Married to the Job: Data Scientist and Machine Learning Engineer Talk Shop


Both data scientists and machine learning engineers get to work on some fairly thrilling enterprise issues, however which one is the “cooler” job? 

To reply this query—and many others—we invited Nikunj Bajaj, a machine learning engineer at Facebook, and Sreeta Gorripaty, a data scientist at Uber, to hold forth. 

And as a result of they’re married, they didn’t maintain again. 

It was all in good enjoyable, after all. And between the laughs, the pair provided extremely insightful takes on the elementary variations between machine learning engineering and data science, what the future seems like for every area, and whether or not you want a level to turn out to be a data scientist.

The full video is beneath, however listed below are some highlights from the dialog.

Sreeta: So Nikunj, what do you consider the way forward for AI? Big query.

Nikunj: Oh man, OK. So, I’m a machine learning engineer, and I’m very optimistic about the way forward for AI. Because I feel that we haven’t even scratched the floor up to now in how we will leverage AI to enhance our lives. It is already affecting our lives: the method we commute, the method we store, the method we eat meals. And I consider that it’s going to go lots [farther]. And I’ve a robust feeling that in the future, AI will turn out to be such a pleasant counterpart to human beings that these two sensible minds can simply inter-operate with one another and make the world a greater place to reside in.

Sreeta: Yeah, and I completely agree with you. And I additionally, truly, I’m fairly excited as a result of I really feel like we’re on this state of affairs the place it’s simply scratching the floor, and it’s creating these alternatives. And I really feel like we’re all beginning up on this journey of AI. And we may be the leaders who can truly make the vital selections about privateness, security, ensuring that AI for good—that it’s taking place in that course. So I’m truly enthusiastic about not simply the future, however the roles that we will play in shifting it ahead.

Nikunj: All proper, the huge one. How did you turn out to be a data scientist?

Sreeta: Oh, yeah. I like this query. So I completed my undergraduate in IIT Bombay in civil engineering. And I used to be specializing in transportation engineering. I actually beloved the area as a result of it was extraordinarily numerous. You could possibly be doing something. You could possibly be specializing in the habits of individuals in transportation decisions, how aircrafts fly, how will we handle airports, how will we mannequin visitors on the street. So it was an excellent numerous area the place you would actually give attention to anybody half.

So I used to be like, I want to spend extra time finding out and understanding this space. So I did a grasp’s in Berkeley. I form of acquired a funded grasp’s, so it was fairly simple for me to come right here and research. And so it was a no brainer, I had to do it. And then throughout my grasp’s, I truly, by pure accident, I acquired launched to this course, which was Introduction to Machine Learning. And I used to be like, yeah, the title sounds fancy, let’s simply go see what that is like.

And I went, and I used to be simply so absorbed. I used to be like, oh my God, you would truly measure this? You may predict so properly. You can truly perceive how and the place the rain will fall so precisely. Something I’m doing in my class is predicting the place the rain is falling in the Sierra Nevadas. So we had this tremendous, tremendous cool course tasks, and then I used to be completely positive that I’ve to research extra, apply my training to a few of the utilized issues in transportation.

And so I did my Ph.D., the place I used to be specializing in air visitors administration, and utilizing machine learning to enhance that, and to present higher instruments and stuff. Then I did an internship in Apple Maps to perceive what do I would like to do, business or academia? And then I simply beloved the proven fact that in business the ideation-to-impact cycle is actually brief. You consider one thing, you prototype it, and then you definately experiment it, and then it’s reside in a few weeks typically, and even quicker. So I simply actually beloved that and I needed to pursue data science. I graduated, seemed for jobs, acquired into Uber, and right here I’m.

Nikunj: Perfect match. Transportation and data science. 

Sreeta: So what’s the distinction between a data scientist and an ML engineer?

Nikunj: I feel the phrases data scientist and ML engineer are used fairly loosely throughout the business. And completely different corporations have completely different guidelines, completely different necessities for a data scientist and an ML engineer. Sometimes individuals change hats as properly. So it’s troublesome to give a solution that’s conducive to all types of eventualities. 

