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Data Science: “Every Day Starts With A Question”

Meet the spontaneous self-scrutinizers

September 09, 2019 | 4 min. read

When you think of a data science team you might imagine black-rimmed glasses, hunched over their computers, speaking only in mathematical equations. Perhaps you even picture them with white lab coats and microscopes. Well, it isn’t that kind of science. Either way, you’ve probably got the image all wrong.

“You’d think data science is a job for introverts, but it’s not.” Polina, Sr. Data Scientist at FedEx Digital, says it can be surprising how much she interacts with people in her work.

Maurits agrees. “I spend a lot of time in front of the whiteboard explaining things. That’s actually very enjoyable.” And, he adds pensively, “also kind of weird.”

Maurits is the team’s Cluster Lead of Data and Analytics. Apparently, that’s his short job title. So, what does a data science team actually look like?

At FedEx Digital International, the team is made up of data scientists, analysts and engineers, who build cloud-based applications. It’s Maurits’ job to make sure they’re all working cohesively and align with the goals of internal stakeholders.

As far as the rest of the team goes, they say they’re basically working each day on a big puzzle that’s constantly changing. “Everyday is different, but it starts with a question.” Xin, a FedEx Digital data scientist explains that from that question, the team examines data. Then, they compile a report. “There is a lot of exploration. We try to communicate in terms everyone can easily understand.”

Xin has been with FedEx Digital for less than one year, but right now she is excitedly building a new prediction model that she says will clearly add business value and make a positive impact on customers worldwide. “I like the process of having the pieces come together and reaching a satisfying conclusion.”

In addition to puzzle solving, team Data Science has another big task on their shoulders. “We are not just here for the different components of our work, but also as ambassadors.” Maurits describes the team as a role model. They are often coaching and guiding other FedEx Digital teams in using data. “We are building bridges between business and application,” adds Polina.

Turns out these scientists are using a different kind of microscope. This one involves a close examination of themselves and their own work as they set an example for others. Maurits says that’s not always the most comfortable feeling. “We are scrutinizing ourselves and finding ways to improve. However, observing and learning should always be part of the company mindset.”

The team agrees it is indeed the culture at FedEx digital that makes them stronger as a team. “There is openness and flexibility. You feel like you are listened to,” Polina describes. “There’s a whole lot to achieve here.”

In just a few months, Xin says she’s participated in various trainings, hackathons, and other knowledge-sharing collaborations within the office. “We are spontaneous and proactive to help each other learn.” She says that keeps things really interesting. “Fun stuff can happen here- especially within logistics. There are many opportunities.”

There’s no doubt that opportunities abound within the data science team. They’ve more than doubled in size in just one year and they are still adding new engineers, data scientists and analysts.

Maurits has been developing this team since its infancy. Although he says their methodology still has room to mature, he’s proud of how far they’ve come within the past year. The team is now making models and predictions capable of far-reaching impact. “We see every culture in the world across our websites and apps.”

Yet, for this team of scientists, their biggest satisfaction lies beyond the predictions, experiments, and even the data. “In the end, what I do helps make a customer happy,” Polina explains with a bright smile. “I really like that sense of achievement.”

Maurits sums it all up with his whiteboard-worthy slogan. “What we are doing is not just about parcels, it is about people.”

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