New Career Path (excerpt)

An excerpt from an article to appear in the December AMS Notices issue, about moving from academia to startups. Since writing this article I have left the company that opened the startup door for me and have taken a position as the head  of the data science team at Sailthru. The reasons for the switch were a combination of the fact that I had nothing to do at the old company, found much of what was happening there nonsensical and, more importantly, the fact that the opportunity at hand was really exciting. My time at Sailithru has proven that and much, much more – it would take a number of independent posts to capture all that I enjoy about the job and the people.

My (New) Career Path
For some time now, Wall Street has been the beaten path for quantitative scientists looking to leave academia. However, before attempting this option, I did look into others. Consulting had left a sour taste in my mouth from an interview I randomly had during grad school, and none of my forays into educational policy or curriculum development were panning out. I knew a number of people who ended up with financial careers, and while I can’t say that any of them encouraged my pursuit, they were certainly helpful and very informative. Shortly after I started interviewing, I quickly realized that Wall Street wasn’t running around with blank checks looking for mathematicians without experience in the field. In addition, the interview process—with recruiters, silly puzzles, and long days—was for the most part rather unpleasant. I do have to admit that only a few of my Wall Street interviews were classically horrific, but it doesn’t take many to ruin your appetite. Soon I had an offer from a large bank that I turned down because morale there seemed incredibly low. Nevertheless, I learned quite a bit during this time and met a number of smart and interesting people (some of whom I am still in regular contact with). In any case, about two weeks after I officially resigned from UCLA, my search for a finance job was cut short by an email, rapidly followed by a phone call and an in-person interview which landed me in an industry I had never even considered. The thought of working in a startup did not cross my mind, simply because I was not aware the option existed. But when I was called and asked whether I would consider taking a role in data mining and analytics, my response was an unqualified yes. The interview process was so much faster and more agreeable than what I had seen in finance that I could only call it a relief. While the hiring process in financial firms tends to be long and drawn out, the situation here was completely different. After one phone call I was asked to come in the next day, had a pleasant, although intense, conversation with the head of the analytics group about the company and my interests, and with minimal delay received an offer. The whole thing felt like it fell out of the sky and landed right on my plate—seasoned, cooked, and garnished. The small group of mentors who were guiding me in the job search immediately endorsed the idea, and even the finance guys who were “promising” to bring me on board in the coming weeks wholeheartedly suggested I take the offer. I quickly accepted, and my job search was over.

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