Ming Li: Turning Big Data into Action at Amazon

MingLiHeadshotAmazon continues to innovate and become more efficient in its customer service, packaging and overall business. And statisticians are helping to do it!

Ming Li, a research scientist at Amazon, uses data and statistics to help the company answer questions and make important business decisions.

We talked with Ming about his journey in statistics and what his day-to-day looks like at Amazon.

When did you first become interested in statistics? 

It started when I was a graduate student in a physics program. During my research there, I needed to try to find a methodology to extract signals from very limited data. The combination of physics principles and statistics really made a difference. That’s when I got really excited about statistics.

Why are statisticians so crucial to the field?

With the big data revolution, now data is around us in every business sector.

How does your job use data and data analysis?

We’re building models to help our customers solve their technical problems when they’re using Amazon devices and digital services. For example, if a customer just purchased an Echo device and the next day he or she is calling customer service, it’s very likely it’s going to be about device registration.

Amazon uses data to answer business questions. For example, to confirm whether a new design or a machine learning model is going to help the customer or not. We run A/B testing, and based on the result and the data we collect, we use the information to make a business decision.

Why statistics?

Working with statistics has many different career opportunities such as business analyst, business intelligence engineer, data scientist and research scientist. For each one of those careers there are endless possibilities. Data and modeling is just one part of the life in statisticians daily work.

Collaboration, leadership, and communication to influence other team members are more important.

What do you love most about your job?

As a statistician, one of the dreams is to have a large amount of data to work with and to see the model in action—and Amazon provides both. Models can be implemented very quickly to bring business value to the data we have.

What is a problem Amazon has solved with data? And how are statisticians helping to solve these problems?

Statisticians are making a difference in many areas.

For example, at Amazon we use data and analytics to reduce packaging waste. The packaging industry has some standard dimensions for shipping products, but they were created a long time ago. At Amazon, we’re shipping products in all different kinds of sizes and dimensions. We use the data available on the dimensions of the products we can optimize what size boxes should be used for different products. By doing that we reduce the waste in packaging dramatically.

To learn more about statistics in the real world, check out these statisticians:

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