So, once I take into consideration an ML engineer, there are basically two major elements to my position. One, that I’m doing machine learning and I’m making an attempt to construct fashions to resolve a specific product use case. And second, I’m doing engineering, as the title goes, proper? So, not solely constructing the mannequin, however one in every of my major goals is to take that mannequin and ship it to the end-users.

How can I construct an engineering system which is powerful sufficient, stable sufficient that it might probably ship that mannequin to the customers and then deal with elements like: what’s going to be the run-time complexity of this factor? Which a part of this mannequin would run offline versus which a part of this mannequin would run on-line. And take into consideration all these parts of fixing the drawback. 

And in truth, I would really like to hear what’s the data scientist job from you rather than making an attempt to reply myself.

Sreeta: Yeah, that’s truly a great level. It may be very fudgy, I feel, throughout industries. And there’s a whole lot of locality. I feel additionally not simply throughout completely different industries, but additionally the dimension of the firm issues. If you’re in a really huge, established firm like Facebook, like Uber, you have got extra specified guidelines, so it’s clear what the variations are. But if you happen to’re working in a startup, or a barely smaller firm, I really feel like the roles actually begin merging and mixing much more since you want to be a bit of bit extra full-stack.

So by way of extra huge firm conditions, the place it’s extra clear what the variations are, as a data scientist, my focus is: how do I resolve issues that I’m seeing for my customers, at the finish of the day. 

So an instance is, I do know I form of alluded to the visitors earlier than, so simply persevering with on that theme. If I want to discover what’s the time taken for an Uber to go from level A to level B. What’s the journey time to do this? That’s a real-world drawback. So as a data scientist, I are available there and I’m like, hey, how do I formulate this drawback right into a mathematical query? So that’s the place I begin to take into consideration, what’s the mathematical drawback? 

So it’s like, there’s an origin, there’s a vacation spot, and I want to discover the time to go from level A to level B. Then I begin fascinated with, what’s the knowledge wanted for that? So: map knowledge, there’s visitors info, there’s some quantity of knowledge on the environment—is it cloudy, is there congestion, is it rush hour? So, I want to first acquire knowledge. So there’s a whole lot of work on knowledge wrangling, knowledge cleansing, SQL, and all that stuff.

And then as soon as that’s performed, the subsequent query is: now that I’ve the inputs, I want to resolve the drawback. So that’s the place, what’s the proper mannequin for this query? What are the assumptions which are made for this mannequin? Are they legitimate for this specific situation? And do they make sense? So then I begin to take into consideration mannequin coaching, mannequin analysis.

And then as soon as I’ve one thing that works, the subsequent query is: hey, how do I do know that is higher than what I’m doing proper now? It’s one factor to construct cool fashions for the coolness, however it has to serve the objective that of the drawback, which is how do I predict the journey time to go from level A to level B? And it’s higher than the choices I’ve proper now.

So that’s the place analysis and metrics turn out to be actually vital. So I want to be sure that I perceive: what are good metrics for this drawback? What are the numbers that affect my customers the most? What are the ETAs which are most vital for the drivers and riders and the customers of the app? And then as soon as I’ve these metrics in place and I can see, properly, it is a good algorithm, the subsequent step is: how do I launch this? How do I shut the loop and measure the affect on my customers when it’s reside?

So, the entire cycle of going from a really summary drawback to truly quantifying the affect of it finish to finish, I feel that’s the data scientist. And the distinction from what I’m listening to from you, which you set properly, is that I’m pondering extra of the problem-solving and how to resolve it, what to resolve, and how to measure. And you’re pondering of how to implement it, and how do I be sure that—

Nikunj: Right. How do I ship it?

Sreeta: Yeah, how I ship it. So that’s form of the theme.

Related: Machine Learning Engineer vs. Data Scientist

Nikunj: Do you want a CS diploma to do your job?

