're like, oh, you know what? I know we, we need to now change the zip code validation. So if you type in this zip code, they should get, you know, be prompted an error message. So it's stuff like that. So I need to update the user story things like that, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So we've talked a lot about your career, kind of where you're at right now, where you've kind of come from. But I'm curious to kind of, you know, go back, we always like to do that with guests, like learn more about who they were and how they got to this point. But where did you grow up?

Nicole Davis: So I was born in Jamaica. Yes. I think that always frames the conversation because people then go, wait, you grew up in Upstate New York and they're like, oh, that's not even Upstate. That's, that's Western New York. That's, that's Canada. So I grew up in almond Lockport, New York. It's about 30 minutes from Buffalo.

Maurice Cherry: Not Jamaica the country.

Nicole Davis: Yeah, I was, yes, I was.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, you're talking about, okay, okay. I'm sorry.

Nicole Davis: I was born in Jamaica the country [inaudible 00:22:12]. I came here when I was six years old, but I grew up in Western New York.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Was design and tech kind of a big part of your childhood?

Nicole Davis: Yeah, it was. It's, and you know what? That's a good question because people then ask, how did you get into technology and why do you not use Apple products? So coming from Jamaica, of course I had a strong accent as a kid and I was supposed to be in second grade, but they put me back in first. And I remember I was in, I had been in speech classes, I was in speech classes from first grade to seventh grade. My mom, I forced my mom to like get me out of it. But one of the components of, you know, taking a speech class was I was always on an Apple, that old Macintosh doing different exercise. And I just remember I was, it was just myself and probably one other student. We were using a computer, the only kids using a computer where kids who are in speech classes, or probably, I'm sure other areas.

Nicole Davis: But I just remember when computers, like more people were learning and being aware of computers. It was completely new to so many people. I'm like I have been using computers since like 1989, 1988. what's the big deal? But yeah, I think that was really my first starts because I just remember always walking into the room and you know, doing simple little, simple, basic interface and even, yeah. So like yeah that's how I started and that's where my interest kind of grew from there. Because then in high school I remember I had an internship at a chemical company in their IT department, and even just kind of training their employees on how to use just the computer in general because they didn't know, and using old applications to, just for them even to type up a paper or something like that.

Maurice Cherry: When did you I guess sort of first know that like these skills that you were learning, that this was something that you could do for a living?

Nicole Davis: Honestly, it really wasn't until, I think it was, probably senior year of high school. I remember the internship that I had, it was through Cornell. And I had, I think having that on my CV, you'd say, helped me into get into different colleges. And the conversations that I was having with recruiters were different because they're like oh, you had an internship with Cornell. I don't remember the name of it. But they were so impressed by it and I think that then framed how I viewed myself and what I would be doing in college. Because initially I don't know, I really had this passion for economics, which I ended up going back to midway through college. But I initially was majoring in computer science. I started college in 1999.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. So it's interesting as you mentioned all that I'm like these are, I'm picking up some parallels just to myself cause like one, I also went through years of speech therapy. Two also grew up using those like Brown Apple, 2E Macintosh computers. And I also started out in computer science and ended up changing it because my mom really wanted me to, she really wanted to be like Dwayne Wayne from a different world. And so she's like, you're going to be a computer engineer and this is what you're going to do. And I started out at Morehouse because they have this dual degree computer science, computer engineering program where you go to school for five years and then you come out with a bachelor's and a master's and it's like, okay, well that sounds pretty good.

Maurice Cherry: I hated it, absolutely hated it. My professor wasn't that good. I was getting the material but I just didn't like it. And also like this was around the time that the web was starting to kind of take off. I mean the web was around in some capacity back then. I also went to college in '99. The web was around in that capacity, but like it was certainly not what it is now 20 years later, you know what I mean? But I wanted to do web design like that. Like I was experimenting with eye frames and doing things. And I remember my advisor who was also my computer science professor was saying that if the web is a fad, so like if this is, if this is what you want to do, then you should probably change your majors. I think the future is computers, but not this, this is just a fad. Like nobody's going to be looking at computers like this, you know, five years from now. That's crazy.

