Breaking into data science is a long and winding road that requires technical and soft skills and a lot of resilience. We spoke to renowned industry experts and well-liked names in the data science community to discover how and when they knew they had what it takes for a career in the field. They shared their stories and the qualities they developed to succeed.
In this interview, we introduce you to technology consultant, business mentor, and data science leader Manuj Aggarwal—the founder of TetraNoodle Technologies, a premier tech and AI consulting company. Besides technical expertise, Manuj has a deep knowledge of human psychology and neuroscience, which he uses to build systems that accelerate business growth. Continue reading to learn more about his data science journey and when he knew he had what it took to succeed.
Interview with Manuj Aggarwal
Would you please tell us a bit about your background and journey into data science?
I grew up in a small town as a friendly child. But my home was troubled. I withdrew into my shell, becoming aloof and angry. At age 15, I started working in a factory for 12 hours a day with only $2.00 as a daily salary.
In 1995, a new computer institute, Aptech, opened its doors in my town. Tuition was greater than a year’s wages, but I scraped together enough funds for the first class, where I found my passion: computers and programming.
Soon, life brought me to Canada, where I climbed the corporate ladder, working for big names like Microsoft, IBM, etc.
One thing I realized during all these years was a lot of decisions people make in life are based on gut feelings. This led to the failure of many businesses and multi-million-dollar losses. If people combined their business acumen with strong data-backed conclusions, they’d be unstoppable.
I made it a point to help businesses achieve their most unimaginable goals with the help of data and AI.
After helping businesses—ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies—I can surely say that data is an entrepreneur’s best friend.
When did you know you have what it takes?
I helped build a patented technology named Degree Compass that enabled universities to solve the problem of student dropout rates and meet their graduation goals.
Students using the Degree Compass recommendation system took 20% more courses to earn their degrees, and the drop-out rates declined dramatically. The program was so successful that it got special attention from President Barack Obama and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It has also received a $1 million award from Complete College America and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
These (and many more) success stories helped me believe that anything is possible with the right data and determination.
As a data scientist, one needs strong analytical thinking and a lot of technical know-how. What skills did you start with, and how did you develop them to meet the role requirements?
I began my journey in data science with a strong foundation in mathematics and computer programming. Over time, I honed my skills in statistical analysis, machine learning, and data visualization while continuously staying updated with the latest advancements in the field.
I was always proactive when it came to learning and have invested time and money into upskilling through various platforms.
My adventures in technology have helped me become part of multiple impactful projects—from education to healthcare to logistics and real estate. I enjoy learning more about various industries and helping them transform their businesses. So far, my work has impacted more than 10 million lives globally, giving me a true sense of accomplishment.
After all, the reason for technology to exist is so that we can improve people’s lives.
Relationship building has been a game-changer for me. I have put massive efforts into building and maintaining impactful relationships for the past two decades, contributing to my knowledge and my life.
Learning is a lifelong process—especially in a field that’s as dynamic as data science. Is there something new you’d like to learn more about or become better specialized in?
Currently, we are in the era of the AI revolution. Life and business as we know them will completely transform in the upcoming years. Technology is changing our lives rapidly, making it vital for professionals to stay updated and adaptable.
With this in mind, I am particularly interested in exploring the potential of data and AI in enhancing human communication and relationships. I believe that by leveraging AI responsibly and ethically, we can develop tools and platforms that foster better understanding, empathy, and collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds.
Additionally, I am excited about the advancements in generative AI and its applications in fields like education, healthcare, and customer service. By becoming more specialized in these areas, I aim to contribute to developing AI systems that can better understand and respond to human needs and emotions.
As an expert in the field, you must have an ample idea of the qualities a person needs for data science. What would you say those are?
As an expert in data science, I've observed that successful data scientists tend to possess a combination of technical skills, soft skills, and personal traits that enable them to excel in the field.
Consider the following key qualities a person should have for a successful career in data science:
- Strong analytical mindset: Data scientists need to be able to approach problems methodically, identify patterns, and draw meaningful insights from data. A curious mindset is essential for asking the right questions and formulating hypotheses.
