Johnson & Johnson

Summer at a workplace that appreciates being playful and open


(by Eric)

Hi again! This post will be my last of the summer. I hope you've been enjoying the previous ones. I've tried to be as detailed as possible to give you an insight into how data science works at Johnson & Johnson (J&J). By now, my internship has already ended and I am in the thick of things again as a graduate student at Columbia. With the fall hiring season starting to get underway at many schools, I'll write for those of you who are curious about life at J&J doing data science. I will also share some fun and interesting activities I enjoyed during the summer, and some thoughts looking back at my experience.

Working hard and playing hard

Before J&J, I had never imagined that an internship could involve activities like going out for laser tag, volleyball, and dodgeball with other interns and people in my team and department. But guess what? That's exactly what happened this summer! Plus, it happened on a work day (a Monday, if I remember correctly). We got the entire day off to go and have fun. Then, after we were all sweaty and worn-out from playing, we didn't have to go back to work. We just headed back home early and had the rest of the day to ourselves. Need I say more about the awesomeness? I think you get the picture.

I'm certainly not suggesting that we all go out and play every day. People at the office, including the interns, work on many projects and get things done. However, I definitely got the sense that my department understood the value of having fun, taking a break occasionally, and getting to know your colleagues outside of the professional environment. There is nothing like throwing foam balls around in dodgeball to hit that mental reset button in your brain. The experience also makes you see your colleagues in a completely new light. Competitive games seem to bring out more of the character in each person, which is pretty fascinating if you're paying attention.

I definitely got the sense that my department understood the value of having fun, taking a break occasionally, and getting to know your colleagues outside of the professional environment.

Many people completely changed when taken out of the formal office setting and dropped in the middle of a dodgeball game. Some became bolder, rushing to the front lines, while others stayed back and played more cautiously. Me? I wasn't afraid to take some hits if I had to, but my best ability was catching the balls, not dishing out the throws (for those not familiar with dodgeball, catching a throw takes out the opponent player and allows you to put back in a team player who was hit earlier). I let the best offensive hitters move to the front and do their thing, then I moved up when they had exhausted their ball supply and went in search of ammunition. Anyway, I digress.


A culture of sharing and collaborating

Here's another interesting fact about the data science team: We were about evenly split between introverts and extroverts. I was pretty surprised when we got the Myers-Briggs results back and saw the distribution (for those of you who are curious, I tested INFP). Yet, despite our drastically working styles and personalities, we all got along together, both in and out of the office. I think it speaks to the kind of environment that J&J fosters and the people they hire that things went as smoothly as they did.

Before I end, there's one last thing I want to mention because I really appreciated this part of the summer: Executive lunch and learn. You show up, get fed, and get to sit down with a manager/director/VP talks about their career and fields, and answer any questions from you and the other interns about just about anything. What could be better? I've heard that a lot of big companies are doing this kind of thing now, but I still have to say, I thought it was an incredible opportunity to hear from the top leaders at J&J. They all took unique paths to get to where they are today. Some started at J&J fresh out of college and moved from role to role, or department to department as they outgrew each position. Others started in a completely different industry and by chance found J&J and came to love the company for its culture.

Hearing the top leaders of Johnson & Johnson tell their stories, each in their personal style and voice, is like nothing else. It gave me a better perspective on my own career and helped me see my own story in different ways.

Hearing them tell their stories, each in their personal style and voice, is like nothing else. It gave me a better perspective on my own career and helped me see my own story in different ways. Sometimes, you'll even hear them talk about fascinating topics that have nothing to do with J&J or their jobs. I remember one time where the speaker was asked a question about his experiences at business school. He started out talking about the MBA program, but after a while launched into a riveting discussion of a class he had taken on economic development. The talk turned into a mini-crash course on the elements that you would need if you wanted to develop a country from the ground up. For someone like me who had never taken a business course but had always been curious about what they taught, listening to him was simply amazing. But maybe that's just me.


Oh, one more thing before I sign off: After hearing him speak at a lunch and learn, I reached out by email to a VP in IT and was able to land a personal 1 on 1 with him in his private office for half an hour. That has got to be a highlight of my summer at J&J.

Well, that's all I have. It's been fun recounting the experiences I've had these past few months. Hope you've enjoyed too. If you have any questions about my experience, I'm active on LinkedIn. Feel free to look me up and shoot me a message!

