“Try to optimize your happiness rather than your bank account!”

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What happens when you sit down for a heart-to-heart with a man who’s seen so much of life? Over the weekend, we had the extreme pleasure of interviewing the very talented, Mr. Patrick Hosein. A renowned Professor of Computer Science at The University of the West Indies, Mr. Hosein holds an impressive 41 granted patents in the areas of telecommunications and wireless technologies!

Given his stature and accomplishments, we thought talking to Mr. Hosein would be somewhat intimidating, but it was in fact, a breath of fresh air! Check out what he has to say about a career in Data Science, his superpower soft skill, and everything in between.

GLEAC: For all the newbies looking to make a career in Data Science, which soft skills v/s hard skills do they need to master?

P. Hosein: One must be good at Computer Programming (especially in Python). They should also know basic Statistics and they should be familiar with certain areas of Mathematics such as Linear Algebra and Optimization. Many of these can be learned from online courses. With these skills they can then go on to learn the various Data Science techniques required for a job in the area. The hard skills would be a solid knowledge of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering. 

Since my research is primarily in Data Science then it is important to be able to acquire the data that is needed for the problem at hand. This requires making requests for the data from those who manage the data. This must be done in such a way that the provider of the data feels included in the process and I would typically include such people on any publications produced. This soft skill – of collaboration – is important for any Data Scientist if they are to get the job done.

GLEAC: Most believe Data Science is the future. What’s your take on this sector?

P. Hosein: Data Science and Artificial Intelligence are growing areas and although the tools and techniques may change over time, the overall approach of using data to make decisions will continue to grow. This growth will be fueled by increased data collection, increased computing power, and advances in areas such as Machine Learning. Therefore, I do not believe that my present areas of research will die anytime soon.

GLEAC: If you had to explain ‘data science’ to a 5-year-old, how would you do it?

P. Hosein: Suppose you go into an Ice Cream shop but you have never had ice cream. You want to know which flavor may be best (optimal) for you, so you ask everyone in the store which flavor they bought (data collection). You ignore choices made by the old folks and choose the flavor most popular by those your age (classification). You have made the best decision using the available data and hence used Data Science.

GLEAC: What is the one learning of your professional journey you would like to share with the world?

P. Hosein: This has been repeated by many, but it is so important. Never follow a career path if it brings you daily stress and unhappiness or takes you away from precious time with your family and friends. Many people follow a path for the money and power or because their parents or peers pressured them into it. Since I like to think in terms of optimization, then I would say try to optimize your happiness (which, by the way, is highly correlated with the happiness you provide to others) rather than your bank account or perceived power.

GLEAC: Data science can get rigorous. How do you keep up the mojo?

P. Hosein: I thrive on solving complex, difficult problems. So my mojo is kept up by the constant challenges I face. Data Science can be applied to a wide range of domains and hence one needs to have some knowledge of the domain to make a contribution. In addition, the techniques and programming tools keep advancing. Luckily, at my age, I can focus on the big picture and have my students learn what is required to do the nitty gritty work. So the challenges keep me going.

GLEAC: What is your superpower soft skill? Are there any skills you need to work on to better yourself?

P. Hosein: Problem-solving is one skill that has served me well over my career. I am able to take complex problems and solve them by first gaining intuition from a simplified version. Typically, this would be done through mathematical analyses or experimentation. The ability to approach these complex problems without getting overwhelmed is something I try to teach my students.

But I also think that my teaching skills could be improved. I sometimes explain things at a level that are far above the students’ ability to understand. This results in a lack of questions from the students. This is something that I am working on, but I am late in my career – so it will probably not be totally accomplished before my retirement.

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Munira Rangwala
Free-spirited, an avid dancer, and a voracious reader, Munira loves to pen down her thoughts just as much as she loves to indulge in all sorts of chocolate desserts. If travel didn't cost an arm and a leg, you'd never see her in the same place twice.

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