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Interview With Stevens Institute of Technology: A New Spin on Back to School

Data Basics, Dataiku Product Josh Hewitt

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Alkiviadis Vazacopoulos and Aditya Shenoy, MBA candidate, from the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

As the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year gets underway, I wanted to gain some perspective on what is happening with data education today and what the relevant topics might be. In addition, I wanted to gather some advice and tips for students entering the business analytics space.

Josh Hewitt: What is changing about data education today? What makes it different than three years ago? How is it different than last year?

Stevens team: A few years ago, data was being recorded but only a few knew how it would really be useful in the future. Data education today has taken a steep drift into the application of previously recorded and real-time data. For those of us in the field, this has opened career paths and myriad branches into future career options. A few years ago, decisions were based on experience and judgement calls were made by senior members of the company who have observed the industry and its fluctuations through years of operations.

Consider an example in the supply chain sector, where the data is a building block when it comes to making judgements and producing a high throughput operations system. It starts with keeping a transparent connection with multi-tier suppliers to avoid disruption. The manufacturing industry solely depends on the vendors and suppliers who bring the raw material from around the world and are codependent on variables like weather and logistics. The data can help managers make wise, data-driven decisions which can then make or break the enterprise value. Companies like Amazon took data seriously while implementing their logistics and supply chain from the very beginning and we were able to observe how they performed during times of crisis.

During the SARS epidemic, the knowledge of how to use data to help improve the situation was missing. Now that COVID-19 impacted a wide range of industries, we know how to utilize the power of data in a much smarter way. Today, data scientists work across every vertical and have access to millions of zettabytes of data. They use predictive analytics to make decisions on how a company or industry should step in or out of a situation to, ultimately, benefit itself now and in the future.

Data adoption has become instantaneous. Moving from a few hundred COVID-19 tests a day to a few thousand every hour and from production of a few PPE kits to millions in a week demonstrate examples of data implementation in modern times.

JH: What are some of the most relevant topics related to data in the classroom today?

Stevens team: The most impactful and relevant topics in the classroom today are optimization, supply chain analytics, and marketing analytics. Optimization is the foundation of methodology on how to utilize the extracted data to best suit the business needs. The optimization function is a bias-free center which helps to maximize net profits, minimize losses, identify the best use of supply, and develop more vigilant applications to strengthen and build industry best practices.

Supply chain analytics build a second layer on top of optimization by focusing on the heart of every business — whether it is a small-scale business or a massive global operation. When the pandemic caught the world off guard, it took a few months to adapt. With inspiration from old case studies and multiple virtual worldwide discussions, everyone concerned about the impacts adapted and implemented suggestions to resuscitate the business or workplace back to life.

The last topic that is taken up in every classroom today is marketing analytics. As businesses shifted more of their operations online, every traditional brick-and-mortar business felt a threat of survival. Almost all businesses started implementing an online business model, but still faced challenges reaching their ideal customers due to the sudden new scenario.

The best marketing is based on the data. The product can only be sold to the ideal customer through the right amount of exposure, the right channels, and the demographics which accept the product. Inefficient marketing can lead to the downfall of the product and, in turn, the failure of the company.

JH: What is your best advice for incoming students for the 2020-21 school year?

Stevens team: The new school year is the first step into the new normal and students need to be prepared. I would suggest the following:

  • Make informed decisions: Talk to advisors and experts before selecting classes.
  • Learn new programming languages: Research the career choices you wish for and start conversing with the candidates working in that specific field to understand which programming language is a high priority and what the requirements are to score a job.
  • Experiment with machine learning and statistics: In the age of machine learning and AI, we need to understand the application and be fluent with the way the concepts are used in the industry and the best way is to experiment.
  • Network: Meet new people and understand their opinion to become familiar with the linguistics of the industry now and in the future.
JH: How can tools, like Dataiku, prep students for the real world?

Stevens team: Dataiku is one of the leading platforms that helps analysts and business leaders derive insights that impact business on a large scale. Dataiku helps create models using the insights from the data and implement those to provide AI-driven services. The users of Dataiku range from business analysts to data scientists by utilizing multi-model systems to manage and monitor large amounts of recorded data. Tools such as these can help monitor and manage production sites across a centralized location while reducing repetitive work and easily introducing automation. This also helps maximize efficiency of both technical and non-technical team members.

JH: This question is specifically for Aditya. As a student, why did you decide to major in data science?

Stevens team: From the start of the day to the end, we are surrounded by interactions with data, sometimes even more than with humans. The first thing we do after waking up is look at the “updates” which could be news or emails, such as the status of the pandemic. Data is said to be “the oil of the digital economy” because of its immense potential. Machine learning is learning faster than us and we are utilizing it to move faster towards the future. In the area of advanced statistics, data on user behavior and predictive analytics helps companies improve the user interfaces and their overall performance. Similar strategies are used to market a product, a person, or even a cause to an ideal customer.

An understanding of how data works has become a mandate in every sector of business and a data-driven business mindset is what can succeed in this world now. New developments are not confined to the technology industries themselves but are interdependent with other industries. A famous quote goes like this, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That is why data is so important to me and to every candidate who wishes progress and success.

Data experts are needed in banking and finance, automotive, energy, healthcare, transportation, retail, and virtually every domain you can think of. And because data drives decisions — from small, regional offices to the boardroom — graduates from programs in data science will be directly involved in strategic decision-making processes. The job roles that companies look at vary from data analyst and analytics manager to statistician and business intelligence architect. With all of this in mind, getting a Master’s degree in data science or a related field is a very exciting choice.

JH: What are you most nervous about with your courses this year?

Stevens team: There are only a few expectations a student generally has from any course and those have not changed, but evolved.

First and most importantly, how will the specific course help me with regard to future job prospects? With the global health crisis and companies adapting to the new normal, every candidate applying for jobs is expected to work efficiently with a new set of skills. It is very understandable that the current situation expects a lot from each employee but those who are currently learning should be trained for the upcoming requirements of the industry standards.

Second, will the course content be able to create the same impact when taught in a virtual setup with access to recorded lectures? The universities are taking extra efforts to accommodate this concern. The extra recitation classes help students get one-to-one interactions with the professor as well as teaching assistants who are trained subject matter experts and are highly capable to instill each concept with application to create an experiential environment for the students.

Third, how can we get industry experience before working in a full-time position after completing a degree? This is something that a large population of students are concerned about especially after passing through the most critical times of COVID-19. Companies were running on a damage control basis by cutting down on workers or maintaining a hiring freeze to eliminate excess expenditure during the initial stages of COVID-19.

In such a situation, universities started with experiential research projects in which they were interacting with the local city businesses to understand how external situations are affecting day-to-day business and provide them with a plan to revitalize not only their own business but all the economy in general. This research was funded by grants and helped train students to get hands-on experience which is a precursor for every student in university today. Every student is concerned with the above three things and wants reassurance that the colleges will not compromise on the traditional benefits.

JH: Thank you both so much for sharing your thoughts, insights and experiences. This has been a great interview and we look forward to checking back in with you both as the semester progresses.

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