Nicole Davis: Yeah. Yeah. No, it's funny because I felt like when I got to college I was, so my first year I was at University of Pittsburgh, and actually I'll say my professors were actually really good. I remember a couple of them were actually working at Microsoft and so I really enjoyed those classes. I remember I didn't perform well in those classes. I remember I got like B minus and C plus. So that, that actually made... I think that encouraged me to change my major, because I was on economics scholarship. And so I'm like, okay, I cannot get below an A. But I thoroughly enjoyed them even though I wasn't performing as expected. But at the same time, I'm like, I knew I didn't want to, I didn't want to be a full on engineer. It's like I wanted it to be, I mean, I want it to be kind of where I am now.

Nicole Davis: Like I walk the line between business strategy and IT, and like today I was, earlier today I was just reviewing system architecture diagrams and I'm able to comment and say, hey, you need to change this and change the structure and blah, blah blah. But I also like being in meetings where we're talking about the budget and the cost and you know, working with legal and compliance. Because I think when you're, you know, when you're in the code, that's all you're doing and you know nothing else and you don't even know the reasons, the why. You're doing the how, but you don't know the why. How did you know, you know, you're here because somebody decided to fund this multimillion or billion dollar project. But yeah. Yeah, I understand.

Maurice Cherry: What was your time like at the Ohio state University?

Nicole Davis: Oh, that was fun. Almost too much fun. At OSU I have to say that made me... First year, I was like, let me, I change my major. So I was having, it is really a party school but at the same time too, I loved that it was huge. I remember so many friends that I had met that first year I was there, ended up transferring because they're like it's too big, and they went to a smaller school. But I loved that it was big. I loved the exposure to different people. I mean Pitt, I had that, but it was just so different. I just remember that that first weekend they had this, like they had all the colleges talking about majors and what you can major in, but then like, they're like oh you can, you know, design your major and given that it's Ohio state and they had, I mean their catalog of majors was the same as University of Texas, it was a lot.

Nicole Davis: At that time was 50,000 students. I don't know what it is now, but I'm sure it's still around then. But you know, there was the aspect of, you know, being able to create a major and major in almost any and everything. And then also when they had their, I think it was called the activities fair, their lawn if they're, what's it called, South Lawn is huge and they just had all of these groups, niche groups that you could get involved in. And then I'm like, I just soaked it up and took it all in. I remember I ended up joining crew, the rowing team and did that like the first six months on, it was an intramural rowing team but we were in the same corridor as, that the varsity rowing team would perform, like would train in as well. And I actually got recruited and I was like whoa, this is crazy.

Nicole Davis: But I did rowing and I was the only black girl who was rowing on the rowing team. And it was a sport that I enjoyed and I enjoyed so much that I wish I had it in high school because I think I would have pursued it and did other things as well. Like the African American groups that I was in were amazing. I was a part of the Caribbean student association and that was just amazing because I didn't have that at Pitt. There were, it was funny, they were actually Caribbean students but they didn't have an association again at that time. But yeah, different organizations and parties and things like that.

Maurice Cherry: One thing, so I mean I went to Morehouse and it was, I mean certainly not as big as OSU and we had a pretty big Caribbean student population, but I don't know if there were, if we ever had any distinct group, there were just a lot of people from West Indies, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica. I mean you name it. Like we have a big green lawn out front that they would all play soccer on every day. So, and honestly that was like one of the first times, I mean, because I'm from a, like super small town in Alabama, but that was one of the first times I was really exposed to more international people was going off to school like that and seeing that. So yeah.

Nicole Davis: Yeah, yeah. No, I, yeah, I mean at Ohio State I just like met people from countries that I had never heard of. I considered myself someone who was not well traveled at that time, but you know, but you know, aware and in the know and so like hearing some of these places and meeting these people and being in the conversations that I was in and you know, being invited to restaurants that quite frankly, I like, I never had Filipino food at that time or even Vietnamese food and tasting the differences and you know, yeah. So I that was also interesting. And different African countries, the cuisine and learning that, oh, different dialects. So yeah, that was cool.

Maurice Cherry: So once you graduated and started out in your early career, like what was that feeling? Like, I would imagine that OSU really prepared you for getting out there in the working world. But what were those early days like for you?

Nicole Davis: Well, at that time it was funny. That was when the dot com boom was kind of ending. And so I know we had the 2008 recession, but I remember I graduated in 2003 and it was, I remember a lot of like you'd look to the left and look to the right and not many of my classmates actually had jobs. But I mean, so I ended up going to graduate school, and thank God it was a year long program because I hadn't anticipated, in my mind I had this plan, graduate college work for about four, five years and then go to graduate school. That was just always my plan from since high school. And so I went to graduate school for a year, which I'm glad I did because I learned a lot in that experience. But I remember I was, I remember six months before graduating, I was actively looking for work and jumping in my car and driving across Ohio and Pennsylvania, back to New York on interviews and then coming back to campus.

