Feature image: Longdon. | Summer 2018, after a vacation in the U.K, I returned to the U.S. to embrace a new chapter of my career–data science.

“Disrupt yourself–or someone else will.” This quote often refers to business innovation, but I believe it also applies to one’s career. If we stop seeking ways to evolve or improve, our skillsets will become either obsolete or less valuable in the context of what the rest of the world offers/needs. Skillset obsolescence scares me, not because of job security, but rather because of “happiness security.” As the “effectance motive” concept discussed in The Happiness Hypothesis: people have a basic need to develop competency and control their environment–they give us fulfillment at work and in life. When our old competencies fail to help us control new environments, our happiness is at risk.

Last summer, I learned about a data science job opening through Cigna’s Actuarial Executive Development Program (AEDP) I’m a part of. I thought this was a great way to disrupt my career, but pursuing this opportunity would a leap-of-faith decision for me. Although I had an actuarial science major and computer science minor in college, I didn’t even know what data science was a few months prior to hearing about this opportunity. Additionally, I never had any real-world working experience with predictive modeling or programming.

After some internal debates, I summoned up the courage to pursue this opportunity. Two people in particular inspired this decision:

  • Elon Musk: he predicted that artificial intelligence would be human’s biggest existential threat. As a concerned citizen who loves technology, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility: urgency to learn about AI (before it’s too late) and responsibility of using AI to advance humanity (in a positive way). AI is made possible because of the abundance of data, so data science would be a great gateway for me to learn and apply AI.
  • Sheryl Sandberg: in Lean In, she narrated a story that stuck with me. In 2001, then Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, gave her a piece of career advice that went a long way. “When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impacts, careers take care of themselves… If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” We live in the most exciting time in human history. With the data explosion that happened in recent years, I see data science as a “rocket ship” because it will be the key to unlock the endless values of big data.
Data explosion in the past decade.

After a few conversations/interviews with the hiring manager (an actuary turned data scientist) and my actuarial program director, I was fortunate to secure this position and became the first Cigna AEDP member to take on a job in data science.

Although nervous about the road ahead, I’m confident that my past academic and work experience have set me on the right path because of the work ethics and business domain knowledge I have acquired. Relentlessly studying for difficult actuarial professional exams in the past 6 years has not only taught me actuarial knowledge, but also given me an unstoppable drive to learn. I’m confident my ability to self-teach will help me fill whatever knowledge gaps there would be. Additionally, working in insurance pricing has taught me important business domain knowledge– vital in data science, as illustrated by the Venn diagram below:

Image result for data science
Data Science = Computer Science + Math + Business Knowledge

In the next two years, I will document my data science journey in this section of WeZBest blog and write learning journals to gather pearls of wisdom in data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other cool things I learned along the way. I hope my journals will serve as an effective learning & motivation tool for myself and others who are also interested in this career path.

Together, We.Z.Best! 🙂

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