A closing note: The company really emphasized their credo during the summer, and stressed how fundamental it is to the culture at J&J. It talks about the company’s responsibility to the final users of their products and services, their responsibility to their employees, communities and stockholders. I thought to describe it in my own words but I couldn’t really do it justice. So here it is.

data science and design: finding solutions that work

(by Eric)

In my last post, I described my working environment at Johnson & Johnson and touched on some of my work. This time, I'll reflect on some lessons I have learned over the summer. Along the way, you'll hear about the types of projects you might tackle and the kinds of challenges you might encounter.

Understanding the needs of the user

One thing that surprised me is that Data Science projects don't just rely on ideas from Computer Science, Statistics, or Machine Learning. There are really important human-centered considerations that often go under-appreciated and under-explored. For example, in my projects, I would perform the initial data exploration, run the algorithms to extract useful patterns from the data, and arrive on a viable solution for the problem at hand.

I needed, first and foremost, to focus on empathizing with the people for whom I was solving the problem

All well and good – in total, this would take at least 1-2 weeks to get right. However, my work didn't end there. It then became my responsibility to present the results. I can imagine what you might be thinking now – spin up a PowerPoint slide deck, drop in some nice graphs from Excel, and let it rip, right? Wrong. Turns out, it wasn't enough to be a confident and clear speaker. It wasn't even enough to be skilled at constructing pretty PowerPoint slide decks and Excel charts. What I needed to focus on above all was to get into the heads of the people for whom I was solving the problem.

That way, I could understand what they wanted, which meant I could tell a compelling story (using PPT and Excel) of how the proposed solution worked and how it would positively affect the business, the clients, and the end users. That's what mattered and what the work needed to address.

On the Data Science side, while it was somewhat important to spend time looking for the best possible machine learning architecture, for ex. tuning the set of learning hyper-parameters, and eking out as high as possible a test dataset accuracy rate, these efforts were all wasted in the end if I couldn't get the people I was presenting to to appreciate the usefulness of my work or sell them on the idea of using my proposed solution.

While it is important to look for the best possible technical solution, the efforts are wasted if you cannot convince people on the usefulness of your work

That nearly happened on one of my projects; I spent 3 weeks with another intern building a usable prototype for automatic customer complaint labeling, only to find out at the end of the project, when we demonstrated our final proposal for the business users, that what we presented didn't address the exact problem they thought we were going to solve. It turned out this error was caused by some fuzzy definitions in the project requirements, as well as some unintended miscommunication between our Data Science group and the business users who commissioned the work. Luckily, our project leaders were able to smooth things over and we satisfied the business users by spending additional time adjusting our solution to their expectations. That experience taught me valuable lessons in project management that I definitely won't forget in the future when I get to be the one leading.


Data Science isn't just for mathematicians

On that same topic of Human-centered considerations, you might be surprised to know that there is a place in Data Science for those interested in Design and Human-Computer Interaction. Another intern in the Data Science group was majoring in that field at Carnegie Mellon. One of her projects involved working with two other Data Science interns to design an “intelligent” (in the Artificial Intelligence sense) app for use by certain J&J customers. For that project, she choose to work at two J&J-owned locations; on some days, she would be located with the Data Science group in NJ, while on other days, she would commute to a J&J Design studio in NYC. During that time, she acted as the unofficial liaison between the Data Science group and the Design group, coordinating efforts and making sure nothing was lost in translation in the flurry of work emails. Her work on that project included mocking up color schemes and data visualizations and designing the user experience for that app. Pretty interesting and thought-intensive work, from what I could see, and quite a contrast from what I was doing.

As for the other interns on that same project, one was studying Epidemiology and another Finance. Not the backgrounds you might expect from a Data Science team, but they were doing impressive work as well. To give you a taste, their work involved designing and building the behind-the-scenes structure of the app previously mentioned – setting up a database scheme to store data gathered from app users; customizing a publicly available AI engine for the needs of the app; and writing the overarching logic that would combine the user interface, AI engine, and storage database into a seamless user experience. By the end of the project, they had not only built the framework of the app, but also created a completely functioning prototype that you could download and try out on your own phone. Isn't that something?


Learning never ends

I'm going to finish up this post by briefly mentioning my other summer projects and highlighting the most salient lessons from these experiences.

