WE HAVE TO TEACH SPECIALISATION, WE CAN’T EXPECT IT: A Q&A WITH VIN VASHISHTA

Ross Whatling our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 4/23/2020 10:08 AM



We recently spoke to Vin Vashishta, a consulting Data Scientist and Strategist who was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Data Science. 


Having started off in the tech world 25 years ago and progressing from web design and hardware installation to Business Intelligence Analytics, Vin found for many years that enterprises were reluctant to adopt AI technologies and embrace the value of Data. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the decade just passed that companies started to think about their Data more strategically and the world of Data Science was born, albeit hesitantly: 

“When I first started, it was a lot of experimentation, everyone wanted a proof of concept,” he says. “A lot of work was creating models that could go from whiteboard to production and productise and show their value.”

However, it wasn’t until halfway through the decade that he began to see businesses who had adopted Machine Learning move away from experimentation into incorporating it more deeply into their companies, relying more on analytical and optimisation models to make strategic business decisions. 

“After that, in about 2017/2018 the maturity changed. It went from being a one off implementation to it being a comprehensive tool within an organisation where we have full lifecycles of model implementation and full models that were full views of the system. The key component of development was allowing users to access a small part of the system to do their job better without having to understand the whole thing. And that’s where we are now. We have this applied Deep Learning and we are seeing, especially this year, attempts to optimise that, make things go faster and make them more repeatable.”

But, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility: “There’s this whole depth we are getting into, the expectations are so much higher, people don’t just expect it to work they expect it to work the way they want it to and in a way they can adopt.”

So, with so much expected and required of Data Scientists in 2020, building the right team is more important than ever. However, many businesses, Vin believes, are yet to get their hiring processes right:

“A lot of the measures that we use to sort of evaluate employees are fictional – when you say years of experience, it has no correlation to employee outcomes or the quality of employee you get long term. It’s the same thing as college degree, there’s no correlation.”

So when Vin is trying to build a highly specialised team, what does he do?

“We have to teach specialisation, we can’t expect it. We can’t bring someone in and call them a Data Scientist and hope that they train up. You end up with teams that are exactly the same because they have hired the same people, people who reinforce the bias of what they do, and that is where true leadership needs to come in.”

A specialised team made up of individuals who bring their own ideas to the table is more important than ever, particularly as businesses demand more from their Data teams. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all models. Businesses now want something tailored to them:

“Custom models are huge. The “import from…” Machine Learning development from three years ago adds value when it comes to wrangling and doing the Analysis, but when it comes to creating models companies are now expecting it to become a competitive advantage. Companies no longer want the same model that everyone else has, now it has to be differentiating.”

These smart, customised models, he adds, will help businesses through the current pandemic. “The best models right now are adapting rather than reacting.” 

However, he’s sceptical about the Data Science community becoming too preachy: 

“When it comes to COVID-19 one message I want to send to the Machine Learning and Deep Learning community is ‘shut up’. We don’t have the Data! We have so many Data Scientists talking about something that’s very important to get right. If you get it wrong the consequences and the credibility we will lose as a field is enormous.”

Indeed, discussions about the lack of quality Data on COVID-19 are widespread at the moment and raise concerns for Vin:

“What the last two and a half months has revealed is the danger of bad Data, the danger of assumptions that are hidden in Data that hasn’t been looked over well or wasn’t gathered well and was fed into these models that now aren’t robust. Of course, no model can account for something this drastic, but they should still be performing far better than they are right now.”

Despite these concerns, Vin believes any change in the world brings about opportunities for those in the Data and technology space.

“What I’ve been trying to do ever since I joined the technology space is figure it out. It’s constantly evolving and it’s constantly changing. That’s really what has driven my journey. I’m always trying to figure out ‘what’s next’ over the next five years, ten years whatever it may be.”

If you’re looking for your next Data Science, Machine Learning or Deep Learning role, or want to build out your own highly-specialised team, we may be able to help. 

Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.   

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With over 10 years experience working solely in the Data & Analytics sector our consultants are able to offer detailed insights into the industry.

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Using Data Ethically To Guide Digital Transformation

