Behind the code: Meet Micaela Eller

Micaela Eller is a Senior Agile Transformation Lead and Senior Program Manager for IBM Watson AI. She’s responsible for guiding IBM Watson businesses and leading teams — from leadership to the execution teams — through their business culture transformation journeys by providing coaching, mentoring, training and support.

In this edition of “Behind the Code,” you’ll learn more about Micaela and how agile transformation is helping Watson teams work more efficiently and thoughtfully to address some of the biggest problems of our time.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you ended up becoming an agile coach for IBM Watson.

I joined IBM in 2015, coming from a biotechnology background. In my previous work in biotech labs, we were always looking for ways to reduce costs and be more efficient. I was introduced to agile when an enterprise agile expert taught my team the scrum process, and I quickly got interested in using it as a mechanism for addressing process inefficiencies and the unknowns of our projects. I found myself drawn philosophically to this way of doing things — it seemed to fit the way my brain works — so I honed my skills around project management and agile.

How do you tailor your work as an agile transformation lead to the specific needs of IBM Watson leaders and developers?

When I started working with Watson teams, I had to learn new coaching skills and figure out how I could best support their needs. Setting aside the methods and tools for a moment, it’s important for teams to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. Transforming how we work requires us to be willing to change and to get insight from others. IBM and Watson are a crucial point in this cultural shift, as we are moving from a culture of doing to a culture of thinking. And that means examining what we do, figuring what’s impeding our growth and making the needed changes. When I’m working with teams, I ask a lot of questions and try to gather the collective knowledge of the group so I can figure out the best way to guide them using all the tools in my agile toolbox.

Why is the culture change particularly important in the area of AI?

There are big problems we’re trying to address with AI — climate change, for example. And if AI can provide clarity on the biggest challenges of our time, it can help us make better decisions.

A more agile way of working helps Watson teams to develop AI solutions collectively, with the best innovation and knowledge from the whole group.

What interests you about the future of AI?

What inspires me most is the potential of AI to really make a difference. All my life I’ve wanted to be in a career that would make a positive impact on the world. With AI, that potential is almost unlimited, but the work needs to be done with integrity and thoughtfulness.

What one agile takeaway do you want to leave our readers with?

Agile is fundamentally a way of thinking that you can apply to anything. The way we think about things is critical, because it effects how we execute. Agile can be meaningful and transformative for teams and businesses, but changing the culture of how we work is difficult. It often stretches us in ways we’re not comfortable with. The biggest barrier I see is with teams that want to keep doing things the same way they always have. More innovation is possible — and more aha moments — when we pool our best ideas.

What stands out about the culture of IBM?

In my work with teams, I’ve found that IBMers in general, including the Watson teams I work with, have a genuine desire to make a difference. IBMers are eager to help and take action to get something done. It’s definitely not what you see everywhere.

This article is part of our “Behind the Code” series. Check out previous posts here and here.