Nicole Davis: So I was very aggressive about trying to find a job. But I did graduate without a job. But what happened when I came home was I remember a staffing agency reached out to me to work at Blue Cross Blue Shield and I ended up going on that interview, accepted the position and I remember it was something, they would renew my contract every 30 days. And I was working within the, I think they called it the office of the CIO. And it was implementing a software, it was called, it was a online project management tool. And so it was, I think being at Ohio state and being at such a large campus and kind of being in an environment where you might not know someone and having to be comfortable immediately introducing yourself because before you know, before going to [inaudible 00:35:05], I considered myself kind of shy.

Nicole Davis: But it made me put myself out there more and made me actually, I think more aggressive as well instead of passive. And so I think post Ohio State, post Ohio University, you know, I really took the initiative and you know, meeting different people and saying, Hey, do you have a job? Do you know, anyone who works at this company or that company, I remember I would go to LinkedIn and email CEOs and COOs and CIOs and go, hi, my name is Nicole and I'm going to be graduating, or I just graduated. I would love to connect to your HR group.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, that's what you have to do. You have to be aggressive like that.

Nicole Davis: Yeah. Yeah. And that's what Ohio State taught me, I have to say, because you are, you're competing against 50,000 students and you think completely differently than when you're at a small school. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I was. So I ended up going to Morehouse with a scholarship from NASA. And so the way that they had it worked out was you would intern at two NASA facilities and then upon graduating you'd kind of be lined up to have a job with NASA. And so that was going into, like even freshman year going into Morehouse, I was like, this is the goal. Like I'm set after I graduate, all I have to do is just keep above a 3.0 and I'm good. And then 9-11 happened. So that happened my like junior year, like going into my junior year. And at that point my scholarship thing kinda changed. Like it shifted from me being a shoe in for a job somewhere. And keep in mind, this is after I've done my two internships. So I'm thinking all I gotta do is kick back these last two years and I got a six figure job waiting for me when I graduate.

Maurice Cherry: Now things are going into this new department called Homeland Security and it's like, well now you don't have a job lined up when you graduate. So what are you going to do? And I mean you have to, I had to at least, I had to hustle and try to get my name into, I don't know if Ohio State does this, but like different departments have these like interview books. When companies come to interview, they want to know like who signed up in the major or whatever. And I would like get to know the secretaries and the different departments like come by and like bring them a cookie or like talk for 20 minutes or something. Because the secretary are the gatekeepers, now for people that are listening, they want to know secretaries are the gatekeepers to the department. And I'd get my name in these interview books.

Maurice Cherry: So I got to interview with like Microsoft and Real Player and all these other big places, just to like get my foot in the door. Now granted none of those materialize into anything. I mean but, but that's sort of what you have to do. You have to get creative and, and hustle to try to find those opportunities.

Nicole Davis: Oh yeah. And be bold. I remember, it's funny that you say that because I remember, so you have the Ohio State, and within Ohio State you have a different colleges, so you'll have like the college of business and administration or the college of agriculture, whatever, so on so on. But within those colleges you then have schools. So what happens is a college might have a college fair. They don't widely advertise it outside of, you know, within the Ohio State portal, but they'll advertise it, you know, if you're a part of that college, you'll get the email blast. And even sometimes within that school they would have their own college fairs. But it was purposefully making friends, not, I literally, I knew, I had friends within my major and within my college, but it was again, purposefully making friends outside of, you know, my college and my major.

Nicole Davis: And they're like, Oh well when's your college, and going to their college fair because you wouldn't know otherwise. Going to the engineering college fair, even though I'm like, oh I have a year of, you know, computer science courses. I was never disinterested in technology. I still had an interest there. And so I would still go and being bold in, I would say I would, I remember I wore a red suit.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Nicole Davis: To a college fair and I thought you are crazy. You shouldn't do this. And everyone else was wearing black.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, so you were trying to stand out. You're like, it's funny, like I remember seeing like these old sitcoms where it's like the black and white ball and then the one person like saunters wearing all red. That was you.

