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Monday, June 24, 2024
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What incoming students can harness from a successful UW-Madison computer sciences alum

Badger alum John Stecher's journey from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the C-Suite of the largest Alternative Investment firm in the world is a lesson for all students: stay determined and embrace collaboration.

John Stecher sits in an office in New York City, reflecting on a career trajectory that most young professionals can only dream of. 

Today, he is the head of Technology and Innovations at Blackstone, the world's largest alternative investment firm. But 27 years ago, he was only a computer science freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Stecher, a UW-Madison alum, commands a crucial role as the chief technology officer at Blackstone. His journey from the collegiate labs of Madison to the executive offices on Lexington Avenue embodies professional growth, determination and the power of collaboration. 

Many incoming students may look to technical proficiency as the only cornerstone of corporate success. But Stecher's journey from UW-Madison to Blackstone illustrates that success also depends on embracing hard work, strategic thinking and an innovative spirit. Adopt these principles as your tools to transform challenges into opportunities and aspirations into achievements.

Stecher began his rise to Blackstone at IBM, where he was awarded the title of Master Inventor. 

"The title Master Inventor means that you are constantly innovating and driving forward IBM's intellectual property portfolio," Stecher told The Daily Cardinal.

Over his nine-year tenure at IBM, Stecher contributed to 45 patents, each addressing various complex challenges that had not been solved before. His innovations ranged from improving how computers manage their memory and resources to designing better ways to store data across different areas in a network.

This period of his career illustrates Stecher's commitment to continual learning and an unwavering drive to pioneer solutions that had never been achieved before.

But he didn’t do it alone. Stecher, working alongside a dedicated IBM team, helped create, refine and implement solutions "that can actually be helpful in the world."

Reflecting on his title as a Master Inventor, Stecher said it influences everything from receiving accolades — "woo, you're a master inventor, that's super cool!" — to developing a deeper understanding of collaboration's role in innovation.

“You can’t make stuff by yourself. You are just a single person with a finite set of ideas, and no matter how smart you are, working together and collaborating with others is so much more effective," Stecher said. 

Following his tenure at IBM, he joined Goldman Sachs as a managing director, where he helped launch the firm's retail banking division. 

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But the primary focus for Stecher in his later years was running the engineering and product teams for Marcus, a consumer banking platform designed to simplify personal finance with user-friendly online services for savings, loans and investment management. Under Stecher's leadership, the team managed to "move from the first line of code to booking loans within six months, then going live by the tenth month." 

This turnaround not only showcased his ability to lead under pressure but also showed the necessity of flexible leadership in the fast-paced tech environment.

Stecher then transitioned to Barclays, serving as the chief technology officer and innovation officer for three years then moved to Blackstone to assume the role of chief technology officer. 

Blackstone is the world's largest alternative asset manager with $1.04 trillion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, according to Investors Business Daily.

In his role, Stecher focuses on harnessing the power of technology to transform and enhance Blackstone's operations. Stecher has been instrumental in migrating Blackstone to Amazon Web Services (AWS), completed at the end of 2021. 

Stecher credits this move as a foundational element for the future of Blackstone, allowing for continued operational advancements. 

"I looked at what would increase efficiency and enable a highly available infrastructure that could span across the U.S. in different data centers,” Stecher said. “That was a huge part of my decision to move toward AWS." 

But Stecher said he doesn't always jump for the newest technologies, instead looking “at the cost of making the move versus the benefit."

From recent innovations at Blackstone, to a career-long commitment to principles of determination, innovation and collaboration, Stecher’s path to success embodies the Wisconsin Idea of lifelong learning.

Whether you’re an incoming student, or preparing to graduate next spring, consider how Stecher’s principles of relentless pursuit and strategic innovation can be applied to your studies and upcoming careers. 

What solutions can you devise for the pressing issues in your field? How might you, like Stecher, drive forward the next wave of innovation?

His path from the classrooms of UW-Madison to the executive suite at Blackstone demonstrates that success is often not just about what you learn, but about how you apply that knowledge to tackle the challenges you encounter and adapt creatively at every step.

Bryson Turner is a sophomore studying computer science and economics. Do you agree that an emphasis on collaboration and a focus on innovation is the key to career success? Send all comments to

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