Sreeta: Well, brief reply is not any, as a result of I’m employed in data science and I don’t have a CS diploma. So I feel I’m dwelling proof of that reply. But I feel on a extra severe be aware, a CS diploma is helpful at the resume stage. I feel at the resume stage is when you have got to form of concisely put the info collectively that: hey, I’ve good abilities which are related for data science, for machine engineering, and form of the normal concept of this work. And so there, a level turns out to be useful as a result of it’s standardized, everybody takes sure programs to end a level. So the one that’s studying your resume says: I do know you’ve completed all these necessities. 

But that’s not the solely method to put that info there. If you’ve performed bootcamps, if you happen to’ve taken any on-line programs, if you happen to’ve performed analysis tasks, if you happen to’ve performed Kaggle competitions, these could possibly be different methods to present your enterprise in data science and the way you’re form of a self-learner. 

So when you transcend the resume display stage, I feel what issues the most is what you realize, not the diploma you have got.

Because I’ve seen each instances the place individuals have these superb levels with lovely resumes, however they arrive onsite or they arrive on a cellphone name and I’m simply disenchanted. There’s actually no understanding of how to resolve the drawback. And I’ve seen the different instances the place individuals have like a reasonably skinny or scrappy resume with out a whole lot of commonplace levels, however they only know the way to resolve the drawback.

That’s what issues to get the job, versus getting screened for the job.

Related: How to Learn Data Science Without a Degree

Sreeta: So the query is, can a data scientist turn out to be an ML engineer and vice versa?

Nikunj: I feel so. I feel individuals make transitions from being a data scientist to being an ML engineer and vice versa fairly usually, truthfully. And the purpose I consider {that a} transition just isn’t a giant bounce is as a result of in your day-to-day job, a data scientist and an ML engineer have to work very hand in hand to ship an answer. 

Let’s say a data scientist is constructing a mannequin to resolve an issue. One of the examples you talked about is the ETA drawback. Now, that ETA drawback can probably be solved utilizing 20 completely different fashions. However, the engineering, say inside Uber, probably not all of the fashions are possible, both primarily based on the limitation of some form of knowledge or primarily based on the engineering system that’s powering the app, proper?

So the data scientist has to perceive a few of the engineering facet to truly make the proper mannequin alternative. And for that, they’ve to have the ML engineering know-how of their toolkit, proper? Similarly, an ML engineer can not actually design a system till they perceive what goes inside the mannequin. Because some fashions may be training-time heavy, some fashions could possibly be prediction-time heavy. So they want to make selections on what goes offline, what goes on-line. How do I make my database decisions? How do I even implement the proper algorithm, proper?

So for all of that, an ML engineer wants to be fairly properly versed with the data science fashions. So, clearly these two individuals perceive one another’s jobs, and that may positively assist once they’re making the transition. I suppose once they’re actually making the transition, they want to go knee-deep into one another’s roles.

So for instance, if you happen to’re a data scientist, and you perceive engineering, you want to have the option to go knee-deep so now you can begin truly taking calls, so you may make engineering selections. You want to do some research or some follow for that, and vice versa. As an ML engineer, I perceive a few of the fashions. But can I truly make selections myself? Maybe I want some teaching for that. You want to perceive a bit of bit deeper into the different position, however you may make the transition.

Sreeta: Yeah, that’s a very honest level. I even have a pair buddies who’ve made this transition just lately. They got here from a startup as a data scientist, and as we mentioned earlier than, the roles may be fairly completely different in startups versus huge industries. They got here in and they realized that what makes them joyful is extra the machine learning engineering a part of the position than the data science a part of the position. And they got here in and had been doing the science actions that I used to be speaking about earlier than, and they form of constructed extra and extra technical energy, extra and extra coding abilities, and they made the transition.

Nikunj: And I’m positive it helped that, as a result of they had been coming from a startup, they most likely had been doing a bunch of various issues.

Sreeta: OK, what abilities do you want to turn out to be a data scientist? And the identical query for an ML engineer.

