Inspirational Woman Interview: Vivian Zhang
Vivian Zhang is the Co-Founder and CEO of SupStat Consulting, a data analytics company specializing in predictive modeling, inference, computing, and graphics. She is a data scientist who has been devoted to the analytics industry and the development and use of data technologies for several years. She obtained expertise in data analysis and data management as a Senior Analyst and Biostatistician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Scientific Programmer at Brown University. She is also the founder of NYC Data Science Academy and the NYC Open Data meetup. She earned her M.S. in Computer Science and Statistics and B.S. in Computer Science. Vivian is a programmer and all-around dataholic, and considers herself a visualization evangelist.
How did you become interested in data analytics and technology?
Vivian Zhang: I first got into data analytics when I finished middle school and entered high school. I asked my brother what the future for computer science was and he told me that in a few years, everyone would be able to do data mining on their own laptops. But at that time, not many people had their own laptops so it was a very interesting time in the next 20 years for me. I started learning coding and programming as a freshman in high school and I chose Computer Science as my Bachelor’s major.
How did you come to found the NYC Data Science Academy and join SupStat, and can you tell us about some initiatives you’ve led there?
Vivian Zhang: The Academy was a coincidental founding experience. I used to do service for the homeless and bring food to the homeless, but I wanted to provide educational services as part of my service work. I started providing computer science lessons free of charge and talk about people can leverage open data sources to add value to their lives and work.
I co-founded Supstat with many tech enthusiasts; we started a consulting agency to combine data science and machine learning to provide services to other firms.
Also, you’re involved with extensive volunteer initiatives in New York. Can you tell us about these experiences and your main insights?
Vivian Zhang: Technology is hard to enter if you are not of a technical background, like being a science, engineering or mathematics major. It’s important to know how to utilize your knowledge and carve out your path to get there. I speak at multiple conferences to encourage people to enter the domain and use the Academy to make transitions in their careers. The programs help over 350 people transition to full-time data science positions even though they don’t have non-technical backgrounds. Our programs have also helped 800 people with their current roles in the data science industries. I also judge many open app competitions in New York.
Can you tell us about how your job as a Professor of Data Science has helped your work as a CTO and data scientist?
Vivian Zhang: The academic background has helped me provide a good understanding for my work as a data scientist and many of the top data scientists come from an academic background. My work gives me a lot of exposure to different industries so the more I know about the data science applications in these industries, the more I can help them. I hope to teach students to do better as they enter different industries.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Vivian Zhang: I really admire Melinda Gates; she has many amazing initiatives and provides a lot of support for people in low-income countries and she invests a lot of money in education and medical services – both of which are important to growing a low-income country. I admire her leadership in this capacity.
What advice do you have for women interested in data science careers?
Vivian Zhang: In the future generation, the most important skill to have is mathematics skills so that they can be quantitative and study more difficult things later. It’s also important to understand coding so that you can see the applications that can emerge from coding. The last skill I think everyone should have is accounting so that they can invest their savings wisely. It’s important to continuously deepen your knowledge at work.
What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources?
Vivian Zhang: I highly recommend R-bloggers.com, as it aggregates so much of what can be done in modeling, visualization and data analysis. The blog posts can help students know the cutting edge technologies and concerns that are in the industry.