Jeff Anderson, Principal Engineer at Invesco
Hi, Jeff. Thank you for accepting our invitation. We’re very excited to learn more about your data science professional experience. But let’s get to know you better first. Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, thanks so much for this opportunity! I’ve really been looking forward to our discussion.
Well, I’m not a young pup. My background has been all over the place. I worked in restaurants for several years. Then I became a Certified Public Accountant. Then in short order, I began focusing on programming. I love learning and helping others, so I earned a Masters of Counseling and a Masters of Divinity. I was doing part-time therapy for a while and loving it.
Then in 1999, I very unexpectedly found out I needed a heart transplant. I had to scale back and just focus on my job with medical coverage. I’m now almost in my 14th year of days I should never have had due to a successful heart transplant in 2006. I’m very aware that every single day is a gift.
It takes a lot of courage to go through an experience like that. You say every day is a gift. What projects are important in your life right now?
Currently, at Invesco, I’m doing a ton of analytics on batch processing performance and technical debt reduction. My primary role is maintaining our automated daily processing system. I’m having a ton of fun.
In June, I just started as an instructor at Rice University Data Analytics Bootcamp. I’m having a blast. I love teaching.
In September, I’m really looking forward to giving a presentation at DATASCIENCEGO.
Sounds like a busy and rewarding schedule, Jeff. You’ve got 20+ years of experience in various areas of IT. Can you tell us more about how you got interested in the field in the first place?
There are two simple answers to that question:
1. I am very easily bored.
2. I couldn’t stop getting fired as a CPA (3 times in less than two years)!!!
I had taken some Basic programming courses in college but I was sure I was going to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a CPA. You just heard how accounting worked out for me professionally. On the other hand, as soon as I start getting bored or annoyed with some task, I just plainly don’t want to do it anymore. I do research and find out how the task could be automated and what is the best technology for that solution. If I know the technology – great. If I don’t, I learn it. I only care about the best solutions.
That certainly turned out to be a winning strategy for you. You have a generous set of skills! What’s your secret? From your experience, what are the best ways to gain a variety of skills in data science?
I love that question!
To be honest it’s mostly about attitude. Once you have the right attitude, everything just comes organically. You have to be fearlessly honest, openly curious and unashamedly delighted. Think about a child as they discover their hands for the first time. Watch a kitten or puppy explore their new world. I’ll try to expand on what I mean.
From health adventures, I know every day is a gift. As a counselor, I learned that every person is a wonder. Ultimately programming and data science mostly are about helping others.
Over and over in my career people have asked if I could help them with a problem. Very often my answer is, “Well I don’t know anything about that, but I’d love to hear more and I will let you know if I think I can help.” You will learn so much just by being a caring and interested person.
You will learn so much just by being a caring and interested person.
Another hugely important thing is to become friends with other technical people who aren’t doing what you do. I have great friends who are wizards in almost all aspects of technology. So, based on this, go to meet ups, conferences and join groups and make some friends in data science. Be more interested in them than in what they can do for you. You will have so much fun and learn a ton!
Finally, there are just so many awesome online resources out there now including 365datascience.com. I’m a big fan of learning from multiple sources.
All of these are critical foundations. But at the heart of it, you really don’t learn anything until you have a real project that you care about. Then all the instruction and theory will become clear and solid for you.
So, get the right attitude and find a real project to work on that interests you.
Ultimately programming and data science mostly are about helping others.
Thank you for the wise words and insight. I’m sure many enthusiastic data scientists will find inspiration in your words. Speaking of work, what highlights in your career are you most proud of so far?
I have two. One is personal and one is technical.
Every time somebody starts working with me, I ask them what they love and where they want to go professionally. If I know the technology, I start teaching them and giving them real projects. If I don’t know it, I’ll say I’d love to learn that too.
You want to learn that together?
When somebody says, “I love my new job, your mentoring helped me get here. Thanks!” it is an amazing gift and I’m so honored to have been a part of their adventure.
On the technical side, I’ve created a web application that both empowered and protected my developer customers. It has resulted in thousands of person hour savings yearly. I have extended that to a mobile interface so developers can troubleshoot without having to run to a computer when they are out and about. I also added a non-technical interface for business users so they are empowered as well. I’m now leveraging this application for my current data science efforts.
You seem to have a holistic approach to both life and work. And you’ve been at Invesco for more than 20 years! What company developments did you witness over the years? How has your role changed since the beginning?
I started off as an entry level developer.
When I began, almost everything in my department was manual and the primary way “technical” communication was done was via email with document attachments.
Now we are using the data cloud, data lakes, micro-services, DevOps, Agile and the list goes on and on. Technology is improving so fast.
Indeed that’s true. What does a typical workday in the life of a principal engineer look like ?
Keep in mind my primary role is making sure automated batch processing is working well.
I start the day by reviewing my analytics reports and visualizations to determine if there are issues that need further investigation.
Based on those daily investigations, I will determine what features we may need to create to improve efficiency and I design and implement solutions accordingly.
I am also getting more and more requests for REST API micro services. This allows users to customize their work efforts without having to go to my web application but still get all the benefits.
Working in data science involves a lot of work and constant learning. Many aspiring data scientists can sometimes lose motivation. As someone who started their professional journey as a self-taught developer to become a productive data scientist with a focus on math, can you give any advice on how they can stay consistent in their educational journey and push through the obstacles they face?
Hey, don’t make me give away my talk!
Really, it is all about attitude and having a real project you are genuinely interested in and hopefully having some expertise in the subject. For example, a real simple project could be doing a deep dive into your own finances.
Come on, you have the data!
Let’s expand on the attitude for my budding kittens and puppies (I include myself in that category).
You have to find a “story” that works for you. For me, data science is no different than playing a great quest type video game. If I “die” while trying something in a great game, I don’t beat myself up. I just say, “well I better not do that again”. Like all quests, you start at the beginning and work your way to the ultimate reward. You enjoy and learn as much as you can where you are NOW because, if you really absorb and get the most out of where you are now when you get to the final boss, you are ready to crush it.
But if I played games worrying the whole time that I can’t beat the ultimate boss right now, I’d never finish any game. Find a story or metaphor for your data science adventure that inspires and guides you. When you get discouraged, it’s because you’ve misplaced your story. Find it again and all will be well.
Find a story or metaphor for your data science adventure that inspires and guides you.
That’s probably one of the most helpful pieces of data science advice we’ve heard. Finally, we’d love to know more about your experience as a conference speaker. Can you give us 5 reasons why it’s important for aspiring data scientists to attend conferences in their field?
1) Network and make a ton of new friends.
2) Take a break. So much of life and media seems bloated with anger and worry. The data science community is filled with wonderful, supportive and enthusiastic people. It’s a great family of people.
3) Of course, plan on learning. Go to a meeting you wouldn’t normally consider.
4) I’m positive coming to conferences will help you find or expand your story.
5) Life is short, every day is a gift and every person is a wonder. To quote Stan Lee, “Nuff Said”.
Jeff, thank you for your time and invaluable advice! We wish you great success with all your current and future projects!