Brain implants to learn Mandarin? Meet blogger Krista Sande-Kerback

“I recently heard a futurist predict that we’ll be able to obtain chip implants for our brains that could provide perks such as Mandarin language instruction. Sign me up!” – Krista Sande-Kerback, IBM Market Research Analyst

There is that old saying about how “curiosity kills the cat but satisfaction brought her back.” Most of the time curiosity is a good thing, particularly in the thought leadership arena, when you’re exploring strategic issues and stretching conventional thinking. It can help you view things in a different light and think outside the box. Have you been curious about our bloggers and where their inspiration comes from? What is it about our top bloggers’ posts that piques audience interest time and time again? And, if their content is so thought-provoking, are the experts themselves just as fascinating?  Welcome to our new series where we will be featuring some of our most engaging bloggers to share a little more about what makes them tick.

First up, meet Krista Sande-Kerback. As a Senior Analyst with IBM Market Research, she helps business leaders at IBM identify opportunities in new and emerging areas of technology. Prior to joining IBM, she taught English in Germany and served as Head of Strategy for 85 Broads, a global professional women’s network. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is passionate about mentorship, intrapreneurship, agile ways of working, and bridging the digital divide. She runs a women’s group at IBM and serves on committees focused on professional development, communication and millennials.


Tell us a bit more about yourself – Who are you? And what do you do in your spare time? Outside of work, I’m enjoying relative “newlywed” status, and my husband and I like spending time with friends, experiencing NYC’s cultural offerings, taking long bike rides, and traveling as much as we can. I’ve been a violinist/violist for many years and in the last several years learned how to ballroom dance. I speak Spanish and German and am attempting to learn Portuguese and Mandarin. One of my fun facts is that I’m on a “quest” to go wine tasting in every US state and major wine region in the world (33 states and 15 countries on 6 continents down, and many to go). Believe it or not, this goal is less about drinking good wine and more about wandering a bit off the beaten path and meeting interesting people!

What are you currently working on or are most excited about? A few teammates and I just completed a study related to the Internet of Things (IoT), or a world “made up of physical objects (things) that have chips, sensors embedded in them that allow the sensing, capturing and communication of all types of data” (for more information, see my colleague Bill Chamberlin’s excellent blogs on the subject). In March, IBM announced that it is investing $3 billion to establish a new IoT unit. It is exciting to see my team’s work play a potential role in shaping some of these efforts.

Robotics is another area that I find fascinating. I can understand the apprehension around its potential to displace human workforces, but it has a huge upside.  A close friend was recently injured in his workplace, and just the other day a colleague sent me information about a technology in development that could have really aided him with the lifting required in his job. I also think that robotics will create a lot of opportunities for highly educated people as workplaces become more flexible and new skills are needed to manage these more complex environments.

Additionally, IBM’s Watson technology intersects with some of my work. While at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders’ meeting for fun this past May, my husband and I enjoyed playing Jeopardy with Watson. The cognitive system has come a long way since its Jeopardy victory in 2011 and will only become more sophisticated as it learns over time (I believe Watson and I could teach each other a thing or two about wine!)

Krista playing Jeopardy against IBM Watson (Photo credit: Krista Sande-Kerback)
Krista playing Jeopardy against IBM Watson (Photo credit: Krista Sande-Kerback)

Why do you like to blog about emerging technologies? Part of what attracted me to the technology industry is that it is changing all the time, and there is never a dull moment. In a few years, I could be doing a job that doesn’t even exist today. From the perspective of a company like IBM, this forces us to stay on our toes and work really hard to understand where the market is headed so that we can make the right calls about where to focus our resources. It’s fun to see the boundless creativity in this industry, too. I recently attended a talk with futurist consultant Faith Popcorn who predicts, among other things, that we will soon be able to obtain chip implants for our brains that could be upgraded to provide a variety of perks…such as Mandarin language instruction. Sign me up!

How would you explain agile to a kid who knew nothing about it? Agile is a way to work together as a team to solve difficult problems. The best agile teams give each other time to play. This allows people to experiment, and even if you mess up, it’s no big deal because you learn from your mistakes and try again.

Since I think a picture can be worth a thousand words, I also like this visual that I found while researching agile/scrum for a previous blog post. The idea is that you’re not building something with one piece at a time, but building something that you can use immediately or get feedback from customers on – a minimum viable product – even if it isn’t perfect the first time.

Image Credit: Crisp’s Blog
Image Credit: Crisp’s Blog “What is Scrum?”

