From veterinarian to consultant

We talked to Slalom Detroit’s Xi Palazzolo about her path from animals to advanced analytics, and what she loves about the Slalom Detroit culture.

Tell us about the island where you grew up. What was it like?

I grew up in Hainan, a tropical island in China. I left in college, and there has been so much development on the islands ever since I left. Every time I go back now, I feel like a tourist and visitor. There’s a dormant volcano, beaches, rainforest, the world’s first round-island, high-speed rail line, and lots of world-class golf courses. Not surprisingly given the tropical climate, we have very good coffee. Right before China became a country, lots of French people were there, so they brought a lot of French influence, including coffee and architecture styles. We have lots of coconut trees and things that are made with coconut, like candies, cookies, and dinnerware. My family, including my parents, are still there, so I try to go back every year.

Tell us about your background in veterinary studies and public health.

I got my undergrad degree in veterinary medicine in Beijing and was a veterinarian for a year. I specialized in small animals, mostly cats and dogs. In China, at least back then, people didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on their pets. The cats and dogs were sometimes left at the hospital when they had illnesses that were expensive to cure, which was really heartbreaking for me to see. When I came to the U.S., I thought about getting my vet license to practice here, but it would have taken years and a lot of money. So, I decided to pursue public health, and it was a great decision.

I heard you did research on the human norovirus. Tell us about that.

Yes, I did this during graduate school. Human norovirus is the pathogen that causes the ‘stomach flu.’ It spreads quickly in semi-enclosed environments like cruise ships, childcare centers, and long-term care facilities. My focus back then was to investigate how prevalent this virus is in childcare centers and long-term care centers. I was working with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to collect samples from the environment, such as toys, the surfaces they touched, the kitchen area, and the hands of the care providers.

I worked in the CDC virus lab to isolate the virus from the samples we collected, which led me to data analysis using advanced programming languages. Through such analysis, I distinguished various bacteria and viruses by analyzing their DNAs. I found it fascinating. It was the combining two of the things that I love, mathematics and programming. That made me go into a rabbit hole of researching: what other programming languages are out there? And what can I do with this kind of skill?

How did you get into consulting?

I was working at a subsidiary company of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where I was working with a team of consultants from EY [Ernst and Young]. Coincidently, at that time Jason reached out to me about a potential opportunity at Slalom Detroit. That’s when I got exposed to consulting. Then I did some research and found out that as a consultant I could work in different industries on different projects, which was very suitable to me, because I love new challenges. So I started looking into being a consultant and got to know more about Slalom.

My people manager and our senior leaders care about how I want to grow within Slalom. We talk about how they can help me and what kind of opportunities they can expose me to.

What’s the culture like in Slalom Detroit?

Everyone is really supportive, and they put people first. My people manager and our senior leaders care about how I want to grow within Slalom. We talk about how they can help me and what kind of opportunities they can expose me to. That’s something that I haven’t really seen at a company before, that an employee’s growth is so important to them.

What career direction do you want to head in the next few years?

I want to be known for my analytics expertise in the Internet of Things, because that’s the direction the world is heading. Nowadays, we have smart devices everywhere collecting data. And with all the data we’re collecting, we could do so much cool analysis and build solutions that have great impacts on clients and the world. So, I would like to see myself developing my expertise in this area and becoming a leader within our data and analytics practice.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to garden, growing foods we like to eat. Learning to cook a new cuisine and trying out new restaurants are also my favorite things to do. I like karaoke. I love photography and capturing photos of nature, animals, my family—like my husband having fun with our cats—happy moments like that.