Q&A with Upstart Data Scientist and Navy Veteran: Michael Quan
Join us in this blog series where we are shining a light on one of our Upstarters. Come take a closer look at the people inside the company who are tirelessly working to provide access to affordable credit. In celebration of Veterans Day, we salute all of our veterans making a difference at #TeamUpstart.
Michael Quan is a Data Scientist in our Columbus team, where he has the distinction of being a proud graduate of that “School Up North” as well as a veteran of the United States Navy. We checked in with Michael to learn about his unique path from military service to data science and to Upstart.
Tell us about your military service:
For about 10 years I served in the US Navy as an Intelligence Officer with about seven years serving overseas in Japan, Bahrain, Germany and Afghanistan. My duties involved leading teams of analysts and solving complex puzzles, such as finding Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and monitoring North Korean ballistic missile activity.
Why data science? How did you make the transition?
It is an exciting time to be in the field of data science! Over the past 5-10 years our ability to derive insight from data has increased exponentially, and data scientists across every industry are leading the charge. If you like solving complex puzzles and playing with the latest advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, then a career in data science is a no-brainer.
Refining data into useful information has always been a part of my work as an intelligence officer, and I wanted to continue that work when I transitioned to a civilian career. When I left active duty in 2014, I took advantage of the GI Bill to go to graduate school, obtaining the business acumen and quantitative skills needed to start playing in this field.
What advice do you have for others considering a similar path?
For other active duty folks or veterans thinking about a career in data science, I’d say go for it! There is certainly a required technical and academic baseline, specifically with regards to statistics and coding, but think of this as the basic training required to effectively carry out your mission. You wouldn’t trust someone to fly a F/A-18 if they’ve never trained on how to do it first. Fortunately, the military provides a great deal of training and education opportunities such as the GI Bill that can be used to begin a career as a data scientist.
How do you draw on these experiences in your role as a Data Scientist with Upstart?
Two aspects of my military experience have very much helped me as a data scientist: solving complex problems and dealing with ambiguity. I am often trying to solve problems now that have no instructions or guidelines for how to solve them, since we are working with models and technologies that 10 years ago were not much more than academic musings.
When I was stationed in Bahrain in 2010, there was no rubric for finding Somali pirates either, since that issue was relatively new as well. My team and I would only have a few pieces of the puzzle, and there was never a shortage of ambiguity and bias. In these situations it is extremely important to let the data do the talking, and make sure that you are using statistics in ways that cut through (or at least quantify) uncertainty and are independent from your biases.
What attracted you to Upstart?
The core values of the company and how we bring value to our customers resonate really well with me. By using ML/AI to find true risk, we have found a way to disrupt one of the oldest industries in the world and provide affordable credit to those who really need it. Like many people, I’ve been in that situation where I felt my credit score did not accurately reflect my ability to pay people back, and I just accepted that was the way things had to be. Upstart is all about changing this.
You joined Upstart while we’ve been working remotely. How has your experience been so far?
While I’ve certainly enjoyed wearing pajamas to work, I’m pretty sure our dog has been the happiest with this remote working arrangement! Even though I’ve not yet physically met my coworkers at the office, everyone has done an amazing job making me feel like part of the team. There are some things that are always going to be harder while remote, but everyone here has been very helpful during this strange year.
What are you most looking forward to when we return to the office?
Definitely meeting all of my coworkers in person! I’ve also heard great things about the catered lunches.
What is your superpower?
My wife tells me my superpower is the ability to sleep through just about anything. This skill was mostly derived from three deployments sleeping underneath an airport at sea. One time I even fell asleep on a train in Japan and woke up in a trainyard with no one else onboard.
What’s something you’ve enjoyed about life in Columbus?
The beer scene in Columbus is awesome! My wife and I are thankful for the several breweries in this city that have outdoor and socially distant seating. I’m still looking for a good place to watch the Michigan games though. Go Blue!
Interested in working with Michael and the machine learning team? Explore our open roles at upstart.com/careers and join the team!