Are there other experts, bloggers, articles or books that you find interesting in this space, or that you have drawn inspiration from? My interest in pursuing a technology career was actually piqued by working at professional women’s network 85 Broads (now Ellevate Network) before going for my MBA and joining IBM. We built out our platform to support women entrepreneurs, and I was very inspired by some of the women I met and what they were building. Forbes produces a particularly good list of websites and resources for women, so I recommend checking it out.

I also regularly read/follow Techcrunch, Mashable, NYTimes, SeekingAlpha, The Atlantic, Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Daily Muse, Advertising Age and many other brands.

Where do you see technology creating the greatest impact? I think technology will play a really important role in helping us deal with challenges around food and water. I am gravely concerned about the lack of these resources leading to even more serious conflicts as the human population keeps expanding. In June, I spent a lot of time pondering the issue of desertification during a vacation in Morocco. While I enjoyed roaming around desert sand dunes on a dromedary and could easily pay a handful of dirhams for water to rehydrate in the heat, 80 percent of Morocco’s land is at high risk and so many people – including the nomadic Berbers a few of whom I visited (below) – are vulnerable. They are receiving support from the government, but are living mostly off of what they can gather from the land.

Nomadic Berber in Morocco (Photo credit: Krista Sande-Kerback)
Nomadic Berber in Morocco (Photo credit: Krista Sande-Kerback)

I’ve been glad to learn recently about some powerful innovations in farming and weather prediction, however. Farming has been, and continues to be, among the most fertile laboratories for Internet of Things (IoT) innovation and large-scale adoption. For instance, insights from John Deere’s fleet telematics solution can enable farmers to program exactly what and where each piece of equipment will plant, fertilize, spray and harvest for an area as small as one by three meters, or companies can work together within a cloud ecosystem like Thingworx to manage health and nutrition in precision agriculture for livestock. And IBM’s Deep Thunder can help farmers plant for hyper-local forecasts instead of them making bets that could risk their entire crops.

Can you share a personal AHA moment about the value of an emerging technology? I lived in Costa Rica more than a decade ago, and remember visiting a small town in a very remote part of the country that was known for its biodiversity. I went out walking one day and discovered a pay telephone – the only telephone available for the whole town, I learned – and it didn’t work. It suddenly dawned on me that if something were to befall me or the younger students that I was chaperoning, it would be quite difficult to get help. Traveling doctors come by every once in a while, and it might be feasible to evacuate someone to the capital via helicopter. But in an emergency, you might just die, and that was a daily reality in a place like this. I was young and naïve to be thinking in this way, but I had been rear-ended in the capital city a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, my injuries weren’t life-threatening since it took four hours for the Red Cross to get to me through the awful traffic.

I returned to Costa Rica about a year ago, and I’m impressed with how much better the infrastructure is. On a broader level, I’m excited about what I’m seeing in emerging healthcare technology. I wear a Fitbit, which I appreciate for monitoring my approximate sleep and allowing me to track certain vitals when I’m doing intense exercise, and it looks like 2015 will be a big year for smart clothing. The Watson Healthcare team and their partners are also doing some groundbreaking work in this industry to help doctors, researchers and others obtain a more holistic picture of health in order to improve decision making.

Can you share a funny story about when you’ve been “incredibly wrong” about a technology trend? (e.g., didn’t initially see the value, thought market would head a different way, etc.) I can’t think of any big trends that I called incorrectly, per se, but I carried a personal flip-phone for longer than I’d care to admit! I attribute that decision more to my occasional extreme frugality than lack of awareness of the technology. I had workarounds that helped me get by. But getting a brand new iPhone for the first time was a great feeling until I found myself having a dream about Twitter while in the Sahara Desert, a reminder that I need to disconnect a bit more…

What’s next for you? Professionally, I’m continuing to round out my marketing and strategy experience, and IBM offers ample opportunities to do both. A stint with Corporate Service Corps is definitely on my “IBM bucket list” if I can make it through the rigorous application process, and I’d love to live overseas for a longer period of time again too.

Anything else you’d like to add? Thanks for reaching out to me! I’ve really enjoyed reading and contributing to this blog, and look forward to seeing more thought leadership coming out of the IBM Center for Applied Insights. Also, for any readers who might be interested in working for IBM, I’m always happy to talk to you about careers here.

Read Krista’s posts on the IBMCAI blog and connect with her on Twitter @kristasande and LinkedIn

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