Please tell us about yourself

When Sachin Agrawal, a first-year student in the MScA program, heard about the Enova Data Smackdown coming to the University of Chicago’s statistics and data science community, he did not have to think twice about whether he was going to enter or not. With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and several years of analytic work already under his belt, it struck him as a great way to challenge himself and put the analytics knowledge he’d already acquired to the test. And so he brought three friends together from the MScA program and made sure they were all free on November 11 to travel to the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago to take part in the competition.

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“They gave us a classic business problem,” Sachin says. “With the data they provided, we had to formulate an optimal solution for a publishing company about what books to publish and how they should market them. We divided up the work between us—the data cleaning, the model cleaning—and worked for four very intense hours on the problem. In the end, we took third place. It was a very satisfying experience. They even gave us the opportunity to share with the other twenty teams present how our approach worked.”

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

In fact, Sachin has always been interested in how things work. From a very early age, he says, he felt drawn to computers and mathematics and really just anything touching on the broader area of puzzle solving. He was eager to solve whatever problem people could throw his way. And yet, in a way—and Sachin corroborates this—it was always something more than just the act of solving a puzzle that drew his attention.

“Really,” he says, “it was decisions that fascinated me. I was fascinated by the fact that things happened as a result of decisions being made. I wanted to know about the strategy underpinning the decision and the reasoning behind it. That’s where my passion for analytics work comes from.”

He calls analytics unique for being so deeply rooted in both the technical and business side of things. This combination drew Sachin to the MScA program—a characteristic of the program he calls its balance. Conceding that the prestige of the University of Chicago was a factor as well, he nevertheless insists that when a fellow analyst at the company where he worked in Bangalore, India told him about the program, it was the breadth of the classes offered combined with the strength of the faculty that had him relocate all the way to Chicago.

“I am always looking to be challenged,” Sachin says. “In my first job after doing my undergraduate degree I worked on a project having to do with customer segmentation. I was the lead for the project and I worked extremely hard on it. The scale of the challenge was actually a new experience for me. And so when the client came back excited about the work I’d done, it gave me a great feeling. Coming to the MScA program seemed the best way to ensure I’d find myself as often as possible in similar situations throughout my life.”

What are your future plans?

Still too early to have a clear view into what he might do once he graduates, Sachin’s nevertheless already looking forward to entering a risk-related sector of the financial industry. He has no doubt that he wants to use his technical skills to contend with broader and more complex business-related problems. With one quarter of the program already under his belt, he says it’s not too early to begin to see the effect the MScA’s courses are having on his approach to analyzing data.

“When I was working in analytics before,” Sachin says, “it was a matter of just going and trying to solve the problem. We would really just dive into it. Even after just a quarter in the program, I can feel the formal side to my analytics education growing. My approach to problems now is much more structured and efficient. I am very excited to see how my approach continues to evolve as I continue in the program.”