Sometimes we forget the humans behind the tech in our ever busy world. DSF is fortunate enough to know some incredible tech leaders across the world and has the privilege of hearing them present at our events. That being said, our Speaker Spotlight sets the stage to get to know our speakers on a more personal level and connect them with our growing community. Read the mini interview below!
User-centred, product-driven and highly-collaborative, I deeply believe in the power of collaboration to create products and features that play a key role in making user’s lives easier and more seamless. I have given a variety of talks on why Nobel-prize winning algorithms are not always optimal for businesses, and how you can build products to reduce barriers and reach users where they are.
How did you start out in your tech career?
I actually wanted to be an economist but couldn’t find a job in that field, so I ended up taking on a data science role. As was common at the time, the role itself was not very data science-y at the beginning.The organisation itself was still trying to find its feet with using data. However, several months in, the team pivoted itself to strategically focus on tackling the existing problems using the latest technology. We were fortunate in having a director who foresaw this and so a lot of the infrastructure was already in place..
What are the signs of success in your field?
This is a good one because someone once told me that there are two types of data scientists: those who are interested in the tech and those who are interested in what the tech can do. The key differentiator is that for some, the tech/model/technique is a means to an end (business outcome), whereas for others, the tech/model/technique is an end in itself. Given the sheer number of tech/models/techniques out there, it’s very easy to get caught up in the latest developments – such as stable diffusion – and try to shoehorn it into a problem. However, this is more likely to only benefit yourself rather than the business. Thus, success to me is being aware of the tech/model/techniques out there, but more importantly, being able to pick the right ones for the problem you are trying to solve.
What is the best and worst thing about your job role?
I’d say the best thing about my current job role is the fact that I get to work with different parts of the business. This is because data exists for each part of the company and we are the only data team, meaning I cross paths with people in different teams, doing different work all the time. This allows me to have a big-picture view of the business, understanding the problems in each area and how my team can help progress and deliver value. For example, I work with our marketing team to understand how effective marketing campaigns are in driving applications to our business banking service. At the same time, I also work with our growth teams to understand how we can improve the design of our application process to convert as many of these applications into customers. By working across these two areas, I have a holistic view of the customer pipeline and thereby can suggest ways we can develop the overall customer experience to drive more value to the company.
The worst part is that we often get plenty of requests that involve pulling together some basic numbers on things, like how many customers we have of a certain type during a certain period.The purpose can range from sizing a business problem or meeting mandatory regulatory reporting requirements. This can often prove difficult to manage alongside other priorities as sometimes, these requests can snowball to become much bigger. It’s something we have tried to actively address by encouraging others to self-service themselves. We do this through holding tailored training courses to query our database and opening up a StackOverflow-like forum where people can get more support on the specific issue they have, plus having daily drop-in sessions where people can just attend to get support. It has proven partially successful with the number and range of people querying our database expanding plus the number of requests falling over time as people are more confident in self-serving themselves. However, there is more we can do to ensure better coverage and awareness that this service is available and people can query the data themselves without fear of breaking anything!
What can you advise someone just starting out to be successful?
This probably applies to any industry really but the key thing is to be enthusiastic, curious and brave. Curious to learn and seek out problems in your organisation to tackle, enthusiastic to want to address those problems and brave enough to try different solutions (and possibly break things in the process). The best thing you can do when first starting out is to build a portfolio of experiences and projects where you have delivered value. This means working on issues that are important to your organisation and seeking solutions to them. The most powerful projects are those where things didn’t go to plan and you had to overcome obstacles – these types of experiences are the ones you learn the most from.
How do you switch off?
I am a keen cyclist, having started at the beginning of 2022. What I love about cycling is the freedom and adventure it affords you. Going out for a cycle, especially with some friends, exploring your city or even further afield, is very rewarding for the way you can see new things, going down paths that are less travelled and doing so relying almost exclusively on your own body to power you there. It’s a great way to connect with the natural world, helping me to switch-off, unwind and relax – forgetting about everyday things and focussing on the path in front of me, the journey to be had and the experience ahead. My highlight ride of 2022 was doing a self-guided ride from London to Paris with a friend over two-days. There were tough moments but the sense of achievement from completing it spurred us on.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I was younger, I was very enthusiastic, perhaps too much! I used to attend plenty of data science events, networking with fellow peers, absorbing as much as possible from these talks and eating copious amounts of pizza. One thing I didn’t do quite well though is maintaining the contacts I made from these events. What I would change is to have reached out to the people I exchanged details with and organise a general chat to continue to learn more from them.
What is next for you?
As a company, we are changing our strategic focus over the upcoming months so my attention will be on ensuring that data plays a key part in how we set our next targets and the level we set them to. Data will be crucial in ensuring they are set appropriately and can be measured easily. From there, I will help to support each team with their data needs.
If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?
With the recent exciting news on nuclear fusion, I would retrain myself to become a physicist and join the research to make it commercially viable! Even if a truly commercial nuclear fusion reactor is a long way off, news like this has a psychologically positive effect, serving to motivate researchers around the world that near-limitless energy is possible and is closer than they imagine. Linking this back to data science, quite often, experiments fail and the results of them are not what we want nor expect. However, the many failures are outweighed by the few successes we have and that is what makes the two respective fields of physics and data science so rewarding.
What are your top 5 predictions in tech for the next 5 years?
I can’t say I have any top five predictions that are uniquely different but the main thing which I am most excited about and want to see develop in the next five years is quantum computing. Particularly seeing it make enough progress for it to be available for use in some commercial applications. The sheer power it unlocks will enable us to really address the most pressing issues, such as climate change.
Watch Avision’s session at the Data Science Festival here.
Thank you to all our wonderful speakers for taking part in our Speaker Spotlight!
Want to become a DSF Speaker? Apply here!