The first project I completed during my internship was purely statistical in nature. It involved finding patterns in medical device sensor data that would forewarn of impending device failure and shutdown, events that if left unchecked would require maintenance calls costing millions of dollars in total. For that project, I processed data and fit statistical models in R and visualized results in Tableau. Ultimately, I showed that anomalous measurements from very specific sensors would predict failure at least a day in advance. During the project, I first learned how to use Tableau to visualize data and create easy to understand dashboards for presentations.

The third project (the automatic customer complaint labeling project was my second), which is still ongoing, involved designing a general framework for analyzing and visualizing the behavior of product quality metrics across US for the J&J enterprise. Once completed, this framework would be used to predict and prevent future product quality problems, recalls, shortages, and costly government sanctions. If anything, this project's lessons built on the previous one's.

It is important to start somewhere, anywhere, so that one wouldn’t get stuck in the weeds of over-analyzing solutions

One of our working group's major challenges was figuring out what exactly the requirements and expectations of the business users were so that we could translate them into a solution design. For a problem with such a broad scope, it turned out to be very difficult! Various business users affected by the project, each had their own vision of what kind of analysis we should do and what the final product should look like. Finally, for the sake of simplicity, we decided to build a prototype that would incorporate specific convenient features and definitions and then modify it in the future according to user feedback. For me, that was a lesson in the importance of starting somewhere, anywhere, even if it wasn't the perfect place, so that one wouldn't get stuck in the weeds of analyzing and over-analyzing every possible solution.

Well, that's all I have for now. Hope you enjoyed! For my last post of the summer, I'll concentrate on life at J&J besides work and mention some things you might look forward to if you get to work here. Stay tuned!

the exciting applications of Data Science

(by Eric)

As a Data Science intern at Johnson and Johnson, I've had the privilege to dive right into two full projects. By the end of the summer I'm expecting to complete a third. My experience here has been nothing short of enriching, interesting, and challenging.

At the moment, I am pair programming with another intern to tackle a machine learning problem. We are coding an algorithm that takes raw customer complaint data in the form of Excel files and assigns to each row of text a one word category that best summarizes the description. This effort involves the use of Excel to compile and clean the data, Python scripts to implement and test various machine learning algorithms, and Tableau to visualize the results and present them in a digestible format for our business users. I can definitely say that the Statistics and Computer Science courses I've taken at Columbia are proving their worth now!

Writing code very intensely with my project partner Ryan

What I've really enjoyed about working in my Data Science group is the level of trust and freedom that we are given to carry out their work – no one's looking over your shoulder to check on your progress or make sure you finish things on time. At the same time, there isn't complete chaos or lack of structure; we hold project meetings regularly to help align efforts and ensure that each contributor is given the resources he or she needs to deal with obstacles and problems as they arise.

What's more, we interns not only carry out projects from start to finish, but we also get to own the entire result by presenting proof-of-concept demos and updates to the business users (many of whom are J&J department directors and managers). For us, this means that beyond coding and analyzing data, we're challenged to think about the broader impact our work has and find ways to communicate very complex ideas to a non-technical audience.

By showing our capabilities and the power of Data Science to solve important business problems, we get to shape the image and future success of our department.

The inside of the working space

As was mentioned in the previous Blind Applying post, Data Science is a relatively new concept to many people in the company, so this gives us interns a unique opportunity. By showing others in the company our capabilities and the power of Data Science to solve important business problems, we get to shape the image and future success of our department. Pretty exciting to say the least!

There's a lot more I have to say about my summer experience, but I think I'll wrap up my first post here. Stay tuned for more about my projects, where I work, and what life is like at J&J.

The window view right by where I sit

Meet Eric, the Blind Applying champion of Johnson & Johnson

Eric has been finishing his Master’s in Statistics at Columbia University. Models and statistical analysis will prove useful at his Data Science internship at Johnson & Johnson. He will be sharing his stories and insights through his blog.

Were you surprised to find a professional match with Johnson & Johnson?
Yes, I was completely taken by surprise. It hadn't occurred to me that Johnson and Johnson was looking to hire people with knowledge in statistics, machine learning, or data science. Lucky for me, they started their data science internship program only a few years ago, so I get to be one of the lucky ones to help shape the influence and future direction of data science at the company.