Nicole Davis: Yes. Yes. It was a nice suit too. I remember I bought it for cheap at TJ Maxx or Marshalls, and it fit so well that like I'm buying this and I wore it. And I mean, I remember this guy-

Nicole Davis: ... And I wore it. And, I mean, I remember this guy... It's called Excel. It's that meat company. So, they're out of Kansas somewhere, and it was for a great opportunity and he was like, I want to talk to the person, I'm... There's... I remember he said something like, "Oh there's a sea of black suits and here you are walking in with red." And he ended up talking to me, and I ended up being flown out to Kansas for a two-day inner panel interview. So yeah, you have to be very bold.

Maurice Cherry: All off the strength of that red suit.

Nicole Davis: Yes. Not other people, other interviews are like ah, you are crazy. Where's your mind? But it worked. It worked for a couple of people anyway.

Maurice Cherry: So speaking of college, I mean, you've also been an adjunct professor. You've been an adjunct professor at Bloomfield. What was that experience like for you, kind of, getting into that sort of environment where it's so different from, you know, working at a place like Accenture or something like that?

Nicole Davis: Oh, it was very, very different. It's funny. So I was at a party with one of my mutual friends, and I was talking to one of the guys at the party and I was like, "Oh, what do you do?" He's like, "Oh, I teach." And he was telling me what he does. So he teaches an app development class, and he also teaches a program project management class to IT students. And he's like, "Oh, I'd love for you to come and speak to one of my students." I'm like, "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure. Push it off for probably a year. And eventually did. And I enjoyed myself, and he reached out to me probably six months after that saying, "Hey, I don't know if you'd be interested, but we're looking for someone like you. We'd love professionals to actually be teaching." And he was like, "You don't have to teach, you know, twice a week or every day. You could just do, if you're open to it, a three hour class." It was actually three hours and 45 minutes a month. Oh, that's four hours. What are you talking about? Can I talk for that long?

Nicole Davis: And so I was, I remember it was a easy phone conversation with the chair of that department and ended up having like a onsite conversation because they're like, "Oh just show us what you'd think you want to talk about and present it to them." And they were giddy and happy. And so, that's how I kind of structured my class to be more of a product management class. And it was within the a computer science school there, but students who were... I remember I had an HR student take my class, which I did not understand why, but the bulk of my students were computer science or engineering majors.

Nicole Davis: But it was a lot of fun. The first year was... The whole thing was just like new and interesting to me because I did not realize... Because before I think I was this person like, well yes teachers need to get paid more. But I don't know... They're really just kinda teaching from a course load and a template. So, really is it necessary they get paid? I didn't realize how much you have to do just to like design a course, and then kind of put together activities and it's just the plan, your teaching plan, and how much work it was. And on top of having a full time job, it was just, I was just like, "Oh my God, this is crazy. I can't." But I did it and I... Kudos to teachers everywhere. I am not going to be that asshole that says things like that anymore.

Nicole Davis: But it was challenging. And also just kind of, I think it's different being a consultant and people are there to listen to what you have to say in your recommendation, whether it's a technology or business or financial, whatever. They're open to listening to you and having a dialogue with you, but when you're in front of a group of students who quite frankly just want to play with their phone or sneak and... I hate it that they had computers in front of them so they would be on some website, Facebook or whatever, but grabbing their attention. But it also made me go, hey, you know what, reach out to my network within my company to be like, "Hey, are you guys free to come and talk to my students because I knew that one or two students might be interested in what you're doing."

Nicole Davis: Or I had one of my friends, he actually started at EA games and at that time he was a QA manager, quality assurance manager within Accenture. So if we launch any mobile app or website, he would write the test scripts and test it, thousands of test scripts. And so because I had students who are game design majors, I knew that them hearing what it's like to work at EA games from the 80s, 90s and to 2000s, like hearing his experience and how he made that career transition, would help them. Because I think when you're in college, all you're thinking about is my major, what I want to do afterwards. They're not thinking about what is that change and that pivot that you can make in your career.

Nicole Davis: And also again, I remember I had a career component. I remember I showed them just my resume and how it was different. I majored in economics. Then grad school was back to information technology, and then my first job I was working in IT. But then I just kind of made that transition to web, and then again, bringing in people to hear them go, "Oh, Whoa. These people are still in technology but they're not just developers." I remember one of my classes I titled it Beyond Development because I think that it's... There's so many students out there doing, or you know people changing careers, doing bootcamps, and I was a developer so I know how, like you said earlier, it can get. I don't want to say... Some people they find it exciting. With some people, I think you get bored after a while, right?

