Discovering the art of numbers with swati deo
ne of the most gratifying things about working at TBD is that we constantly cross paths and engage with working women who inspire us through the passionate pursuance of their chosen career, their grounded approach, and constant dedication in aligning personal and professional goals. The ‘Women who inspire’ series has given us opportunities to dwell inside their minds and learn their ways, so that we may be travelling companions on the course of their journey - even if it is for just a moment.
Our conversation with Swati Deo, a respected data scientist in keen pursuit of a life well lived is a demonstration of the fact that there are trailblazers who walk among us, with reflections and stories worth recounting for our incredible community. Read on, as we dive into the nuances of data science, the future of this burgeoning field, and how cultivating hobbies is an exercise in building a focused and creative work life.
We’re delighted to have this tête-à-tête with you! How did your career journey begin?
"My journey began with an epiphany."
My journey began with an epiphany. When I graduated with a Bachelor in Statistics, most of my peers were gearing up for an MBA - which is very much the norm in India. However, I was taken by the realization that I did not need to have the same approach to my career as everyone else, and that my passions may lie elsewhere. I believe in real-time experience and chose to work for a while before I decided on my next move. Working for one of the biggest retail giants in the UK in my first year, I realized that I have a passion and talent for analytics. So I pursued my love for data by opting for a Masters in Statistics instead.
Which sectors and companies have you worked with so far?
I have worked with Kotak Bank on their marketing, risk and fraud analytics for a few years. Post that I worked for Hansa Cequity, where I handled important clients such as Mahindra & Mahindra. I have had the good fortune of working with them in an array of departments, including auto division, farms, agricultural equipment, fertilizers, and more for the past 4 years. So I have contributed to businesses in several domains, while my core expertise remains to be data science and analytics.
Where did your interest in statistics start, and how has it driven your career choices?
"Just as all knowledge becomes more significant when you share it, I developed a deep connection with math by studying the subject with my sisters and helping them see the magic in numbers as well."
My interest in mathematics and statistics started very early, during school. Math was my favourite subject to study - so much so, that I would do my sister’s homework even when she didn’t want me to! Just as all knowledge becomes more significant when you share it, I developed a deep connection with math by studying the subject with my sisters and helping them see the magic in numbers as well. Upon graduation from 12th grade, I did eventually fall prey to the conditioning that those who are good with numbers must become engineers - a very relatable experience for so many from our community! However, mid way through my preparation for the entrance exams, I realized that core mathematics and statistics is where my true passion lies and I pivoted accordingly. As the years have gone by, I have grown more and more pleased with this decision.
What is it about data science and statistics that makes the work so enjoyable for you?
"It is an exact science that also has a synergic bond with story-telling and creative problem solving."
Statistics is an art as well as a science. It is not merely coding, numbers or or understanding business problems - it is rather an amalgamation of many multi-faceted disciplines. It is an exact science that also has a synergic bond with story-telling and creative problem solving. Everyday brings a new learning and a new challenge. Every new business problem has different data and requires a unique approach. The statistical and analytical techniques are the foundational tool-kit. You have to utilize that technical knowledge to churn creative solutions that are the best fit for that particular problem. Watching the positive contribution and tangible results that come from this process is very rewarding. At this point, you have transcended from mere problem solving skills to generating significant revenue, insights, customer acquisition and retention. I am the happiest when I see these results.
Data is often touted as the ‘new oil’ and analysis of it has become increasingly indispensable for businesses. Tell us about your experience with data science in the industry?
When it comes to data science, there are believers and there are non-believers. Those with a more traditional approach to business think making business decisions with trusted years of knowledge is more important than any machine telling them how they should go about it. These clients may be tougher to deal with, but most do come around quickly once they see the real-time business benefits that effective analysis brings. There are also those who understand that data science makes an increment to any challenge a business may be presented with. However it is important to understand the context, goals and ROI of the project that you are working on. If you can focus on attaining the right goals, and are able to demonstrate the kind of incremental revenue you can bring to your projects, convincing anyone of the benefits of data analytics becomes easier.
As we move to the future, how do you see your field evolving and affecting the business landscape?
" As tech evolves, data science is bound to align and shape up as well. "
I see more and more companies adapting data science going forward. I envision significant growth in the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence and IoT. AI techniques are evolving speedily and there will come a time when they will seamlessly merge with 5G & IoT tech. As tech evolves, data science is bound to align and shape up as well. The two fields go hand in hand.
What are you most excited for in terms of your role in this field?