What has been an interesting learning for you while working with data? 
In my deep learning course, I've enjoyed seeing firsthand how effective deep neural networks can be at accurately learning features from data. For the course final project, I worked on a team that achieved a classification accuracy of > 99% on the well known MNIST dataset. This is a remarkable result because this level of accuracy rivals human levels of performance. It's really quite fascinating that such a result is achievable despite the fact that the scientific community still doesn't really have a good explanation for how neural networks do what they do.

3 songs that will be on your playlist this summer?
Believe it or not, I listen to a lot of pop country. First 3 songs that played when I hit shuffle: Days Go By (Keith Urban), We Are Tonight (Billy Currington), and American Honey (Lady Antebellum).

IT and healthcare: A look back and a way forward

Looking back on my summer internship at Johnson & Johnson, I am surprised as to how much experience I’ve gained and how much I’ve learned. Not only did I not know Objective-C or Swift, but this was my first time ever doing mobile development or iOS development. I had never even been in possession of a Mac prior to this! If you are interested in IT and healthcare, this is an amazing and exciting field to become involved in. As long as you are prepared to take initiative and learn, you will be successful in IT. 

Work with a positive effect

The reason why I was most excited to get involved in this field was to use my technical skills in software development to benefit healthcare. As a computer engineering major, there are not many other opportunities to know that the work you do every day will positively impact the health of others. Johnson & Johnson gave me that opportunity this summer and I truly felt that my daily experiences were unique. 

From school to work is quite the learning curve

As a college student, there were many challenges that arose when trying to adjust to the corporate environment. In school, courses are more structured and you are directly given assignments and resources to guide you along the way.

While working in IT, work comes in waves and you are personally responsible for finding the resources to develop the necessary skills. It may be more difficult, but your ability to learn will be drastically improved as a result. 

In conclusion, I’m very pleased about my experience this summer. I got to work with a wonderful team, I made tons of new friends, and I learned more than I could have imagined. I would love to return to Johnson & Johnson in the future, but I know that I will be better off no matter where I end up. Thank you to the Blind Applying Program for making it possible for me to share my experience!

Learning Swiftly: How coding in a new language transformed my skillset as an engineer

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on an internal Johnson & Johnson application. Prior to this internship, most of the coding I had done was individual and never really dealt with user interfaces. When you’re coding with a team, you feel much more inclined to keep everything clean and follow good practices. It is important for any team member to look at any piece of code and know exactly what is going on.

Form has to follow function

Most of my experience in school and at home has been with Java, but everything that our team has been working on is in Swift. It can be intimidating to learn a new language, but it has been enjoyable. I’ve found that most of the concepts are the same with differences in syntax, but I have grown to like Swift during the time I’ve spent here.

The ability to work with user interfaces is one crucial skill that I’ve learned. Most classes in school are more concerned with concepts and less so with user interaction. Functional code is only half of the battle. If it isn’t aesthetic, then nobody will feel comfortable using it.

Learning through challenges

One of the biggest challenges that I have faced while working on the application is the lack of resources that exist in regards to Swift. Languages that I am used to such as Java or C++ have existed for decades and nearly every issue that you could encounter has happened to somebody else before. Swift is only a year old and still has a lot to work out. Not many people are using it at the moment, but it is likely to be very relevant in the future.

The way I have overcome this obstacle has allowed me to develop some important coding skills. I find myself debugging conceptually instead of syntactically. With other languages, it can be far too easy to find the same issue online and copy a line of code. With Swift, you might find yourself researching a similar issue in objective-C and applying it to your situation. While this may not solve the problem as quickly, I find myself developing a better understanding for why the problem arose and how it can be solved.

"A dragster themed stop light, a number of license plates, street signs, and even an area of wires and devices themed to be a wall of tools. These are just some of the interesting touches that make developers truly feel like they are in a garage."

The more you know...

My inspiration for learning and overcoming obstacles is the ease that comes along with it. Every new language that I learn is even easier than the previous one, and every obstacle I face is one that I’ll never need to solve again. All coding knowledge is cumulative, and the frustration that is involved decreases as your ability improves. The exposure to real world coding that I am getting at Johnson & Johnson has completely transformed my skillset as a computer engineer.

Internship #snaps

The Blind Applying team asked Dan, interning at Johnson & Johnson, to talk about his internship through three pictures.

