Deacon Spotlight: Jason Hooker

Jason Hooker (2018 in Business & Enterprise Mgmt with Minor in Computer Science)

Senior Data Analyst at Optimity Advisors in Washington, DCHeadshot of Jason Hooker, white male with blonde hair, wearing a blue shirt and suit jacket and a big smile

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.

I’m currently closing out my time at Optimity Advisors – a management consulting firm focused on healthcare digital transformation where I’ve worked as a data analyst in DC since graduating from Wake in 2018 – before going back to school. I’m excited to be joining Brown University’s Master’s Program in Data Science in the fall, and I’ll spend much of the next couple of months participating in their summer preparation program, where we’ll dive into various topics in math, programming, statistics, and ethics in data. I’ll also spend time enjoying some traveling and relaxation before a busy year.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?  

I spent the bulk of my time at Optimity working on the analytics team of the digital experience program of a large healthcare payer. We tracked members’ behavior tendencies on the company’s online portal, monitored key performance indicators to measure the program’s performance, and created interactive visualizations that enabled our clients to keep tabs on the usage of their various online tools. I worked with analytical tools like Tableau and Google Analytics a great deal, and I was encouraged to go out and learn about other tools and gain new skills that would allow us to do our work more efficiently or provide new services, entirely. I enrolled in some free online data science courses where I learned the programming language R and the basics of topics like regression analysis and machine learning. Taking these courses, as well as being encouraged to apply what I’d learned on my actual project work, left me wanting more in data science and ultimately led me to the decision to pursue a graduate degree in the field. I’m looking forward to continuing down this path.

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

One of the biggest differences between my first “real world job” and my experience at Wake was the lack of frequent measuring sticks for my performance at work, and I found this particularly challenging. At Wake and other schools throughout my life, I always had a good idea of where I stood given the number of graded assessments given to us. There were no such grades at work, so tracking my progress in various areas required more effort on my part. I learned the importance of taking ownership of my own professional development, in large part through setting goals and actively seeking feedback on my progress toward them from others.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?

Overall, I’d recommend making a conscious effort to take responsibility for all of these aspects of your life. It’s unlikely anyone will plan these things for you or hand you a syllabus to follow, so it’s important to set aside some time to decide how you want to approach each of these parts of life. Do some research – there are lots of books out there on these topics and more, as well as much more succinct articles online if that’s more your style. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help or advice, too; most people are more than willing to give it. Then, I recommend making an easy-to-follow plan for each of these areas. For finances, track your spending and create a (simple or in-depth) budget for yourself. For health, find or create an exercise routine and save some recipes for meal-prepping. For values, jot down those you’d like to uphold with some activities that practice them. For work/life balance, make a schedule for your days and weeks and try to stick to it, modifying it as you learn what works best for you. This sounds like a lot, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Making and following plans makes creating good habits so much easier.

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

Last summer, I began thinking about ways I could make a change in my career and was looking for some advice throughout the process when I found Wake’s Young Alumni Mentoring Groups. I signed up, both for the advice and insightful discussion that would come from it and to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone – I’m so glad I did. Led by Megan Hoyt, our group had numerous meaningful conversations about work and life that I likely wouldn’t have had elsewhere. This experience was so helpful in figuring out how to navigate the changes I was mulling and making a plan for what was to come next. I have also been lucky to have some incredible mentors at work, both formal and informal, who have been sounding boards for any ideas that popped into my head, no matter the topic, and huge supporters of my professional and personal development. Having mentors like these has been invaluable – credit to all of them for helping me take the next step in my career.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

Dive in! The more you put into your first job, the more you’ll get out of it. Make an effort to get to know people in your company, involve yourself in work or activities outside of your daily role, and try to regularly push yourself out of your comfort zone – this doesn’t sound enticing, but the growth you’ll feel from it is extremely rewarding. Give all tasks your full effort, no matter how easy or difficult they may be, and try to learn something about your role, peers, company, industry, or yourself every day.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

With my near future being centered around the master’s program in data science, I’m now focusing on fully preparing myself academically in order to get the most out of this experience. After the program, which I anticipate completing in a year, I hope to find a job as a data scientist somewhere within the field of biotechnology in my hometown of Boston. While somewhat vague now, I plan to further define and work toward this goal throughout the next year using the strategies I’ve learned from my mentors from Wake and my professional life.

Story published in June 2021. For current updates about Jason, visit his LinkedIn page.