Nicole Davis: Especially when you're in kind of center world where you're, once you develop code for, I want to name the company, the target and then you're back on another retailer. The challenge might not be there that you would expect. And so you know, you can transition to be a full stack developer versus only knowing these two programming languages, and then every project you're on over and over again, even if it's a different industry quite frankly it's seems the same, and there's no challenge there. So making them be aware, hey, educate yourself on AI, educate yourself on APIs, and who are the players that are out there in the market for different things. And yeah, sorry that was a long answer.

Maurice Cherry: No, I definitely agree with you on the part about people don't realize how much adjuncts have to work and how much they have to put in because sometimes it's like you're doing where you have to design a course. Other times, at least in my experience, I had to kind of revamp a course where I was teaching. It was a intro to, well they call it Intro to Web Development. It really was just HTML and CSS, but they were like, it's an Intro to Web Development course and it was for students trying to get a business information systems degree. And this was 2000... What year was this? 2010, 2011 something like that, and they were still teaching how to make web pages using tables.

Nicole Davis: Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and I had to go to the Dean and it's like we're setting up every student that takes this class for failure if we teach them this because they're going to go out into the marketplace. And then they're never going to get a job because we have moved on past that. And he's like, "Oh, well if that's the case, then you should rewrite the whole course." It's like, "Oh." So that's like rewriting questions and discussion prompts and tests and all that sort of stuff, and then making sure it gets approved. You know, even honestly scoping out a new book because what they were using was like super outdated. It's like, oh what's the textbook that we're going use to learn this?

Nicole Davis: Yes. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: At one point my dean was joking, he was like, "Well, if you want to rewrite the textbook too." I was like, "Y'all ain't paying me that much for that. This is simply an adjunct position like let's not get crazy here."

Nicole Davis: Yeah, yeah, I remem-

Nicole Davis: Yeah. No, go ahead.

Maurice Cherry: No, I'm saying I've thought about going back and doing teaching. I mean I haven't done it since then, but now design, I know, has changed a whole lot and... I've thought about going back and doing it. Who knows? One of these days maybe.

Nicole Davis: Yeah. I said to them, because everyone was always shocked like, "Really? And you're going to Jersey. How long is that from your home?" Because I live in Brooklyn, and so then I'm like, "Yeah, sometimes it's like an hour and a half because I'm taking the metro and the subway." But I really enjoyed it because I was just like, I'm doing it for the culture. That's what my response would always be because I just thought it was important for students to see someone like me in front of that classroom teaching.

Nicole Davis: Because I mean 70% of my students were Black or minorities, and so I did. One of the things I just made it a point to do was bring in women and men who are Black or Latinx to make sure that they saw that, hey, they're in corporate America, they exist. Don't have to believe everything that you read saying that... No they're there. They're just not getting the recognition that you see someone else I'm getting, but don't trust me. They're there, and they're doing a lot of work. Yeah. So, I just thought it was important. And then, oh my God, searching for a book. I didn't realize, I thought it would take me like a day. It took like weeks. I know.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, the book has to, you have to make sure that the questions in the curriculum and the test support the book. Yeah, it's a lot. It's a big process. People don't realize.

Nicole Davis: Yeah, yeah. I'm like tell me I did not. And then basically I kept the title of the course, but I really structured it to be more of a product management course, and I'd say, "Oh it's just a IT Product management course." Because the title of the class was System Design and Analysis, and I bought a book that had that title. But much of the breakout sessions that I would have would be talking about product management, would be talking about Agile, this is how you structure a scrum team, and these are the individuals that you'd have. If you're talking about redesigning a website or mobile app or launching a software, this is how these teams would be set up. This is how they'd work together. This is how you'd work with a creative internal agency or external agency, and this is the expectation that you would have from user story and requirements-gathering standpoint. And even prototyping, showing them prototyping tools that are out there. And again, making them be...

Nicole Davis: I remember I tell you, you had some of these students who were computer science majors and I'm like, "Okay, so, explain to me what you think an API is." And they're like, "What?" Oh, okay. Oh right. So let's talk about Google, and let's talk about Amazon web services and what they're doing. And even just like this is, I remember I said to them, "My first job was at..." I always talk about blue cross blue shield, but when I was at HSBC the first week, my manager said, "Oh, do a competitive analysis of these content management systems." And I was like, "What's a content management system?" I actually had no idea.