Over the past few years, the uptick in the number of companies putting more budget behind digital transformation has been significant. However, since the start of 2020 and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, this number has accelerated on an unprecedented scale. Companies have been forced to re-evaluate  their systems and services to make them more efficient, effective and financially viable in order to stay competitive in this time of crisis. These changes help to support internal operational agility and learn about customers' needs and wants to create a much more personalised customer experience.  However, despite the vast amount of good these systems can do for companies' offerings, a lot of them, such as AI and machine learning, are inherently data driven. Therefore, these systems run a high risk of breaching ethical conducts, such as privacy and security leaks or serious issues with bias, if not created, developed and managed properly.  So, what can businesses do to ensure their digital transformation efforts are implemented in the most ethical way possible? Implement ways to reduce bias From Twitter opting to show a white person in a photo instead of a black person, soap dispensers not recognising black hands and women being perpetually rejected for financial loans; digital transformation tools, such as AI, have proven over the years to be inherently biased.  Of course, a computer cannot be decisive about gender or race, this problem of inequality from computer algorithms stems from the humans behind the screen. Despite the advancements made with Diversity and Inclusion efforts across all industries, Data & Analytics is still a predominantly white and male industry. Only 22 per cent of AI specialists are women, and an even lower number represent the BAME communities. Within Google, the world’s largest technology organisation, only 2.5 per cent of its employees are black, and a similar story can be seen at Facebook and Microsoft, where only 4 per cent of employees are black.  So, where our systems are being run by a group of people who are not representative of our diverse society, it should come as no surprise that our machines and algorithms are not representative either.  For businesses looking to implement AI and machine learning into their digital transformation moving forward, it is important you do so in a way that is truly reflective of a fair society. This can be achieved by encouraging a more diverse hiring process when looking for developers of AI systems, implementing fairness tests and always keeping your end user in mind, considering how the workings of your system may affect them.  Transparency Capturing Data is crucial for businesses when they are looking to implement or update digital transformation tools. Not only can this data show them the best ways to service customers’ needs and wants, but it can also show them where there are potential holes and issues in their current business models.  However, due to many mismanagements in past cases, such as Cambridge Analytica, customers have become increasingly worried about sharing their data with businesses in fear of personal data, such as credit card details or home addresses, being leaked. In 2018, Europe devised a new law known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, to help minimise the risk of data breaches. Nevertheless, this still hasn’t stopped all businesses from collecting or sharing data illegally, which in turn, has damaged the trustworthiness of even the most law-abiding businesses who need to collect relevant consumer data.  Transparency is key to successful data collection for digital transformation. Your priority should be to always think about the end user and the impact poorly managed data may have on them. Explain methods for data collection clearly, ensure you can provide a clear end-to-end map of how their data is being used and always follow the law in order to keep your consumers, current and potential, safe from harm.  Make sure there is a process for accountability  Digital tools are usually brought in to replace a human being with qualifications and a wealth of experience. If this human being were to make a mistake in their line of work, then they would be held accountable and appropriate action would be taken. This process would then restore trust between business and consumer and things would carry on as usual.  But what happens if a machine makes an error, who is accountable?  Unfortunately, it has been the case that businesses choose to implement digital transformation tools in order to avoid corporate responsibility. This attitude will only cause, potentially lethal, harm to a business's reputation.  If you choose to implement digital tools, ensure you have a valid process for accountability which creates trust between yourself and your consumers and is representative of and fair to every group in society you’re potentially addressing.  Businesses must be aware of the potential ethical risks that come with badly managed digital transformation and the effects this may have on their brands reputation. Before implementing any technology, ensure you can, and will, do so in a transparent, trustworthy, fair, representative and law-abiding way.  If you’re in the world of Data & Analytics and looking to take a step up or find the next member of your team, we can help. Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.

It Takes Two: Data Architect Meets Data Engineer

Information. Data. The lifeblood of business. Information and data are used interchangeably, gathered, collected, and analysed to create actionable insights for informed business decisions. So, what does that mean exactly? And to that end, how do we know what information or data we need to make those decisions? Enter the Data Architect. The Role of a Data Architect Just like you might hire an architect to sketch out your dreamhouse, the Data Architect is a Data Visionary. They see the full picture and can craft the design and framework creating the blueprint for the Data Engineer, who will ultimately build the digital framework. Data Architects are the puzzle solvers who can take a jumble of puzzle pieces, in this case massive amounts of data, and put everything in order. It’s their job to figure out what’s important and what isn’t based on an organisation's business objectives. Skills for a Data Architect might include: Computer Science degree, or some variation thereof.Plenty of experience working with systems and application development.Extensive knowledge and able to deep dive into Information ManagementIf you’re just starting your Data Architect path, be prepared for years of building your experience in data design, data storage, and Data Management. The Role of a Data Engineer The Data Engineer builds the vision and brings it to life. But they don’t work in a vacuum and are integral to the Data Team working nearly in tandem with the Data Architect. These engineers are building the infrastructure – the pipelines and data lakes. Once exclusive to the software-engineering field, the data engineer’s role has evolved exponentially as data-focused software became an industry standard. Important skills for a Data Engineer might include. Strong developer skills.Understand a host of technologies such as Python, R, Hadoop, and moreCraft projects to show what you can do, not just talk about what you can do – your education isn’t much of a factor when it comes to data engineering. On the job training does it best.Social and communication skills are critical as you map initial designs, and a love of learning keeps everything humming along, even as technology libraries shift, and you have to learn something new. The Major Differences between the Data Architect and Data Engineer RolesAs intertwined as these two roles might seem, there are some crucial differences. Data Architect Crafts concept and visualises frameworkLeads the Data Science teams Data Engineer Builds and maintains the frameworkProvides supporting framework With a focus on Database Management technologies, it can seem as though Data Architect and Data Engineer are interchangeable. And at one time, Data Architects did also take on the Data Engineering role. But the knowledge each has is used differently.  Whether you’re looking to enter the field of Data Engineering, want to move up or over with your years of experience to Data Architect, or are just starting out. Harnham may have a role for you. Check out our current opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to learn more.  

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