Dr. Maria Wang has always had a curiosity for life. At ten years old, she pulled a camel’s hair to see his sensory reaction to human provocation (and that ended up with her three-week bed stay from the camel’s hind-leg kick). Today, she applies curiosity into driving deep insights from data. Maria Wang is the instructor of our inaugural Level class. Maria holds her Ph.D. from Northeastern University in Operations Research, and is excited to contribute to her alma mater in a dynamic way. Maria Wang served as a Knowledge Expert at The Boston Consulting Group and Principal Scientist at Oracle, and she has also been an analytics lead at SmartZip and FICO. Beyond that, she has lived in ten countries and has competed in more than a dozen marathons and half marathons. We decided to ask Dr. Wang a few questions about the changing landscape of analytics, and why she is excited to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of analysts.

What was the most exciting challenge that you solved using analytics?
When I was leading the analytics team at a startup in Silicon Valley, a national leader in predictive marketing, to predict the US residential market’s turnover on single house basis. The predictions concerned multitudes of factors, from the characteristics of the homes, to homeowners’ demographics, life events and loan positions. We used ensemble methods with hundreds of variables and predictive models on nearly one-hundred million homes, and even ran the models on our own homes. The takeaway was that the models were smarter than we were, and foresaw probability we may not see ourselves. This was not surprising since the predictions were made in high-dimensional space and came from a large amount of collective intelligence.

What is your favorite movie?
Shawshank Redemption

What advice do you have for aspiring analysts, or, what do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
To build a well-rounded skill set. There are core skills such as math, computer programming, analysis and domain knowledge, and you need to master at least one of them to be an extraordinary data analyst or scientist. But there are other skills that may not be taught at school and they can help make or break it in time in practice, such as business skills, organizational and interpersonal skills. That is why soft skills are needed to transform the data and numbers into insights, decisions and actions.  

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You have lived in China, the US, and Canada. What are the biggest differences that you noticed?
Canadians are the nicest; Chinese have the best food and most interesting histories; Americans changed the world with technologies.

You have worked at Boston Consulting Group, Oracle, Smartzip and FICO. How do the analytics departments vary across industries?
Across industries and companies, goals, core functions and operating models of analytics teams can vary greatly. For software companies, analytics sciences drive the product vision by identifying the trends in the industry and value to the customers with data-driven value proofs. For consulting, analytics team can provide the data-side of the story telling – the leading insights that cannot be drawn from traditional hypotheses and the fact base behind the business strategies and recommendations put forward to the client.

How are analytics changing the business landscape? Does everyone need to know analytics?
There are solid results across industries to show that a data-driven practice can boost the business performance significantly, from 5-10% uplift of bottom line. That is especially true for a data-intensive vertical such as retail or financial services. What we are talking about here goes well beyond the traditional financial balance sheet or product data, because a massive amount of data now come from consumer’s behavior and the “Internet of Things”, such as purchase transactions, social media data, network data, etc. Effectively using these data and harnessing insights is not just changing the business landscape, it is modifying the way we live, work and think.  

Maria will be teaching the inaugural Level cohort starting October 26th, 2015. You can find more information including her patents and publications on LinkedIn