Nikunj: For machine learning engineer, I feel it’s fairly apparent. The title says all of it. You want two completely different abilities. One is you want to be good at machine learning. Second is you want to be good at engineering. 

So once I say you want to be good at machine learning, you want to perceive the fashions—and not simply how to use the fashions, as a result of a whole lot of instances individuals have a tendency to use these well-liked libraries and nearly assume that they know machine learning. But I actually assume that to be a great ML engineer you want to zoom into it and perceive what’s taking place inside the mannequin. What is the maths behind the mannequin? In sure eventualities, what mannequin could possibly be correctly used? So you want to have that understanding, and that’s a vital ability to construct. Yes, understanding the idea, understanding the arithmetic is vital. 

Secondly, by way of engineering, you want to be an exceptional coder, palms down. That’s most likely one in every of the most vital abilities. But past that, you additionally want to perceive the normal engineering fundamentals with the intention to make correct design decisions if you end up creating a system. And that comes with each studying and precise expertise. You learn and be taught from what different individuals have performed, however you actually turn out to be an skilled at it by designing extra and extra programs like that. So that’s form of a extra acquired form of ability.

Sreeta: I feel for data science it’s three-pronged. The first half is, I can not emphasize this sufficient, is problem-solving abilities. You want to have the option to go from actually summary issues into mathematical formulations successfully. And that features having a great quantity of enterprise acumen. So you want to have the option to go from: hey, my customers are churning, to how can I am going from that enterprise drawback right into a extra mathematical drawback? So that drawback formulation, that communication, is actually vital there.

The second section is the technical half. You want to be good, clearly, at data science. You want to be actually good on two elements in data science: the first being simply theoretical data science. I feel somebody who’s a DS ought to know what fashions are related at what level, what assumptions are made for these fashions. Are they legitimate for the drawback that you simply’re ? Is the knowledge validating assumptions for these fashions? And will this mannequin present the output of alternative? Probability scores versus steady variables versus classification. So you want to have this good know-how of what mannequin applies the place and what the limitations are and assumptions are. And the second half is coding. I feel that is fairly often missed for data scientists. Coding is actually vital. You want to be good at prototyping. Whatever your concepts are, to actually be an efficient data scientist you want to go from ideation to execution actually successfully. So being good at program abilities, like working in Python, working in R—tremendous vital. 

And I feel the third facet is: after you have one thing actually fascinating and impactful prepared, you want to talk. You want to work with stakeholders to be sure that it may be productionized, it may be put on the market for affect. So you want to work along with your engineering managers, along with your product managers, you want to talk with management. There’s a whole lot of storytelling for data science. It’s like: why is that this drawback vital? How do I resolve it? What is the affect of doing it? 

So I feel it’s these three elements collectively actually kind an efficient data scientist. 

Nikunj: Who has a cooler job?

Sreeta: Such an apparent reply. But I ought to begin. I feel, clearly, in a data-driven method, I can conclude {that a} data science job is cooler. Because at the finish of the day, it doesn’t matter what occurs, the data scientist has to log off on the challenge. The data scientist has to say: that is making sense, it’s a go, or this isn’t making sense, it’s a no-go. So no matter occurs inside, data science wins.

Nikunj: Well, I disagree. And I disagree with all my coronary heart. Because a machine learning engineer not solely will get to resolve the actual cool issues and construct superior fashions and every little thing. The most vital half is they really get to construct code that’s shipped to customers. How cool is that? You truly make an affect to customers, a direct coding affect. And that half is tremendous cool to me. I make adjustments and that’s affecting a person’s life immediately.

Sreeta: I suppose we will agree to disagree on this, and transfer on and have peaceable lives as husband and spouse.

Nikunj: Oh, yeah. I don’t need to say an excessive amount of.

Ready to begin your data science profession? Or maybe you’re extra all for machine learning engineering? We have mentor-guided, career-focused bootcamps for each: try the Data Science Career Track and the Machine Learning Engineering Career Track now.


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