While working on Jigsaw’s report on Niche Analytics Companies, I had the privilege of interviewing Kathirmani Sukumar, a Data Analyst at Gramener, a successful Niche Analytics Company. Kathirmani was happy to share his story and I am sure that this interview reproduced below will be very useful for all of you considering a career in data analytics. Kathirmani shares how he became interested in analytics, some useful insights about the industry and most interesting of all, he takes us through a typical day in his life.
Tell us a little about yourself, your academic background?
I was born and brought up in Chennai. My school life went in chasing the high scores which my sisters achieved in their schooling and that set a standard for me. With the decent score that I was able to achieve in my +2, I joined Rajalakshmi Engineering College, Chennai and pursued my electrical engineering. Looking at my interests, my college Professor Dr.C.Kamala Kannan motivated me to work on few research projects which later helped me a lot in my professional career.
When I finished my bachelors I had two offers, one to join as a software engineer in a reputed IT company and another one to work under Dr. Arun K. Tangirala – Associate Professor at IIT Madras in a research project sponsored by Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). Considering the exposure that I could get and the technologies that I could learn, I joined IIT Madras as project associate and worked there for three years. At IIT Madras I attended courses on ‘time series analysis and statistics’ which laid the foundation in analytics for me. My research outcome was published in NDT & E, an international journal.
What got you interested in analytics?
The article “For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics” from The New York Times ( http:// www.nytimes.com / 2009 / 08 / 06 / technology / 06stats.html?_r=0 ) is what basically motivated me to pursue my career as a data scientist. This particular position demanded a blending of programming and statistical background, which very well matched with my skills.
When did you join Gramener?
During the end of my project at IIT Madras, Prof. Tangirala advised me to approach Anand (Founder and Chief Data Scientist at Gramener). Anand interviewed and tested me with a task and finally it was in May 2012 that I joined Gramener as an intern, and began my journey as a Data Scientist.
What is your job profile?
My job profile at Gramener includes transformation of big data to functional data and analysis of data. Analysis typically involves summarizing and classifying the data using techniques like Decision trees, Principal component analysis etc., The analysis is further automated to present meaningful visualizations. Part of the job profile also includes designing of new visualizations which adds a unique dimension to my profile.
What is your potential career path? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
After 5 years I see myself interacting with many CEOs predicting their company’s future stock market or pointing out where they should concentrate next.
Take us through a typical day in your life?
Analysing data: This is typically done during the initial stage of a project. Usually we get sample datasets from the customer and with the help of the concerned domain experts from the customer side; I understand the nature of the data. Then using tools like Python, Gramex (our own visualization product), Excel and R I analyse the data and derive insights. Analysis usually will be a mix of descriptive statistics, classifications, causal analysis. Toughest part of the work is creating a visual which conveys the insights effectively.
Interacting with the customer: After analysis and deriving insights I am often seen at the customer premises, educating the customer about my analysis and usage of our visualizations. This has been the challenging part of my job, because generally the target audience is top level management and I have been successful in convincing them which is usually difficult.
Automating: Interesting part in a day is when I spend time automating all my analysis and visuals using our product and deploy it in the client’s machine. Being in-charge of the journey of raw data to the end product is a fascinating experience
What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Getting a story out of my analysis and presenting it using appropriate visuals, so that the customer will be able to consume their data, is what is exciting and also a tough job to do. I am not a domain expert, but still I have to understand the business nature in a short period and think from the customer’s perspective which is challenging and exciting at the same time. Working with a team lead by Anand and Ganes Kesari (VP Products and delivery) is most satisfying and a great learning experience.
Which kind of projects do you like working on most?
I like to work on media projects where I can take up some public data and tell a story from it. I am also interested in projects where I can analyse the company’s product performance from their customer reviews using text analytics. In the future I would like to use my knowledge in machine learning algorithms.
Any advice for others interested in becoming data scientists?
A strong foundation in mathematics and statistics is very essential in being a data scientist, is what I have learnt. My advice would be to work under a mentor on real time projects before diving into the job.
What are your predictions for analytics in India?
The whole world knows that Indians are experts in Mathematics, which is a primary and important skill for any statistician. With 100% confidence I can say that India will become a hub for analytics.