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!

A bit about Ali

Ali is a Solutions Architect, Retail Lead – Databricks. Highly dedicated and passionate computer scientists with 7+ years of experience in the field. Focusses on Machine Learning Engineering, Data Engineering and Business Value

How did you start your tech career?

I initially didn’t know where I wanted to start my career. I studied Industrial Engineering in Uni and then did Finance Masters on top of it. The Finance World intrigued me, however I was always interested in coding and computers. I wrote my masters thesis by creating a stock market simulator and trading options using Matlab back in the day which was my first proper project. You can say that I found the intersection between Finance and Tech with that.

After graduation, I started my career in 2015, working as a Business Analyst for a HR Tech company. My role didn’t have much to do with Tech or Data Science to begin with, it was focussed more on the business side of things. Three weeks in, the company hired their first Data Scientist, Kenko Fujii. I had no idea what a Data Scientist was but I got curious. Kenko was very good with Python as well as Machine Learning, and I was trying to learn Python at that time. So, I started bombarding him with questions. After a while I think he saw some potential in me, and asked me whether I would want to join his team and help him build an algorithm that would watch recorded video interviews and grade candidates. I think it was the fastest yes I have ever said 🙂

What are the signs of success in your field?

Being able to keep up with the latest technology in your specific field is definitely a big sign of success. Especially in the DS world, at a given time there is so much going on and consuming knowledge at this degree is not an easy task. You need to put in a considerable amount of work to be able to understand the information.

Understanding the big picture is also a very big sign of success for me. To understand why we do all the things we do and what sort of a business impact it has, what sort of a value it creates.. If you can put that together with a high degree of technical knowledge, you can go far.

What is the best and worst thing about your job role?

The best thing for me is the part where technology meets with real life and business. In practical terms, this can be thought of like feature engineering. To be able to engineer the best features, (which is the part that has a huge impact on model performance), pure technical knowledge is not enough – you have to understand the problem at hand like a domain expert and look for the clues in the data.

The worst thing about the role is how hard it can become if you are not interested in it or if you are not passionate. I can easily understand whether a person is passionate or not just by checking the style of their code. I think it’s one of those roles that has to be a hobby at the same time. If you are looking to treat it just as a 9-5, you might not have a good time..

What can you advise someone just starting out to be successful?

This depends a bit on luck, but having great mentors can change your life drastically. People whom you can look upto.. You need to show them your potential but if you manage to do that, they will challenge you in ways that will accelerate your learning and career immensely.

How do you switch off?

Hitting the gym after a busy day is the way to go for me. Even after the most stressful days I can switch off with a good work out session.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry too much about the future, just focus on what you like and enjoy the ride 🙂

What is next for you?

I am truly looking forward to growing our business and our team within my current role. I am quite excited about the future of my career at Databricks, and also becoming a DS focussed Retail Expert in the field.

If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?

If I could, I would gather all the books and similar materials that I want to study, freeze time for a year and go into a “research” mode. I would also spend this time building all the side projects I want to.

What are your top 5 predictions in tech for the next 5 years?

– With the advancements of the Large Language Models like Chat GPT, software development and delivery is going to become much quicker.
– AI will not replace humans, but will rather form a symbiotic relationship in most cases.
– Not only Tech but most companies will have to step up their machine learning game to have a competitive edge in the market. Therefore data science teams will be formed much earlier as a core function.
– Most of the compute power will move to the cloud, as well as IDEs. You won’t run VS Code locally, but rather on a service that serves you VS Code as well as compute through the web. Laptops are going to become glorified browsers.
– A new language for data will start emerging.

Watch Ali’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!