This is a good time to be a young professional in Birmingham. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Magic City ranks in the top 10 nationally in young professional growth, increasing at a rate triple the national average between 2010 and 2015. In a recent survey of thousands of small-business owners nationwide, Birmingham was named the top city in the country for millennial entrepreneurs. The city is also home to established, employee-hungry leaders in health care, banking, biotechnology and energy, along with a wide range of technology services firms that work closely with those major players.
UAB students have the chance to connect with companies large and small throughout their time on campus. That includes real-world experience through internships and co-ops, networking events hosted by employers and Birmingham’s many active young professional organizations, and capstone courses taught by visiting executives. Then there is the ever-growing network of Blazer alumni, which reaches into all areas of the city’s job market.
You’ll find plenty of Blazers at Influence Health. The Birmingham-based company specializes in healthcare marketing and consumer engagement tools, including software platforms that equip healthcare organizations to effectively communicate with patients through social media, dynamic hospital websites and portals that allow patients to access their personal health information from anywhere. It’s a combination that demands creative thinkers in a range of fields, from healthcare gurus to marketing experts to data scientists. Since it was founded in 1996, Influence Health has worked with more than 1,100 organizations, including Google, Facebook, the Cleveland Clinic and UCLA Health.
Four UAB alumni at Influence Health recently shared their thoughts on what it’s like to work on the leading edge of today’s data-driven digital economy and their advice on jump-starting a career.
By the time I started my first job, I had built up a wide variety of skills and work samples. That gave me confidence, which is such an important part of success in the business world.
Web & Digital Marketing Manager
BS, Marketing/Professional Sales Certificate Program, 2010
On any given day, Nick Hogan may have 20 different marketing campaigns running. There’s one for each of Influence Health’s individual software products, along with specialized messages that explain how clients can make the most of the company’s services, for example, or highlight a health system’s success story. These campaigns, in turn, generate a complex stream of data that feeds forward into the content and design of future ads and articles as well as changes to the website. But the goal, Hogan says, is simple. “Putting together an experience that allows people to find what they’re looking for — that’s what I’m passionate about,” he says.
The essence of marketing, says Hogan, is storytelling: “identifying needs and then working with a team of creative individuals to show how we can help.” That puts the field at the heart of any successful business, he notes — a point that was emphasized in his time in UAB’s Collat School of Business. “UAB does an excellent job of giving you a framework to see how marketing fits into the big picture,” Hogan explains. “When I got out into the workforce, I didn’t have to learn why my position was valuable. When you can see the forest, it’s easier to work on your own tree as well.”
In addition to his marketing major, Hogan was attracted to Collat’s Professional Sales Certificate Program thanks to a class with faculty member Ken Miller, MBA, Ed.D. “I loved working with him and loved the fact that understanding sales is a great starting point, no matter where you are,” Hogan says. “Learning to recognize someone’s needs and how to present your product to meet those needs gives you a strong foundation. Anyone in business would benefit from that program.”
When he was at UAB, Hogan was constantly on the lookout for ways to put his education into practice. He would volunteer to help launch new events, promote parties and brand startup companies, for example. “It let me see what I enjoyed the most, and where I could contribute,” he says. “By the time I started my first job, I had built up a wide variety of skills and work samples. That gave me confidence, which is such an important part of success in the business world. I recommend that any student, no matter what their major is, should use their skills to find their voice.”
I learned how to put my brain in a place where I could adapt to what is in front of me.
Manager, Software Engineering
BS, Computer and Information Sciences 2001
When Nathan Cooke earned his degree in computer science, the world hadn’t yet heard of Facebook or the iPhone. But he says he still uses the lessons he learned in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Computer and Information Sciences every day. “My education at UAB taught me to think like a computer, not how to use one specific technology,” Cooke says. “I learned how to put my brain in a place where I could adapt to what is in front of me.” That’s the difference between a computer science degree and the coding “boot camps” that are now popular training options for people looking to get into programming, says Cooke. “A boot camp graduate may be great at one particular programming language, but applying that same knowledge to another language can be difficult. A four-year computer science degree really gives you the chops to do that.”
At Influence Health, Cooke leads a team of software engineers and one quality assurance engineers. One of their tasks is to perform complex data modeling for the company’s healthcare clients in order to help them identify patients who might best benefit from disease screenings and other health services. “One of the things I like most about software engineering in general is it gives me the ability to be creative with logic in order to solve problems,” Cooke says.
