An interview with Jack Huang, MSE’03.
Whether you’ve stood above the Porcupine River to observe thousands of caribous thrust their way across the current, or seen 10,000 monarch butterflies alight on a stand of eucalyptus trees, you can appreciate that migrating from one environment to another is a tumultuous endeavor, requiring power, perseverance and not a little instinct. And you would, perhaps, value a bit more, the labor of love by Jack Huang, MSE’03, to migrate the website and member database of the Wharton Club of New York from its legacy system to join The Wharton School’s new, enterprise, alumni database and website management platform.
Jack, with roots at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, works as senior front office technologist for Aberdeen Asset Management, by day. By spare-moments, he is the club’s Chief Technology Officer, and, thus, creates, repairs and daydreams about the club’s website. The migration was a landmark accomplishment for the club in 2009, and as a result, we wanted to ask Jack a few questions about it!
In a few words, what was the big move?
Our WCNY website integrated with the Wharton Global Alumni Network, giving all WCNY members one-stop access to the school’s 85,000 alumni around the world. One user name, one password, one user profile.
What was the club’s motive to migrate?
Over six years ago, our club, with the Wharton Club of Southern California, and the Wharton School began a project to integrate the alumni networks technologically. The concept was we should have one central site that connected all alumni and provided benefits that were valuable enough to make it in everyone’s interest to use the site. We also wanted to simplify users’ experience and create the technological foundation and tools on which to expand our already powerful alumni community.
What are the benefits for alumni?
Being a WCNY member, you become a member of one of the most exclusive and powerful networks in the world. Our website fundamentally changes the way alumni interact with one another and with the school. It is your most powerful tool for business, social, career and intellectual growth. Now, alumni have access to opportunities and people — access to business leads, friendships, intellectual stimulation, investment capital, government and career opportunities!
Can you describe a few user-friendly examples of the “one-stop access”?
Before migration, alumni needed to maintain multiple accounts on multiple school and alumni sites. They had to keep track of their different user names, passwords and user profiles. With one-stop access, now they only need a single sign-on and user profile maintained in the school’s alumni database. Once they click the big blue Wharton Alumni button at the WCNY website and sign in, they’re set. They can then go to any other Wharton-Penn alumni sites that have migrated (Wharton Paris, Wharton SoCal, etc. — all listed at the bottom of our home page). If you want to visit the Career Path website, choose the Job Board option under Job. Want to look up a former classmate? Go to the Useful Links page, under the About Us tab, then choose the Wharton Alumni Directory. Basically, once alumni sign onto our new WCNY site, they are signed on to the Wharton alumni network across the globe.
What were your challenges in migrating the site?
Our biggest challenges were data, data and data. It was a classic case of the Pareto principle, where we spent 80% of our efforts cleaning up 20% of the questionable data. Data verification, data cleansing and data integration were all essential when we tried to consolidate information from two systems, each with over 20,000 records.
Our database does not store any standardized member identification numbers. So in order to uniquely identify a person between the two systems, we needed to find some common data. E-mail address is a good one because it’s unique. However, many people have multiple e-mail addresses. Then, there are a couple of cases where a married couple, both Wharton alumni, decided to use the same e-mail address to register. The next piece of data we used was the first and last names. In one case, we found out that John A. Smith is the same person as J. Adam Smith. And then there are female alumni who married and changed their last names. But once we were able to scrub the data clean and improve the data quality, the rest was easy — well, relatively speaking.
Of course, a large-scale project like this required a lot of meetings and discussions and coordination efforts, but fortunately, all the parties involved in this project were very professional, and we all worked efficiently and effectively.
This must have been a colossal task — did you have any help?
Oh, yes. I’ve had lots of help throughout the process. Kenny Beck and Peter Hildick-Smith have both been instrumental in every part of the project. At the school, Kalyan Anumula (IT director of Wharton External Affairs) and Rose Laden (Associate Director of Virtual Services at the Wharton School) spent many hours working with us and were both great to collaborate with. As usual, our club’s manager, Stephanie Shaw, graciously handled most of the foundation work.
It was truly a great team effort, from planning to execution. All the premigration work we did upfront really paid off. The migration itself was almost a seamless event, with no interruption to our operations. And we had only a handful of small issues to fix post-migration, which is remarkable, considering the scale of the task.
What are the coolest, most functional features of the website?
One of my favorite places to visit is the Take the Call Forum (under the Forum tab of the www.whartonny.com home page). There, you can always find business opportunities, new ideas and alumni who try to reacquaint with old friends.
Are there parallels between your professional work and your contributions to the WCNY?
For the past 20 years, I have been working in financial firms but always in a technology role. I’m always interested in exploring and leveraging technology to enable more business opportunities. Similarly, as the Chief Technology Officer of WCNY, I enjoy helping the community by seeking and providing technology solutions for the social and business needs of the club.
What’s your next objective for the WCNY Web community?
One of my topmost priorities is the Web 2.0 initiative. A Web 2.0 platform will facilitate interactive information sharing and collaboration. It will allow people to easily make connections they would not otherwise have been able to make. We don’t want our website to be a place where we simply dump information on our alumni, but a social web where alumni can reach out to connect with one another directly. Think about LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc. It is about people connecting with other people.
What advice do you have for graduates with an affinity for technology?
Technology also plays a vital role in business. Advances in the field of technology from the past two decades have created a vast number of business opportunities. Be observant, and pounce just when the opportunity comes your way. Accept technology, use it and gain from it.