Interview: Rajat Malhotra (Chem – 2017)

 

1. Please state your current profile and explain your journey until now.

I completed my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 2017 and more recently, I wrapped up an MS in Business Analytics from the McCombs School of Business at University of Texas at Austin. I am currently working at Dell in Austin as a Data Scientist within the supply-chain analytics team.

 

2. What skills should one develop to follow a career in Business Analytics? Do include courses, software, coding, internships, etc.

Disclaimer – A business analyst is a completely different profile when compared to a data analyst/data scientist. While my MS degree carries the name “Business Analytics” it is merely because it is an analytics course offered by a business school. So, it is a technical degree with 85% of the work involving some sort of coding in some language. The degree is completely aligned along the data analytics/data science field rather than the business analytics field.

Knowing either Python or R is very important since both of these are commonly used open-source languages and are the industry standard. SQL is another language/tool that everyone in this field should know how to use. It is becoming increasingly important as the amount of data increases exponentially.

IA couple of online courses you can take to wet your feet in this field are the Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng, any Python for data analytics online course that teaches you the following libraries: pandas, scikitlearn, matplotlib. If you are interested in R, you can download a free copy of the ISLR (Introduction to Statistical Learning in R). Also, knowledge of a few big-data platforms like Hadoop and Spark is very useful and they are considered a very valuable addition to your skillset.

 

3. What are the soft skills to be acquired in work culture?

The most important skills to have are an appetite for knowledge and curiosity. The ability to ask the right questions at the right time would serve you well. Learning to speak and relay information effectively, be it engaging a large audience or presenting to the high-level executives at your company. Being able to explain your work to a layman in simple terms is always a useful skill to have. Being a good team player and rising to the occasion is a handy skill to gain as well.   

One needs to learn how to set and manage expectations, resolve conflicts and have a high emotional quotient as well in order to be kind and helpful wherever one can be.

Having a mentor can make a lot of difference. One thing I would suggest everyone should learn is how to approach people who are in a position you want to be in and ask them for guidance and mentorship.

 

4. You were a Chemical Engineer at NIT Trichy and decided to follow a path in business analytics after completing your Master’s degree at UT Austin. When did you realise that you wanted to make this radical profile change, and how and when did you start preparing for the same?

It is no secret that our ranks decide our branch in India. With my All India Rank, I was eligible for Chemical Engineering at NITT and that is what I had to go ahead with. I gave it my best shot and studied hard. I realised that I was good at solving problems and I enjoyed studying subjects which involved mathematics. However I didn’t want to be restricted by the field in which I was solving problems and the arena of data analytics/data science allowed me to combine my creative and quantitative abilities to solve challenging problems in different disciplines like marketing, finance, supply-chain, etc.

I started preparation to enter this field at the end of my 5th semester. I took up various online courses and made sure I understood the basics very well. I started coding in Python and R as well. I had already written GRE at the end of my 4th semester and had a strong extracurricular profile.

I have seen a lot of people who say that their engineering degree is not what they are interested in and they give up on studying and try to find other areas of interest. It’s a good thing if you are exploring alternative options, but do justice to the degree you are pursuing at the moment, even if it isn’t your calling. It is always better to keep a respectable 8-point GPA since a low GPA (<7.5) closes quite a few doors.  

 

5. Do you believe there’s better scope for pursuing Business Analytics abroad? If so, why?

The field of data science is the hottest field in the US right now. Companies want talented people that can make sense of the data and drive the business. I would say, pursuing a masters degree in analytics in the US is way better than doing a similar course in India because analytics professionals in India are not valued highly at the moment.

Having said that, if you are planning to pursue an MS in US, I would suggest you to pursue it from a tier 1 university (ranked in the top 30 in the US) so that your job prospects are good. A lot of Indians tend to run behind the idea of pursuing an MS in US and take admissions in lower ranked universities, not fully realizing the repercussions of the same.

 

 

6. Could you recommend any online courses for understanding certain fundamentals of Analytics?

I would say that online courses are one of the biggest boons when it comes to learning about the field of analytics. These courses teach you the basics and give you an introduction into the field of analytics. A simple Google search about the various courses available should be a good starting point to know what kind of courses are out there and you can use other people’s suggestions on Quora and related websites to make a final decision.

But, online courses just give you an introduction. I would suggest anyone who wants to pursue a masters in this field in the US to gain at least 2 to 3 years of relevant work experience (think about Mu Sigma, ZS, Thorogood, Tiger analytics, Practo, EXL, etc.) before coming to the US. It would help you land a better university and it would definitely aid in getting a job.

 

7. Do tell us more about the projects that you’ve executed in the past, and how they helped you shape your profile.

I had not done any projects before actually starting my masters program. But, after starting my masters degree, I have done quite a few projects as part of my classes and on my own as well. You can find a few of them on my website: https://malhotrajat.github.io/i-love-data/

 

 

8. Tell us about your experiences as a student analytics consultant at Kroger, and what you contributed to their company while you worked there.

As part of our curriculum, we got to work with a company for a period of 7 months on an analytics related project. My team had the pleasure of working with Kroger, which is the largest grocery chain across the US. As part of the project me and my team identified factors and their relative importance in determining loss/shrink in the produce departments across Kroger stores. We helped Kroger reduce shrink by 10 basis points in the Atlanta region; Reduction in loss was around $500,000. We built Tableau dashboards for Kroger employees to help them analyze their data visually and take action. We also trained Kroger employees on how to build their own Tableau dashboards in future and how to clean messy retail data. I personally acted as point of contact between 4-member student team and Asset Protection team at Kroger; gained experience on setting and handling expectations in a professional setting. As a final deliverable, we presented our findings at the Retail Asset Protection Conference in Orlando, Florida to a crowd of 100 retail industry professionals.

 

 

9. How permanent is any choice of career in your opinion? Do you think one should stick to a particular field or keep changing and experimenting as they grow in the industry?

Nothing is impossible in the world we live in today if you have the will power and work ethic to go out and pursue it. I believe we should learn new things and experiment. It allows you to explore more fields and areas and you never know which one might turn out to be your calling. Specifically for data science, it is growing at an alarming pace and people in this field need to reskill themselves every few years and keep learning on a daily basis. This field is bound to keep anyone on their toes.

 

 

10. According to you, how can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?

For me, I know I am in the right field now because I feel like going in to work everyday and I am happy about it. Even when I was pursuing my masters degree, there were days (and nights) when I did not sleep for more than 3 hours and this went on for about 2 months because I was working on a few projects of my own. The fact that I was motivated enough to put in that much effort and not get frustrated or demotivated confirmed that this was the right field for me. Sleep didn’t matter, time didn’t matter and most importantly, I did not feel like complaining about the effort I was putting in.

 

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