Something that makes you feel proud

One thing that always makes me feel proud is when my code runs exactly as expected. It can be frustrating to learn new languages and try to get used to unfamiliar syntax. It’s always worth it when you see the final product.

Something you like in your work environment

This is a selfie of me and a few of my team members. We are all interns from different places throughout the United States. We spend most of our time together and have gotten to know each other really well.

Favourite place in New Jersey

  Photo source:  Wikimedia Commons  / Cristophe95

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons / Cristophe95

Six Flags Great Adventure is my favorite place in New Jersey. At 510 acres, it is the largest theme park in the world. The roller coaster “Kingda Ka” is featured in the picture, which is the tallest roller coaster in the world at 139 meters high.

Learning how to code from a garage

(by Dan Sarnelli)

My first two weeks at Johnson & Johnson have been going really well! Tuesday, May 26th was my first day. It consisted mostly of learning about the company, meeting all of the other interns, and becoming familiar with the workplace environment. Some interns, like me, are commuting to Johnson & Johnson from right here in New Jersey. However, many of them are traveling from locations all over the country and staying at apartments in Rutgers University. It was interesting to see how so many people from completely different backgrounds and locations were coming together for the same opportunity. At the end of orientation day, we were able to meet our managers and learn about our specific teams.

  Every room in Johnson & Johnson has the Credo posted on the wall. The Credo is used for guiding the decision making of all employees. It has existed since 1943 and can be seen in all languages.

Every room in Johnson & Johnson has the Credo posted on the wall. The Credo is used for guiding the decision making of all employees. It has existed since 1943 and can be seen in all languages.

The team that I joined is responsible for developing applications for various Johnson & Johnson needs. This type of work would be far more technical than anything I had experienced before, but I was excited for the challenge. I was glad to see that there were several other interns and coops joining the team as well. While all of us were at varying levels of coding experience, we were all sure about one thing: we would learn a lot this summer! I’ve found myself learning many new coding languages over the past two weeks and there is much more to learn as time goes on.

  This is the entrance to “The Garage.” It is the main room for developers at Johnson & Johnson.

This is the entrance to “The Garage.” It is the main room for developers at Johnson & Johnson.

The atmosphere at Johnson & Johnson is very suitable for developers. At the moment, the other interns and I are working in an open room with a large table and glass doors. Communication is simple and there is much more freedom than simply working in a cube.

Some developers work in a location called “The Garage,” which actually has a garage themed door as the entrance of the room. I really enjoy the environment, the people I’m working with, and the work that I’m doing. I’m excited for the rest of this summer!

Meet Dan, who starts his internship today at Johnson & Johnson

Dan can solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded. But he can also put his coding skills in use to develop cool new apps to be used in healthcare!

Were you expecting to start your career in IT at Johnson & Johnson?

Indeed! My older brother had been working at Johnson & Johnson for about seven years. He loves the company and knew that it would be a great opportunity for me. As I have already done an internship at Johnson & Johnson, I was able to see exactly why.

Johnson & Johnson helps millions of people worldwide, each day. After seeing the end results of the work being done, it felt like much more than just a job. With all employees keeping this in mind, the atmosphere at Johnson & Johnson is very positive. It seemed like a perfect place to begin my career in IT.

What is, in your opinion, the most promising aspect of merging IT with healthcare?

Combining IT and healthcare is one of the most promising ways to help people by using technical skills. Not everyone can be a doctor, surgeon, or bio-medical engineer. I think this is a great opportunity to use my skills in computer science to make improvements in healthcare. This goes hand in hand with my answer to the first question. Healthcare enables you to be more in the touch with the benefits of your work. This creates a much better working environment.

You’ve been a champion in Rubik’s Cube 5x5 blindfold competitions several times. What has that experience taught you?

Going to Rubik’s Cube competitions has taught me quite a few things. The 5x5 blindfolded event is relatively unknown, difficult, and obscure. With that being said, there are still hundreds of people from around the world that practice tirelessly to be the best at it.

If it can be that difficult to be the best at something so strange, one can only imagine how difficult it is to be the best at things that actually matter. It is a subtle reminder to always try my best, especially in a world where everything is constantly changing and everyone is always improving. On the other hand, competing was a lot of fun and it was nice to make so many friends from around the world in the process.