Quora Has Questions, Data Scientist Olivia Angiuli Has Answers


Olivia Angiuli_HeadshotOlivia is a data scientist at Quora, the popular answer-and-question website that attracts 80 million monthly unique users. Olivia recently graduated with a dual bachelor’s degree in statistics and computer science. She spoke with us about why she chose statistics as a major and data scientist as a career.

Did you always know you wanted to be a statistician?

Absolutely not! In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the field until I took a required course in statistics. The professor was excellent, and the course really opened my eyes to the interesting problems that could be solved using statistics.

Before discovering statistics, I was a biology major, doing research related to HIV. But I was frustrated with the research process, which can extend months and even years before you have any sense of the outcome of the research. I wanted a shorter feedback loop; I wanted to see a more immediate impact of my work through faster results. I was able to get that with statistics.

You’re currently working at Quora, your first full-time job out of college. How did you get the job?

I had some great internships in the field of statistics during college. That’s another reason why I chose the field—when I began researching internship opportunities, I was amazed at the number and breadth of jobs were available to statistics majors.

I landed two good internships – one at Akamai, a leading technology company that focuses on web performance, online media delivery, and cloud computing. The other internship was at Google. In both cases, I worked on really interesting problems that impacted the business at each company.

Those experiences helped me land my first full-time job with Quora, one of the most popular sites on the internet. Because the site attracts so many users, I get many opportunities to work on important problems that affect a lot of people. I also work on a team of great colleagues who are smart. I’m learning a lot while also making a meaningful contribution to the company.

You majored in computer science as well as statistics. How much has your knowledge of computer science helped in your statistics career?

It’s been very helpful. I would say that statistics majors should become “code conscious,” which means they need to have at least a basic understanding of computer science and knowledge of a programming language. It’s also helpful to take some courses in machine learning and algorithms. This gives statisticians a unified understanding of computer science and statistics that is important for any data scientist.

What do you do when you’re not developing cool statistical models?

My job is based in Mountain View, California (just south of San Francisco and north of Big Sur), so I am able to do a lot of really fun outdoor activities. I play on a local volleyball league and take trips with recent grads to places like Lake Tahoe.  There’s a lot of scenic biking trails in northern California, so I’ve been getting into that too.

I’m also interested in starting to learn more about our political system. One of my professors in college was Lawrence Lessig, who stressed the corrupting influence of money in politics, and who got me interested in following the presidential campaign more closely, too. My knowledge of statistics has given me a critical tool for analyzing all sorts of issues, even those related to our democracy and the political process. It gives me a different perspective, and I hope, also makes me a more informed citizen.

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