Data Evangelist, R&D Manager – Synopsys Inc

Over 10 years of experience in the field of Data Science and 2 years in Advanced AI

Previous Experiences – Georgia Tech

Education Qualification:

  • PhD and MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering – Georgia Institute of Technology
  • MS, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • BTech, Computer Science & Engineering – Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

Specialization Areas:

Verilog, Algorithms, Software Engineering, Data structures, EDA, Deep Learning

Excerpts from Jacob’s interview with Manipal ProLearn where he explains about his role as a Data Evangelist:

1. Manipal ProLearn: Tell us about your journey, your endeavour with data science. How did it all start?

Jacob: I would say I took a top-down approach to data science. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has always fascinated me, but we began to see tremendous success and innovations in this area only recently. This was possible due to the availability of huge amount of data and easy access to cost-efficient computing resources.

It would be fair to say that it is the data-driven AI that is experiencing a period of spectacular growth. So I started looking deeper into it and then I realized that the whole of data science contains all the knowledge to move gradually from basic data analytics to advanced forms of AI.

2. Manipal ProLearn: You have been in the industry for a long time now, but is there something that you wish you had done differently in your career?

Jacob: I have been primarily associated with the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry for more than a decade now. The EDA industry is also starting to consider data-driven approaches such as Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning algorithms to solve some of the difficult problems in the domain. My experience in this domain has been rewarding. However, there is so much more to be done to provide the highest quality products to our customers. We can always do things differently now and in the future to that end.

3. Manipal ProLearn: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Jacob: Keeping up with the pace of technology. The data science technology has been evolving at a pace more rapidly than most of us can keep track of.  Many high quality open-source tools and platforms are being developed, which aim to solve a multitude of practical problems. It is a challenge to figure out the right tool for the right task. Once the tools are locked in to the architecture it becomes difficult to move out of it to a possibly more efficient set of tools. So future-proofing yourself for upcoming technology is a hard task, I would say.

4. Manipal ProLearn: One book or movie that you think every data scientist should watch/read or could draw some inspiration from?

Jacob: I am quite a movie buff and an avid book reader. I would suggest Transcendence, Ex-Machina, and Her to get charged up for considering a career in data science. I would highly recommend the book,

“The Master Algorithm”, by Pedro Domingos.

5. Manipal ProLearn: Three qualities or traits that you think are a must-have for data science professionals.

Jacob: I think the primary trait every data science professional should have is hunger for learning and exploration. They should aim to thrive and excel in challenging work situations. They should be willing to learn about new tools, and new approaches from blogs, articles, and research papers to provide the highest quality solutions to their business problems.

In other words, they should be self-driven, and on the other hand also believe in sharing and helping other data scientists. We will grow by democratizing knowledge in this domain, hence there should be a spirit to collaborate more and compete less.

6. Manipal ProLearn: What do you enjoy the most about being a data science professional?

Jacob: I enjoy sharing knowledge through workshops and interaction sessions. I collaborate with other experienced professionals to provide current technology exposure through talks or mini-courses. I also talk to people about their work, and try to learn the best practices from them. Additionally, I mentor young people in this area and help them to sharpen their skills, so they are well equipped to tackle complex problems.

7. Manipal ProLearn: Tell us about any interesting project that you worked on.

Jacob: Most of the work that I have already done or am currently doing is in collaboration with a lot of talented individuals. Currently, I am interested in something, which is loosely being termed as Human Analytics or Cognitive Analytics. Essentially, it is the combination of AI and analytics. We are starting to do some early work on it, and it has been very interesting so far.

8. Manipal ProLearn: The data science industry has grown rapidly over the past few years. What changes have you witnessed closely in this regard?

Jacob: I have closely witnessed the barriers to this technology come down significantly in the last few years. There are many high quality resources and courses on the internet, so anyone with a will and strong determination can learn about this area and start contributing. The push is towards democratization, so there is no significant leverage for companies using closed source tools.

A large number of high quality tools are being developed by brilliant developers in the open source world, which in many cases are performing better than proprietary tools. So there is a significant motivation for big companies as well to support these tools. Overall, the entry barriers have been drastically brought down by the efforts of some fine individuals.

9. Manipal ProLearn: What would you call your most significant accomplishment till date?

Jacob: I see myself as a technology activist and an evangelist. I feel happy when people call back or write to say that they have benefited from our courses and mentoring. If I can help a student pick up relevant problems to solve, and help them tackle those problems, I see the returns as very satisfying.

In fact, my friend and I, trained a student early on, on an area in data science, which became very popular later, helping him get a very prestigious position in a reputed industrial R&D lab.

10. Manipal ProLearn: What are the self-employment opportunities in the data science field?

Jacob: The field of data science is vast and requires a diverse skillset. I think the opportunities to provide knowledge to others through workshops and training sessions is a very viable self-employment channel. There are also opportunities to do data science related projects as a freelancing consultant. Overall, I believe there is a huge knowledge dissemination opportunity in these areas, which also offer good return on investment.

11. Manipal ProLearn: Do you think data science is the next big-thing? If yes, why?

Jacob: Definitely. Andrew Ng, the leading expert of Deep Learning, recently said that AI is the new electricity, and that AI will transform industry after industry. We are already seeing great traction in various application areas such as Healthcare, Retail, Logistics, Manufacturing, Fintech etc. The way to the grand vision of an Artificial Super Intelligence is through data and data sciences.

12. Manipal ProLearn: Name one industry leader who has been an inspiration to you.

Jacob: Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow. He is one of the most brilliant engineers of our time who has developed most of the Big Data Analytics related tools within Google. More recently he was involved in the development of Tensorflow, which is currently the most popular open-source tool for Deep Learning. Another person who deserves a mention is Elon Musk, widely regarded as the most astute contemporary technology entrepreneur.

13. Manipal ProLearn: What do you do to ensure your growth as a leader?

Jacob: Listen to people and talk to them, in that order. Having good communication skills is essential for any leader. Leadership is not about control; it is about striving for excellence of the team. It is about earning the respect and trust of your team members and peers. If the members of the team can be motivated to grow individually, and collaboratively, the leader’s success is guaranteed. Also having mentors who guide you helps immensely in this field as it is fast-evolving.

14. Manipal ProLearn: What is your advice to young data scientists?

Jacob: This is a good area to be in right now. There are huge opportunities for career growth. But this is a vast area and there is always something new to learn, so I would advise young data scientists to keep learning and keep sharing their knowledge. It is also essential to be a part of the community of like minded people to enhance your knowledge and engage in mutually beneficial discussions.

We have started a Facebook community called Indian Deep Learning Initiative to encourage people to start learning advanced data sciences and to connect with experts from Academia and Industry. Also it is imperative that young data scientists realize that this is a very hands-on area. The only way to truly learn is by doing the hard thing and getting your hands dirty with data.

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