Engineering manager applies leadership and innovative skills on the job

B rent Zucker, ’16, an engineering manager in the Innovation Lab at NCR Corporation recently earned the NCR Corporation 2020 Co-inventor of the Year Award for patents he created as innovative technology for use in banks, retailers, restaurants, small businesses and more. After working at NCR for nearly five years, Zucker has filed over 30 patents and has had at least 12 approved. He also supervises a dozen full-time engineers and five-to-10 interns. 

Brent Zucker, '16, is pictured at the top of the NCR Corporation building in Atlanta.
Brent Zucker, '16, is pictured at the top of the NCR Corporation building in Atlanta.

Serving in a leadership role is nothing new for Zucker. At Georgia College, he represented the Computer Science Department on the College of Business Dean’s Student Advisory Board in 2015 and 2016.

“I enjoyed getting to understand the university at a higher level,” Zucker said. “As a student, you don't normally think about how the school can improve the academic, social and education quality. Instead, you’re focused on individual goals, like finding an internship, a job or making friends. It was really neat to feel like my voice was heard at the administration level.”

Some of the things he did on the board was offer suggestions for how to improve engagement with different organizations and how to improve the curriculum.

“Just being able to have that opportunity to discuss topics with your peers that normally didn’t come up in conversation was awesome,” said Zucker. “Georgia College has such an impressive student community to collaborate with.” 

“I'm very purpose and impact driven. For me, that’s really important. The things I'm contributing to will make a difference to someone. And creating things that other people care about is just really exciting to be a part of.”
– Brent Zucker

He felt honored to serve on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board and thought it was a great opportunity to provide feedback and gain leadership skills.

“As a student or a new person to the workforce, you might not have the confidence to provide suggestions or feedback to more experienced people who are decision makers,” Zucker said. “This experience provided an opportunity for me to have those candid conversations with the dean, and he listened to my suggestions.”

While at Georgia College, Zucker assumed additional leadership roles, serving as vice president for the Association of Information Services, vice president of Delta Sigma Phi and president of Hillel and a member of the programming team. Belonging to these organizations taught him time management, as well as additional leadership concepts.

“One of the big things for me in belonging to these organizations was the accountability of being a campus leader,” he said. “I learned how to make decisions that impacted my peers, and I also had to earn their respect by setting an example like doing my assignments on time and making good grades. The experience developed me into a leader who I would want to follow.

Dr. Jenq-Foung Yao, professor of computer science inspired Zucker in many ways including doing research and exceling in his studies.

“The biggest thing he did for me was gave me the opportunity to fail when I needed to,” Zucker said. “I had to retake some of his classes, because I deserved it. If I wouldn't have made good grades when I didn't deserve them, I wouldn’t have learned any lessons. So, I think he did a good job of making me learn the hard way.”

He especially enjoyed the more advanced computer science program coursework like software engineering, operating systems and networking, where he frequently worked in teams.

“Today at work,  when I'm given a problem, I look back on these classes and connect the dots of what I've learned to a solution, so that I can turn an idea into reality,” Zucker said. “I can visualize myself learning about it back then. So, it helps me today. I also find the information I learned at Georgia College fascinating.”

In addition, he applies some software development applications he learned at Georgia College on the job.

“I look back on those software development practices that I learned when I was a student,” Zucker said. “And I'm teaching those applications to new members of my team.”

Outside the classroom, he learned additional leadership and organizational skills, where he would help coordinate projects. 

Brent Zucker, '16
Brent Zucker, '16

Additionally, Georgia College provided him the opportunity to bridge his undergraduate studies to his profession. Zucker was involved in a dual-enrollment program at Georgia Tech, which opened the door for him to do research, while obtaining his master's degree in computer science and machine learning. 

Thinking independently to problem solve is something Zucker applies every day in his profession.

“I'm never told what to do,” he said. “I'm just given a goal we want to achieve. And often I don't even know what the expected outcome of that goal looks like. I not only have to think about how I’m going to reach that goal, but I need to communicate that plan to my team. And I need to trust that they are developing their professional skills so that they could solve some of the broken down problems that are a part of that larger journey.”

Zucker enjoys the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship and in surrounding himself with like-minded people who enjoy coming up with valuable ideas, so they can build them out quickly to get feedback in the marketplace. He also likes being an inclusive lead, as in the patents he’s co-developed that earned the award. They were built on technologies, like machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide solutions for businesses.

“I'm very purpose and impact driven. For me, that’s really important,” said Zucker. “The things I'm contributing to will make a difference to someone. And creating things that other people care about is just really exciting to be a part of.”