- Technical proficiency: A good understanding of mathematics, statistics, and programming is crucial for understanding and applying data science concepts. And if you can supplement this knowledge with familiarity with tools and languages like Python, R, SQL, and various machine learning libraries, that becomes a killer combination.
- Domain knowledge: Understanding the specific industry or field you're working in is crucial for contextualizing data and making relevant recommendations. This can be gained through experience, education, or self-directed learning.
- Data visualization skills: The ability to effectively communicate findings through visual representations of data is important because it helps stakeholders understand complex insights easily.
- Communication skills: Data scientists need to convey their findings and recommendations to technical and non-technical audiences. The ability to explain complex concepts in simple terms is essential for effective communication.
- Adaptability: The field of data science is constantly evolving, so being adaptable and open to learning new skills, tools, and techniques is key to staying relevant and successful in the field.
- Problem-solving skills: Data scientists are often tasked with solving complex problems using data-driven approaches. The ability to think critically, creatively, and persistently when faced with challenges is crucial.
- Teamwork and collaboration: Data science projects often involve working with cross-functional teams. Collaborating effectively with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and expertise is essential for driving successful outcomes.
- Attention to detail: Ensuring accuracy and precision in data analysis is vital because even small errors can have significant consequences. A meticulous approach to work helps ensure reliable results.
- Ethical considerations: Data scientists should be mindful of ethical considerations—such as data privacy and fairness—when working with data and developing algorithms to make responsible and informed decisions.
Cultivating these qualities can help build a strong foundation for a data science career.
As the industry develops, the demand for skilled data scientists grows exponentially. What gives an aspiring data scientist a competitive edge in 2023?
The recent AI revolution has streamlined the process of tracking and analyzing data, but the true challenge lies in making sense of this data and ensuring that it ultimately serves to improve human lives. To gain a competitive advantage in 2023, aspiring data scientists can focus on enhancing their soft skills and deepening their understanding of human psychology. Here's how:
- Emphasis on soft skills: Strong communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities are essential for success. By honing these skills, you can effectively collaborate with cross-functional teams, communicate complex ideas to various stakeholders, and devise innovative solutions to real-world problems.
- Understanding human psychology: Gaining insights into human behavior, emotions, and decision-making processes can help you design AI systems that better cater to human needs. This understanding can lead to the developing of more intuitive and user-friendly tools and ethical AI solutions that consider potential biases and privacy concerns.
- Domain expertise: Combining data science skills with deep knowledge of the industry or domain you're working in will enable you to generate targeted and relevant insights. This expertise will also help you bridge the gap between technical solutions and real-world applications, ensuring that your work has a meaningful impact on human lives.
- Advanced degrees and certifications: Pursuing advanced degrees or certifications in fields like human-computer interaction, AI ethics, or behavioral science can demonstrate your commitment to understanding the human aspect of data science and set you apart from other candidates.
- Hands-on experience: Working on projects that address real-world problems and directly impact human lives can showcase your ability to apply technical knowledge in ways that benefit people. This experience can make you a more attractive candidate for employers seeking data scientists who can drive meaningful change.
- Continuous learning: Staying up-to-date with the latest research and trends in the intersection of AI, data science, and human psychology is crucial for staying ahead in the field. Engage in workshops, webinars, and online courses to expand your knowledge and skills.
By emphasizing a data scientist’s soft skills, understanding human psychology, and focusing on the human-centric aspects of data science, you can gain a competitive edge and position yourself for success in a rapidly evolving industry.
We want to thank Manuj for providing valuable insights into what it takes to be a data scientist.
Our aim at 365 is to equip you with the tools and give you the necessary guidance to succeed. Designed never to let you give up, the 365 Data Science platform has what you need to develop your qualities and skills.
Go from a beginner to a skilled professional who creates data-driven value. Study the statistics and probability theory behind data science with online courses led by our renowned instructors, and master sought-after skills like Excel, SQL, and Tableau. Prove you’ve got what it takes with industry-recognized certificates.
To learn more about what it takes to be successful in the field, check out our course, How to Think Like a Data Scientist and Become One.