"It's a continuous learning curve."
I am most excited about the constant learning that comes with such a fast paced, ever evolving discipline. Every few weeks, there is something new to keep an eye on and invest your time in. No matter how many years you spend in this field, you will always come across techniques and solutions that are new to you. It's a continuous learning curve. Plus, today, not only are bigger businesses and governments involved in data science, but also a lot of medium and small enterprises are recognizing the value of mining insights from data. So as we go ahead, the field is going to seep into almost every domain. Every domain would, in turn, have a different business proposition, a different challenge - and that is extremely exciting to me.
What advice would you give younger students and professionals who might be aspiring to data science as a career?
"Understand the fundamentals first..."
Data science is not merely learning coding, ML or AI techniques - nor is it just data collection. You must invest time and effort in understanding the subject ground up and build a strong foundation. Thoroughly learn the basic statistics that go into even the most complicated algorithm. Once you understand how to read data, focus on how to tell stories from data and ground your analysis in a good grasp of basic statistics. Understand the fundamentals first - like what a mean does to the data or how standard deviation can impact your analysis.
While many of us are new to this WFH lifestyle, you have managed to curate a fulfilling one long before the pandemic hit. Tell us more about that.
"... professionalism plays a huge role in building confidence with the people you work with."
I did not necessarily set out to curate a WFH lifestyle, but it is something that happened to me - largely because of the equity that I had created with my employer. I moved from India to Kuwait with my husband a few years ago, and I had actually quit my job at that time. However, my employers sought to retain me for my skills and contributions and hence, offered me the opportunity to work remotely.
We had worked on some major and challenging projects right from the beginning. I had led a small team that produced significant results for our enterprise. Also, professionalism plays a huge role in building confidence with the people you work with. I communicated effectively, stayed punctual and maintained a high level of productivity.
Any suggestions for those of us who are getting adjusted to WFH in 2020?
"I have witnessed the mindfulness and creativity derived from my hobbies seep into the work that I do."
Try not to get frustrated, have healthy work-life boundaries and cultivate your hobbies. My hobbies have been my happy place and have also helped foster patience and improve my concentration. I have witnessed the mindfulness and creativity derived from my hobbies seep into the work that I do. I also invested a few hours of my WFH life in learning how to cook and curate a healthier lifestyle. This has kept me happy, grounded and engaged when remote working.
What are your hobbies and your passion projects?
I do think that the best hobbies are the ones that take you furthest from your field of work. I wanted to explore my creativity in a completely different way from how I employ it at work. I love drawing and painting as it is extremely different from data science. I’ve specially started taking on sketching projects that take a few hours of my week and stretch up to 3 to 4 months.
In the last five years, me and my husband have also been travelling extensively. We wanted to explore the world, and began taking two to three trips per year. Our preferences have changed over the years too - we truly enjoy well-lived, authentic experiences when we travel. We would rather stay in a village for 2 to 3 weeks and live with the locals than stay in 5-star boutiques and hotels which produce huge plastic waste.
We love contributing economically to the families we live with, getting to know them and falling in love with their culture. We cannot wait to explore again, but would only do so in a responsible way; when the time and global circumstances are right for travel.
Travel and investing in personal interests does change your outlook to life. In what way have you experienced this?
"It has completely changed the way I look at life."
It has completely changed the way I look at life. When I began my career journey, I used to think that getting a certain position in a big company, and attaining a certain professional position is success and what will keep me content. However, as I pursue my passions and hobbies, I have come to believe that happiness is aligning your professional goals with your personal ones. It is okay to be content in achieving your goals one at a time and being balanced in your approach.
Lastly, we know that you are in the middle of moving to a different country (Australia). Leave us with a few thoughts on how you are dealing with such a big change during these uncertain times.
I am at a phase in my life where nothing is constant. So I am taking things one day at a time and introspecting on the reasons for every decision I make. I try to focus on the ‘why’ power of my decisions, and work on staying optimistic and hopeful for our collective future. Whether the choices I make are right or wrong, only time can tell. For now, I can focus on the things that are under my control, breathe and take each day as it comes.
Every member of our family of working women is inspiring and amazing in their own special ways & giving them a voice to share their stories is a priority for us at TBD! We love hearing from you - write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback and to share your experiences if you wish to be featured. See you next-time!
Neha Sane is TBD’s resident foodie, a literature lover & an advocate for inclusivity in fashion & media. Fuelling a drive to work with meaning & purpose, she is her happiest when interacting with new faces from our inspiring community.