8 minutes

From Opera to AI: Lazard VP Carrie Jaquith Shares Why Curiosity and Data Are Key to Building Business

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Whether tinkering in machine shops, coding with software teams, or singing opera alongside a symphony orchestra, Carrie Jaquith brings curiosity and creativity to everything she does.

A classically-trained singer (she holds a Masters in Music and studied under Joan Lader, one of the most sought-after vocal coaches on Broadway), Carrie now spends more of her time building human-centered software than practicing her scales. As a Vice President at Lazard, she co-founded the global financial firm’s first digital group, spearheading emerging technology and analytics efforts across 21 countries.

A passionate collaborator and mentor, Carrie also teaches at Columbia University’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics Program, advises startups and STEM students, and participates in think tanks focused on AI, diversity, and finance. And when she isn’t building the future of fintech, she still finds time to sing as a member of One World Symphony in New York.

Here, find out how her musical training informs her work, which emerging technologies have her attention, and the single most important piece of data every business needs to succeed.

And make sure to reserve your seat at DIG on the 1/2 Shell on October 25th, where Carrie will share expert insights on how to leverage data and design in your own business.  

What are some of the best examples of human-friendly solutions you’ve helped build (or seen outside of your own work)?

Some favorite examples of human-friendly solutions my teams and I have built are not necessarily “fancy.” They are human and data-informed design decisions that position the things you need to do in places that are easy to understand regardless of demographic or capability. This can be as simple as choosing a language-neutral icon in lieu of a text label (shout out to Susan Kare) or increasing the font size of the thing you most need to find.

My favorite solutions look simple on the surface but have time and effort invested behind the scenes (in A/B tests and iteration) that result in elegant, intuitive simplicity.

How do you leverage your background in fine art and music in your current work with technology, finance, and data?

So many of my core skills (curiosity, love of understanding how things work, love of learning, willingness to risk failure, love of connecting people to things that make their lives easier) really “sing” when embedded near and in technology, finance, and data.  

I grew up around my dad’s machine shops, my mom’s classrooms, and around a lot of Princess Leia action figures. They instilled a sense bravery around taking things apart, curiosity and love of learning… and a willingness to rebel a little to make things better.

There are so many parallels between musical notation and programming languages. The symbols and annotations to denote pitch, volume, and feeling are not unlike code that denotes color, resting, or active states. Learning to read music equipped me to learn to read code.

Studying opera taught me process, iteration, and resilience. It’s an “Olympic hack” of the voice. To be truly successful requires planning, collaboration, iteration, comfort with fluidity, and trust with/in your conductors, peers, stage teams, and audience. A lot like tech.

You’ve spent the past decade working in product management and design with teams across 20+ countries. Could you share 2-3 strategies, approaches, or tools that you use to collaborate and drive projects forward? (whether it’s broader methodologies like Design Thinking or Scrum, or actual tools you can’t live without)

Choosing the right tool for the right project is key. There are projects and teams that are perfect for Agile and some that are better suited to hybrid Scrum+Waterfall. There are projects that merit a full 20-person, two-day Design Thinking workshop and some that just need you, a teammate, and a white board.

It’s important to cultivate a “toolbox” for yourself and your teams so that you can identify and apply the right tools for you and your product. Investing time in everything from your network, to classes/conferences, to reading newsletters and blogs equip you to do that effectively.

I come at things with an artist’s hand so I couldn’t live without a Palomino Blackwing pencil to sketch ideas out with, a sharpie for impact, and Post-it notes (thank you Minnesota for Post-its).

What types of emerging technology are you most excited about, and why?

Good question!  I’m excited for where automation will lead and for what we might decide we, as humans, don’t want to automate.

The trajectories of shrinking sensors and their impact on human computer interface are super exciting. A future of more integrated “dust-like” computing environments and the extensions of wearables into consumable/”bio-embeddables” will be life-changing.

“Conversational interfaces” and “assistive voice search” are really amazing too especially as our nlp and nlg language (text-to-speech/speech-to-text) capabilities extend beyond “seed” languages.

I’m thrilled to spend time at DIG on the 1/2 Shell because there are some really interesting emerging tech startups and technologies incubating in the DIG SOUTH community.

Are there any emerging technologies that may seem “trendy” right now, but actually have potential for broad-reaching impact in the next year, 5 years, 10 years?

We are funny. It can take us 5-30 years to figure out what a new technology can do….and another 50 to figure out how to ethically govern it.  

AI/ML and AR/VR/XR are super trendy and… not exactly young. They have, to date, been pretty cloistered in academia and enterprise on the AI/ML side and in Entertainment/Operations on the AR/XR/VR side but I think tools and access will open up to a broader audience in the next 5-10 years. It will come as the software to design for and hardware to use these two types of technologies get easier for people to use.

Data is trendy. Most companies are still 10 years away from aligning, maturing, and “productionalizing” their data and analytics and a lot of the high impact emerging tech has dependencies on this… So I think we’ll see broad-reaching impact from these investments farther out.

Obviously, every organization is different and has unique goals…but, are there 1-2 key data points we should all keenly pay attention to when building a product or company?

Every product owner and organization should be able to answer the question “Why?”

“Why this product?” “Why now?” etc. The inability to adequately answer “Why?” is a data point I pay a lot of attention to. I’ll dive into this more in my talk at DIG on the 1/2 Shell.

You teach at Columbia’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics Program — is there one concept you’ve taught recently that any manager or business leader could apply to their work?

We teach students how to design for platforms that can be used to explore and visualize large datasets. As business leaders you often need to communicate complex data-informed ideas with broad audiences.

Learning to visualize your data in ways that present the most important information up front, the “question,” the “signal,” or the “call to action” in an accessible way is one of the most valuable concepts we teach. (Huge thanks to Matthew Weber for inviting me to teach in this program!)  

You also serve as a startup advisor. What’s the coolest idea you’ve seen lately? And what’s your best piece of advice for an early-stage entrepreneur?

There are so many cool ideas. The social impact ideas give me hope for the future from grey water hacks to sensor-driven Ag-Tech. The everyday life-improving things like bot-driven calendar assistants are amazing. The next generation of 3D printed parts for mini-satellite rockets that I got to see this summer are works of art.

My advice for early stage entrepreneurs is: invest in diversity early. It’s critical from both a tactical and ethical perspective and the earlier you start the better.

If you could design your own piece of software (whether a product, robot, video game) just for fun, what would it be?

A friend of mine, Jamie Ruddy, is an amazing screenwriter. I’d love to design a video game around one of her stories. Video games often under-invest in story.

You’re a musician for One World Symphony — “New York’s hippest orchestra” — so, we have to ask: what music are you listening to these days, and what’s your favorite song to sing?

Today I had a couple of things in rotation: Queen (because I read a piece about the new Freddie Mercury film), Zoë Keating (cello+tech!!), and ESKA (what a voice).

There isn’t a favorite. I love new work, and it’s been amazing to sing some of One World Symphony Conductor, Sung Jin Hong’s pieces. There are pieces I love to sing because they are technically challenging (Britten…Stravinsky), there are pieces that are architecturally amazing (Bach…Mozart), and there are things that just demand being sung at top of lungs in the car (every stadium anthem/power ballad ever) because: who can resist this?!  

Whether you’re a music fan, a technology lover, or a CEO, if you’re here, you’re likely just as curious and passionate in your work as Carrie is in hers. Don’t miss the unique opportunity to learn from this global technology leader alongside innovators from around the region. During her DIG on the 1/2 Shell Keynote, Carrie Jaquith will share actionable insights to help you harness the power of data and build intuitive products that scale. 

Click here to REGISTER before the event sells out!