The problem-solving aspect of computer science came through especially well in a senior-level software development lifecycle course at UAB, says Cooke. It was led by the operations manager and CEO of the Birmingham based technology firm CTS. “They not only saw this as their opportunity to give back, but as a way to find new employees,” he says. “They had us take something from an idea on paper to creating it, using it and updating it. That real-world application of the theories we had studied during the previous three years was invaluable.”
Cooke found his own first job, at an engineering firm, through a connection he made at UAB. “You really rely on the people you meet in school,” he says. “You are all in the same spot, fresh into a new career, and you can bounce ideas off each other. You can figure out what people are passionate about and help them achieve their goals as well as learn from each other’s mistakes.”
Cooke is excited about the return of UAB football in 2017. “I was a season ticket holder, and the memories of going to games with my friends and family really stand out,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the Blazers take to the field again this fall.”
I firmly believe that internships help set you up for success.
April Shumake Davis
Senior Director, Marketing Brand & Buzz
April Davis loves telling stories — and seeing results. “It’s an exciting time to be in marketing and in healthcare,” she says, “the digital world we live in today provides so many great opportunities to share client success stories, education, best practices and more. Using technology we can also show campaign results, return on investment and how our teams’ work raises awareness and helps healthcare organizations like never before.”
“Any given day my job involves coming up with and collaborating on strategic ideas that will tell a compelling story in a digital capacity,” Davis says. “Working with a team on creative projects, finding the words, images and media that best tell that story, is very rewarding.” Marketing automation technology, “makes it easier for us to share that content and to see which message works best with our audience,” she adds. “Marketing is getting a lot more executive attention because we can tangibly show how we are advancing the business and helping our clients improve healthcare.”
Davis earned her undergraduate degree in hospitality management and business at the University of Mississippi. “When I neared the end of my college career, I wanted to explore next steps,” she says. “I did a lot of research, and I knew that getting a master’s degree was a great way to accelerate your career.” She looked at programs across the South and was attracted to the Master of Business Administration program in the UAB Collat School of Business. “UAB offered classes at night and on the weekends, so I could gain work experience and further my education at the same time — applying what I was learning at school to my work projects and vice versa,” she says. Most of her classmates were veterans of the business world. “It was priceless and inspiring to be in the company of people with so much real-world experience to offer,” she says.
Davis was particularly fond of her classes with the late Mickey Gee, Ph.D., the business school’s longtime executive-in-residence and director of internship programs. “He worked with me to find out my career goals and what I was good at,” she says. Gee arranged for Davis to interview at MedMined, the UAB-launched startup that was eventually acquired by Cardinal Health. “I did an internship there while I was in grad school, and they hired me when I graduated,” she says.
“Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student, I highly recommend an internship before entering your full-time career,” Davis continues. “Teachers and clinicians have that on-the-job experience built in to their training and education requirement, but most other degree programs traditionally haven’t had that.” The Collat School of Business now requires that all its majors complete an internship before graduating. “I’m really glad to hear that,” Davis says. “I firmly believe that internships help set you up for success.”
Get to know your professors: One of the great things about UAB is that the class sizes aren’t huge, and you can learn a lot from hanging out with the faculty.
BS, Marketing 2010
As a user interface/user experience (UI/UX) engineer, Morgan Stone is responsible for how apps look and how they function. “I like that I can float between the lines of design and engineering,” he says. “I get to be creative and I get to solve problems, which is really thrilling to me.”
By the time he started at UAB in the mid–2000s, Stone was already working in web development and design. “I decided to focus on developing other skills,” he says. He was interested in communication studies and accounting. Then, as a junior, he became involved in UAB’s chapter of the American Marketing Association, where he worked on award-winning video projects and designed the group’s website. “I got to hang out with the professors there at the time, including Mickey Gee and Dr. Skinner, and I fell in love with the marketing program,” Stone says. “The way I see it, marketing is about creating the need that design fills.”
Stone is now an adjunct instructor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Art and Art History, where he teaches courses on interactive design. “We have everyone from computer science to English majors,” he says. “We teach them from the ground up how to design and code a website, from HTML & CSS to the basic principles of user interface design. The way I look at it, to be a great graphic designer today, you have to have some interactive skills.”
A wide range of classes that he took at UAB, including accounting courses and a computer science course in object-oriented programming, have come in handy at work, Stone says. “Investigate your options,” he advises. “Look for clubs or programs or extracurricular activities that you are interested in, then get involved. And get to know your professors: One of the great things about UAB is that the class sizes aren’t huge, and you can learn a lot from hanging out with the faculty.”