Grow on the Tiger Land
The glimpse of Golden Gate Bridge from sky told me I was finally here – the new continent. It was December 6, 1993.
Just 24 hours ago, I waved good-bye to my family and my hometown, Xi’an, an ancient capital city with famous Terra Cotta soldiers. After several more hours travel and layover, close to midnight I arrived at my destination – Baton Rouge.
With very little belongings and broken English, I started my student life at Louisiana State University. I immediately noticed that my poor “Chinglish” hardly assist me in communication. I couldn’t understand professors’ presentations at the classroom, and had to copy all writings on the blackboard onto my notebook. I relied on an English – Chinese dictionary to study the course materials. But by the end of my coursework, I managed to get straight A.
As I moved forward into my research work, the challenges went beyond language. I was introvert in nature and educated by oriental culture to obey with superiors and authorities. I was afraid to speak up my own opinions in disagreement with others. My advisor, a Greek immigrant, brought me under his wings. He constantly encouraged me get out of my inner ego to express my own ideas without fear of imperfections. He also taught me everything was possible, which I considered as one of my life-long encouragements.
In my spear time at school, I followed my American host family around to explore the local landmarks and southern cultures. I dared to visit those haunted plantations of Civil War Era telling some hair – standing stories. I enjoyed the Cajun cuisine and got obsessed to crawfish Étouffée. I sat inside Tiger Stadium to feel the heat of football seasons. I sneaked into Mardi Gras parades around French Quarter at New Orleans to celebrate happiness and craziness.
I passed PhD thesis defense on August 1997, and was offered a position of design engineer at Seagate Technology. My academic career at LSU, the beloved tiger land, came to an end. I joined in one of Seagate Divisions located at Santa Maria, California at the end of September 1997.
Hard drive along the road
On the flight to Santa Maria as I saw Tiger Stadium gradually disappearing from my sight tear was rolling down my face. Anxiety, along with enthusiasm, once again occupied me, but I knew that I had to move one step closer to my dream.
As the newest addition to Seagate research group, and being single, I devoted to fit into company’s the time – to – market business strategy. After quickly climbing over steep learning curve I started applying academic knowledge to initiate some solutions for existing issues. So deeply buried by technical work I completely ignored the latest landscape of hard drive industry.
In November 1997, the founder and then CEO, Alan Shugart, arrived at Santa Maria to present the quarterly results and hinted increasingly competitive environment. The rumor of layoff was flying around, but none of these raised my alert since I was confident that my hard work could get me through this.
On the morning of January 15 1998 my manager called me to his office and informed me that I was among the people whom the company decided to let go. Still in employer sponsored green card process, the termination of my employment also meant the possibility of deportation from this country. The world suddenly collapsed in front of me, and I didn’t know where to go and what to do next. The kindness of my colleagues pulled me out of the darkness. With their help I was able to launch another position inside the same company. On March 1998 I moved to the North Star State.
Emerging from something unexpected gave me strength to step outside my comfort zone. I decided to take part – time MBA program at Carlson School of Management. With a fulltime job and a toddler at home, I strived hard to finally completed MBA in the spring of 2007.
With strong aptitude for mathematics and the newly acquired knowledge in finance, I was thinking to combine these two together. A book “My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance” inspired me to seek opportunities in the field of quantitative financial risk management. By extensive researching to understand the responsibilities of a quant, I prepared myself to step into a brand new field.
Ride on the wave of crisis
A week before the Christmas 2007, I received a phone call from a manager at GE Capital to offer me a position. “You know this is the best Christmas gift I have ever received!” I screamed with joy. “I am glad I am presenting this gift to you, welcome on board,” said the manager.
I started working as a quantitative risk modeler at GE Capital at the beginning of 2008, almost at the same time the greatest financial crises in decades burst upon us. I took this crisis in stride, trying my best to shield the organization from extensive financial loss. I studied the topics in commercial lending such as underwriting, pricing, delinquency, probability of default, loss given default, capital allocation, etc. Monitoring and analyzing inventory repossession and cash flow of those defaulted customers became real – time practices for me.
There were two computers I commanded throughout a workday – a desktop to perform dataset analysis and model building, and a laptop to exchange email messages with management and the offshore analytical team. Often I worked through lunch, at night or over weekend to catch up with tight schedule. Using the “zero tolerance” quality standards I had used hitherto as an engineer, I pushed myself to make sure there were no errors in the information I passed on to the senior management.
Being located in different places around the globe, we were required to travel for critical meetings. On a business trip I chatted with a Mexican taxi driver and was shocked to know that he had to work for 18 hours each day to fund the medical cost for his baby boy with heart disease. Any personal loan was remote due to his minority status.
Never before had I felt so touched! Being a minority myself I attributed my progresses to the equal opportunities in this country, from that moment I set my heart on making a positive impact on the life of minorities.
Come Home with US
In spring of 2012 I came across an open analytical position in fair lending organization at US Bank, and submitted my application. Once I learned that the mission of the organization was to ensure that everybody, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender or age, has equal access to financial resources, I decided to join in the effort. I became one of US on April 30 2012.
Unfairness is caused by arbitrarily limiting financial services on minorities in the consumer loan origination processes. As an analyst my responsibility is to use analytical tools to uncover the pattern hidden in a group of loan application records. The pattern is constructed into a regression algorithm (model) to quantify the underwriting policy. The model then serves as a “digital underwriter” to scrutinize millions of consumer loan applications and to report the cases of unfairness.
My daily work includes designing quantitative models, which often requires rigorously logical thinking and attention to details. Sometimes it can be tedious or even frustrating to debug the codes, or check some unreasonable output produced by a set of seemly flawless codes. But when I see previously unrelated loan application records finally tied together by a concise mathematical formula, any hard work becomes a treat.
Standing at vibrant downtown Minneapolis US Bancorp center connects to various interesting places through skyways. The farmers’ market on each Thursday at spring and summer time is convenient for busy professionals to grab fresh products on our way back home. Daily riding on the bus gives me time to enjoy coffee and read news, by the time getting to work I always feel refreshed and informed.
While looking back, the road to evolve myself through numerous “shocks” wasn’t always picturesque. I feel grateful with the opportunities presented in front of me, and I am also proud that I could embrace all those changes to finally arrive at the point that I can offer my help to other minorities.
While looking forward, work won’t get any easier with new topics to learn, new challenges to resolve and new hurdles to leap over. There are however, also achievements to be cherished as I strive hard, adapt as I need to and trust my abilities. So I love waking up every morning and getting to work; I love any new initiatives to help minorities gain their financial freedom, one small step each day!