Maurice Cherry: Oh no.

Nicole Davis: But opening browser and going, okay, the top vendors were content management system, and then putting together a score card of their pros and cons. And so educating them on a contact man- I said, "You guys are consumers of..." I said, "I worked on the redesign of Target.com. I worked on the redesign of... You know that store over there that you shop at, H&M? I've been on those projects, whether it was Accenture or at other places, and you're just the end consumer of being able to add something to your cart. You know that feature right there? I could tell you how many weeks it took, and how many people were involved, and how many testers were involved, and things like that. So, making them be aware of that process and the steps, it's not just developing code. It isn't.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. When you look back at your career, what do you wish you would've known when you first started?

Nicole Davis: So, it's like... I do believe I had drive, but I don't think I had drive to the extent that I see some students that I know have. Essentially, interns that I worked with, and I wish I had... So I had this interest. My masters paper was on health informatics, and I wrote that paper, and I had so much... I was like, oh, I want to pursue this, but I never... It's like I did all this research, interviewed all this people, and then I set it down after I graduated. I say to people, I'm like, "I could have created Zocdoc." I could have created it. That was what my master's paper was on was electronic medical records and storing that. And so, I wish I had just that drive to actually execute something or be that... truly look at being an entrepreneur.

Nicole Davis: So, I think that's what I look back on is that I never had that entrepreneurial drive that I wish I had. Because now, being in a different space in my life, being a mom... I said to someone, "I look at ambition completely differently, I'm still ambitious, but now I have someone who is dependent upon me. My ambition is completely different. But I do wish that I had pursued certain things on that I hadn't." I wish that when Amazon reached out to me, what 10 years ago, I'm like, I don't want to move to Seattle because I wanted to be on the West Coast, Midwest. I didn't want to be too far to fly from home or something like that, and so I wish I had either pursued something independently on my own or took those opportunities that came to me.

Maurice Cherry: So I'm curious, what does success look like for you now these days?

Nicole Davis: That's a really good question. For me, success is... It's being happy in what I'm doing and at the same time having time. I hate the term work-life balance, but now I hear myself uttering it more. Because in this role I left Accenture because I didn't want to travel as much, I'm not a road warrior anymore. However, being a new mom I'm like, I don't want to be away from my daughter. She's a baby. She's six months old. So success is being there for her, but at the same time I want to give her the experiences that I had and also that I've exposed and given to people as well.

Nicole Davis: So for me that's what success is. Success is coaching people and making them be aware. I might not want to be that full stack developer, but I want them to be aware, but this is what it looks like and this is what working at an insurance company looks like, what an agency look like, and giving them that. I think coaching is a more apt term than saying advice because I think you can hear something from someone but take it in, and then do whatever you want with that information. So, being a coach and exposing my daughter, and even my friends too, to different experiences. So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Well just to kind of wrap things up here, Nicole, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Nicole Davis: So, I think LinkedIn at this stage is the best place. I do have a website out there, but it has not been updated in years. I have a current website and a personal website, but it hasn't been updated. It's at Nicole Davis, uh, Nicolemdavis.com. See, I don't even remember the website address, but it's to be updated. But LinkedIn is really the best place for me. Of course, Davis is like the most common name, but Nicole Davis and then put and Marsh, and then you'll find me.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, we'll find you. We'll link to it all in the show notes and everything. So, yeah. Well, Nicole Davis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show and for really I think sharing what it is that you do. I hope for the people that are listening that they can kind of get a sense of how strategy works in the type of work that you do and that they can see this as being a possibility for them. You know, before we talked or before we got on the interview, I should say, you mentioned that there is no longer this ladder for people to climb into technology. There's a lot of different entry points, and I certainly think from you illustrating your story and the experiences that you've had throughout your career that others will get a sense that becoming a part of the tech industry isn't this... It's not a one-way door. There's many ways that you can become a part of this and thrive and be successful, which you are right now. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Nicole Davis: Thank you, Maurice. It was great talking to you as well and just having this conversation. It's always funny to hear yourself talk about where you've been and where you're going. And also hearing your experiences, it doesn't sound much different from mine.