Chasing The Dream
I was enamored with the thought of spending my every moment of life drifting in the clouds. In Aug. 2011, I went to Purdue to pursue a B.S. in Professional Flight Technology. At the same time, I enrolled in the Airforce ROTC and joined the Arnold Air Society. This was the first turning point in my life - I learned key skills that I will carry for the rest of my life.
I completed my first long solo flight (500 miles) from West Lafayette, IN to Traverse City, MI. It was both a milestone and a marvel in so many ways. Sometime during my return flight, the cabin felt like a frigid winter even though the heater was on. As it turned out, I left the passenger door open! It’s like when you don’t close your car door all the way, it’s sort of in a semi-closed position. To make matters more interesting, I couldn’t even close the door because the force of the air was simply too strong while flying at 8,500ft. Had to make a detour at an airport of my choosing just to close the door. What a time...
The Dream Ended; I Woke Up in Reality
I loved flying. I really did. But I knew that if I made my career out of passion alone, I would end up hating both my career and my passion. In 2013, the FAA issued a new guidance that the ATP license (the license to fly commercial jets) would require 1,500 flight hours, up from the previous 250-hour requirement. At the time, my program was designed so that students would graduate with around 300 hours, which was simply not enough for this sudden change. I would have to grind an additional 1,200 flight hours out of my own capital or find some other flying jobs that would be highly competitive and saturated at time of my graduation. All of a sudden, I felt like I was behind and there was nothing I could do. So, I made the decision to drop Professional Flight Technology and pursue the other majors that I already made progress in: Management Information Systems, Accounting, and Finance (yes, I was quad major once).
Innovation is Contagious
My first internship was with Air Liquide, in Houston, TX in the scorching-hot summer of 2014. As a native Californian, I thought I would just rent a place 1.5 miles away and walk to and from work every day under the unforgiving Texan sun. Let’s just say that it did not go well at all. The internship itself was also a huge lesson-learned on my part: my heart was, is, and will always be with technology. Afterall, I did grow up a few hundred yards away from early Apple and Steve Jobs, on the intersection of Bradley Dr and Alves Ave in Cupertino, CA. I guess innovation is contagious.
Turns out I was pretty good at MIS, Accounting, and Finance, so I graduated with all 3. Having had 3 majors, I didn't even need to pursue a Masters in Accounting to sit for the California CPA exam. So, I spend 10 hours a day, from dawn to dusk at Starbucks, studying for the CPA exam that summer. Within 6 months, I was a CPA.
Making Bots to Do My Work
I was fortunate to land a job as a financial statement auditor back in the Bay Area at Crowe, LLP (at the time, it was Crowe Horwath, LLP) in the heart of San Francisco. Like I said, innovation is contagious. I was, in my opinion, a lazy auditor. I would spend many hours learning to automate the manual work that I simply did not want to do. That’s how I got my kicks.
My EY Family
Since January 2017, I had been studying approximately 10 hours a week on SQL and Python, and built a website on the side with a friend. Admittedly, I wasn’t very good at building websites, but it was fun. Perhaps it was fate that Yao Yang and Shan Huang, my managers and mentors at EY, brought me onboard in June of 2017 as a Data Specialist. There, I learned the tools of the trade - big data processing, ETL, team management, and much more. It was at EY that I felt like the stars aligned and I was finally moving forward towards my calling. That team was my home.
My Uber Has Arrived!
Eventually, it came a time for me to move on. It was time for me to step into my next Uber ride, but this time, to the Uber office as an employee! I have always admired the Silicon Valley tech companies that disrupt industries and change the world. On my first day at Uber, I felt like every opportunity has been made available: I was performing data analytics in a high-profile tech company in the center of the technology hub of the world. Here, I could make an impact.
This was my first conference, DataEDGE’19 at UC Berkeley, and a sneak peek into who data scientists are and what they do. I loved every second of it. I loved hearing the problems that they were solving, and how they solved those problems. I loved hearing about the algorithms that I could barely understand and the impacts that I wouldn’t have believed. It’s hard to draw a line for the day that I decided to step foot into data science, but this day is definitely a contender.
My First IPO!
So this is how you gather a bunch of Silicon Valley software engineers together at 5am in the morning.
This is what innovation looks like
At UberML’19 conference, I was fully immersed for two days among the data scientists, machine learning engineers, and research scientists at UberAI, Uber Labs and Uber ATG. They demonstrated the potential to solve modern-day business problems with what seemed like dark-arts. By the end of the UberML’19 conference, I knew that data science and machine learning is my calling. I felt like the word “innovation” has been stamped on every cell in my body. I’ve seen too much already. There’s no going back now.
The Pursuit of Machine Learning
Meanwhile, somewhere at Uber at 5am, there I was.
“I didn’t come this far, to only come this far”
By mid-2019, I knew that I wanted to accelerate my career growth into data science and machine learning. This meant that I would join a data science team as soon as possible. The announcement of a data science manager’s joining Internal Audit to lead my team, however, changed that plan. His leadership would undoubtedly elevate my team to new heights in data science. He had built a data science team from scratch at Uber before, and we knew he could do it again. Regrettably, his untimely departure 1 month later derailed my career for up to 2 years. I felt betrayed. I was angry and afraid. At around the same time, I also lost friends and trusted colleagues to the layoff. And, Uber lost its AI Labs and research orgs. It seemed that my career at Uber was coming to a screeching halt. Mid-2020 was a dark time. But, William Hollis reminded me that, “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far”. So I kept going. The only way out of this, from where I stood, was forward.
Product Launch 1.0
Since mid 2020, I had been working on my first applied research in machine learning. To me, this project is my legacy at Uber. If I ever look back at my time at Uber, I want to proudly say, “I made an impact.” So, no guidance? No problem. I’d either figure it out on my own or find mentors to help me. From research to design to implementation to release, I nurtured this project from end to end. March 2, 2021 was the big reveal of my work to the world -- my paper passed reviews and was published onto the Uber Engineering Blog. This was a huge step for me and my team.
I Made It to FAANG
Though some might consider my work at Uber to be the definition of what modern data science should look like, I would be remiss if I did not rectify this unwarranted perception: I was at the rear end of the data science train, just barely catching up. Since my DS manager’s untimely departure in mid-2019, every effort to pursue projects related to data science unfortunately ended up in vain. I spent evenings, nights, time before bed, and every minute I could think of preparing for interviews. The whole process, in turn, also became a data science project - I monitored my interview funnel conversion metrics so I could identify where I had the most difficulty, and spent more time preparing in those areas.
Alas, after watching all of Emma Ding’s videos on YouTube (some of them multiple times), reading Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments by Ron Kohavi, Diane Tang, and Ya Xu, and reading Cracking the PM Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, and simulated countless interview and experimental questions, I got in. I made it to FAANG. I made it to Facebook.