Winnie Cheng leads Io-Tahoe’s team of data scientists and technologists, who use advanced machine-learning algorithms to develop smart data discovery solutions.
The Io-Tahoe software helps companies grapple with the growing complexity and challenges of data management. Prior to Io-Tahoe, Cheng co-founded Flowcast, a venture-backed machine learning company where she served as chief technology officer and chief data scientist. She is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, an invitation-only organisation for senior level technology executives and an owner of SonataWorks, a data advisory and consulting firm. She is also a lecturer at Columbia University where she teaches students about problems in data science and shares her personal experiences navigating a career in a data-related field.
Can you provide leadership advice for those looking to advance their careers?
Understand the business. Technologists who excel are those who can marry the business needs with the appropriate solutions. It is important to execute your role’s responsibilities but you should also be constantly on the lookout for ways in which you can help the broader organisation. You can learn and get better by having a growth mindset and being open to feedback. Be willing to take risks and fail and understand how you can do better next time.
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Who have you looked to for inspiration, within the technology industry or more broadly?
Elon Musk. I admire his vision and his ability to focus and execute on it.
What was the best piece of advice given to you?
My elementary school teacher told me, “Where there is a will, there is a way”. If you focus on what’s important to you, your determination will drive you through obstacles.
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Have you had to overcome any career challenges?
As a results-focused introvert, sometimes I do not participate enough in water cooler talk. Those informal conversations are important to building relationships. I try to remind myself of that from time to time.
What does your typical day look like?
There’s no typical day. Io-Tahoe is a startup backed by an established organisation and our core product is a data management platform powered by machine learning algorithms. Our product crunches a lot of data for our customers.
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Some days, we are deep into whiteboard discussions on how we can build new models and more efficient algorithms. Other days, we may be feverishly fixing bugs for production deployments. Humour is important in our day-to-day as we launch our rocket ship. We are a close-knit team even though we span several continents.
Who were the individuals who served as mentors and role models for you and how did your relationships with them help your own professional development?
My PhD advisor at MIT, Professor Barbara Liskov, was a very strong role model for me. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in computer science and is an ACM Turing award winner and an inspiration to women in IT. She is excellent at time management and maintaining a work-life balance. She is also a very clear thinker. She can weed out what’s fundamentally important from what’s noise. I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from her.
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