From January 5th through January 8th, the School of Data Science and the School of Engineering travelled with 17 UVA students to the San Francisco bay area to visit 8 companies and learn about careers related to data analytics and data science.

The companies we visited included: Okta, Poshmark, Capital One, Internet Archive, Google, Bitly, Netflix and Intel and we heard about a wide range of opportunities for starting a career with a data focus. 

Our group also had a chance to hear from and talk with an alum, Kevin Thompson, who has an enormous wealth of experience at Google and Uber.

Here are a few thoughts from each company:

Okta: The coolest company you’ve never heard of.  But you’ve definitely heard of their clients: MGM Resorts, Major League Baseball, Adobe, 20th Century Fox and many others. Okta builds cloud based systems to ensure secure logins to all of the technologies a client needs to be successful. Okta took our students through a technical interview coding question and gave feedback and tips as they practiced their whiteboarding skills. They’re still looking for interns too!

Poshmark: Poshmark is a marketplace to buy and sell new and used clothing, accessories and home goods for women, men and children. We learned about their data analytics teams and the importance of framing a problem and deciding what to measure. They must balance the needs of their sellers and buyers and they rely on A/B testing to analyze and evaluate product success. Poshmark sponsors H1B visas and has a number of positions in data analytics and engineering.

Capital One: Although Capital One is a bank, their San Francisco offices looked nothing like what you might expect for a bank! We heard a lot about how Capital One encourages innovation and excitement around new products and tools to improve the customer experience. It was great to hear about the varied career paths of the team members and to hear suggestions for pursuing a path in data science. We finished our Capital One visit with a little fun at Spin Ping Pong Bar.

Internet Archive: From choosing an old church as an office building (because it matches the logo) to the clay statues of employees on their three year anniversary, the Internet Archive is just what you might expect from a non-profit in San Francisco – passionate about what they do while embracing their quirks. They preserve data from books and internet pages so that the world can have free access to data and information. Anyone can search their archived web pages for information that is not available anywhere else. Their teams work to keep this data available to everyone. It goes without saying that they have an impressive wall of servers!

Google:  Google has a well-defined data “ladder” that consists of product analysts and business analysts. A masters or related experience is generally required in the data ladder.  While there are about 300 people within Google on the data ladder, many others throughout the company in other engineering areas have jobs that require some experience with manipulating data.

Bitly:  A small to medium-sized company whose main focus is on shortening URLs for companies (or consumers) to use in their branding and marketing efforts, Bitly was still learning how to best make use of their data. They had employees with diverse backgrounds who rely on quantitative problem solving and reasoning to make good business decisions. Coding in SQL and creating visualizations from their data are important skills for their team.

Netflix:  Our presenter at Netflix worked on the S3 data warehouses that Netflix maintains – 100s of petabytes of data! His group focuses on making sure that the data is easily and quickly available to the Netflix data science employees who need it. They hire mostly senior engineers.

Intel:  We talked with Sarah Kalinin, a data scientist with a PhD in Statistics who used her data science background to help Intel maximize yields and minimize waste. Data scientists are spread across Intel from R&D, to customer support, to human resources.  Most success comes from being able to tell a story with the data and understanding how you can gain a competitive advantage from using data.


General takeaways from our visit:

  1. All the companies we talked to were very enthusiastic about doing more with their data to improve business outcomes.
  2. The individual backgrounds and career paths of the folks we talked to were extremely diverse! While we talked with a few with PhDs, there were many who worked in data analytics without a higher degree and a wide range of undergraduate majors.
  3. We heard many times that one of the most important skills to have is the ability to understand and frame the business problem that the data is trying to solve.
  4. Being able to communicate findings and understand the audience/customer for the data is also highly valued.
  5. The offices we visited were very hip and cool with lots of open work and gathering areas (think pool tables, comfy couches and amazing artwork).
  6. Twice we heard from our hosts that the show Silicon Valley is fairly accurate portrayal of the culture out there! Adding to my Netflix queue now…