Humans of iQmetrix: Yan Zhao, Strategic Operations

This month, our Humans of iQmetrix mini-profile is based on Yan Zhao, Internal BI [Business Intelligence] Manager in the iQmetrix Strategic Operations team. 

Yan’s team lead, Rhonda Caswell, describes her as curious, sharp, gracious, and authentic.” Yan has an impressive academic background and a surprisingly creative talent, and she reveals an interesting link between Regina, SK, and her family’s home city in China.

iQmetrix: Tell us a bit about your role at iQmetrix.

Yan: My role is to analyze our company’s core data, and provide reports and dashboards for internal use, to help all our teams with strategy and decision-making. This can include things like revenue reports that look at recurring revenue, one-time revenue, and expenses that can help people execute the saturation analysis, cost-profit analysis, and focus on addressable market; product health reports, which we can give to our Product teams to monitor the growth of various value streams. 

I also help our People & Culture team with some projects like the employee retention rate within Chrysalis, and analyzing any trends from exit interviews, to help our P&C team with staff retention and recruitment. I try to make reports that are easy to digest and understand, so in that way I do help the whole company, and help our leaders to see our business better.

What I love about my job, from day one to now, my work in IQ is flexible and open. I don’t think there is a fixed format — of course, I need to go to work, nine to five, but generally I feel there is a lot of room for me to explore what I want to do. What I must do, should do, could do, and will do” [the MoSCoW prioritization approach] is defined by myself. The MoSCoW principle is something that I’ve learned to apply, and it means I’m driving my own tasks and my career. Even where there are bigger strategies that I’m not driving, my lead asks for my input, and I can contribute to it. I still get a great feeling from that.

What’s the story that got you to iQmetrix, and when did you start?

I started in 2010, so I’m coming up on my 13th anniversary. My husband and I moved from China to Canada in 1999 and I wanted to reinvent myself and find a new career. I spent 10 years studying computer sciences at the University of Regina. First, two years doing a computer science certificate, then another two years for my master’s, then six years for my PhD and post-doc. 

While I was in academia I was in an ivory tower, but when I came out and I couldn’t find a teaching or researcher’s position I was so lost. It took me a long time to adjust to that. I went to work for a consultancy in Regina and it was okay, but in the end I was too overqualified for the kind of project work they had available. 

My former UofR classmate, Ken Konkel [now VP of Professional Services at iQmetrix], was working at iQmetrix and told me what a great company it was to work for. The interview process was tough — four rounds with a written exam — but I was very happy to get the job. And I think all the years of academic training learning to look at data and problems from every angle really helped me succeed in the job and enjoy my work.

What brought you to Canada from China in the first place?

My first degree at a Chinese university was in Engineering, majoring in Fashion Design, minor in Business. The disciplines ranged from the creative, such as artistic illustrations, to strict fashion engineering, such as building and engineering the structure of clothing. I got a job in Shanghai Garment Company dealing with garment import and export business. But around the time we had our daughter, we wanted to move overseas.

A long time ago my father-in-law was a visiting scholar to the University of Regina because his hometown city Jinan, in Shandong province, is a twin city of Regina. They’re both agricultural centers of their countries, so I guess that’s why they were twinned. My father-in-law built up a network in Regina, so when my husband and I were looking to emigrate, we initially chose Regina. 

My husband moved one year earlier than me because my daughter had just been born and I followed him to Regina a year later with our daughter. Since then, we have also had a son. I remember when I was pregnant, my daughter really wanted a puppy and I said to her, if you want something to cuddle, how about a baby brother!”

In 2020 we moved to Calgary for various reasons. We love hiking and the outdoors. We’re always walking, walking, walking, at weekends or holidays.

What’s something interesting that we might not know about you?

I’m a very diverse person with lots of interests! I still look at myself as a researcher, but not limited to computer science only. Everything around me can pique my attention and interests easily. For example, I study wildflowers and weeds around me and try to set up a profile for each of them. I am also very interesting in names, words, and their origins. For example, I learned that the last name of our team lead, [Joanne] Helm, comes from the Old English helm, which means to protect, to cover”; [Kris] Moen, from the Norwegian mór, meaning moor, plain, heather”. It’s no wonder that Joanne is so careful and protective, and Kris is so reassuring. [Rhonda] Caswell is a habitational name from Old English, cærse is watercress and well is a spring stream. That is so beautiful! Learning these bits and pieces of knowledge makes me feel that everyone and everything has a hometown. 

Another hobby is that I practice Chinese calligraphy. I’m not just interested in what it looks like but, again, the etymology of each of the characters, which are like an abstract illustration of the word’s meaning. I study each word and its origin and try to imagine and mimic the way it was originally created, and make it make sense. It gives me a lot of fun to explore that small portion of the Chinese culture.

I like drawing too. Thanks to technology, I can doodle and draw wherever and whenever in my spare time by bringing just a small tablet with me. This year I started a small project to capture the season change in Calgary every two weeks. This idea was inspired by Chinese Jie Qi, the way inhabitants of ancient China divided the year into 24 equal segments based on the Earth’s movements around the sun. I want to use this way to perceive the change of seasons and to pay homage to the years.

Another hobby is that, during lockdown in 2020, my former team lead Lindsay suggested I learn a musical instrument. I thought that was a great idea, and so I picked up the guitar and started to learn it. I can now play some simple melodies! 

Want to learn more about the Humans of iQmetrix? Follow the series on our blog or our Instagram page.