Inside Ople – Hugh Shao
“We need to hire him.” This is what Petr said immediately after his phone call with Hugh. Hugh was the first and the only person who successfully answered Petr’s infamous linear regression interview question. Similarly, Hugh knew that he needed to work at Ople. After the interviews, Hugh shared that he never experienced interview questions that asked for mathematical and statistical explanations of specific machine learning algorithms. Hugh was also surprised at the depth of knowledge Petr and Pedro demonstrated. This only increased his desire to work with and learn from them, as well as, to develop better Data Science skills. Why? Ironically, so that he could build a software platform that will allow people with lesser Data Science skills to build models.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I did my undergraduate at Michigan with triple majors in Math, Stats, and Interdisciplinary Physics. After taking various courses, I took the greatest interest in Statistics so I continued to study and earned my Master’s in Stats from Columbia University. My goal, back then, was to enter the finance industry, become an analyst and eventually a hedge fund manager. I did a couple of analyst internships and realized that watching prices go up and down was not really interesting. What was interesting was applying Data Science, but, I found the financial industry was not ready. So I pivoted, started my career as a Data Scientist at a FinTech start-up and then moved to Healthcare tech before joining Ople.
When was your first exposure to Data Science?
I have taken a few courses in Data Science since Michigan, but, the event that led me to a career in Data Science was an interview with a hedge fund company. The interviewer asked if I knew machine learning. I replied that I have a basic understanding of it. He said that the company is looking for someone with a strong math background and machine learning skills to automate predictions. It was then that I saw the opportunity to really dive deep into machine learning. Unsurprisingly, the more I learned, the more I enjoyed.
How did you study Data Science? Any resources you can share?
I studied on my own for the most part. I audited different machine learning and Data Science classes at school and took online courses to practice coding. If someone really wants to get into the fundamentals of machine learning, try online courses from universities like CMU or MIT. They offer great, free courses.
You joined Ople as a Research Engineer. What’s your goal?
I believe there are two types of people. People who make 0 to 1, and people who make 1 to N. I think I am the latter. I don’t think my strength is inventing something new out of the blue. However, I enjoy digging into details, finding new opportunities, and bringing those opportunities to reality, like what Geoffrey Hinton did with neural networks. The concept of neural networks was introduced decades ago but was abandoned because people saw problems until Hinton revisited the concept and addressed it. His solution made neural networks and deep learning very popular and useful. That’s what I want to do at Ople, advance artificial intelligence to make it popular and useful.
What do you think can be advanced?
When I started my career as a Data Scientist, I was performing many repetitive tasks: clean the data, visualize the data, feature engineering, see which algorithms could work with the data, run them, get results, and run them again with different parameters. This routine, from cleaning to tuning, I would say, takes up to 80% of a Data Scientist’s time. I thought this could all be automated by a machine. The fact that Ople is actually using AI to build AI that automates such tasks is what really interested me. If the mundane tasks are automated, I strongly believe that Data Scientists will have a chance to spend more time venturing into new fields, tackling different businesses and adding value to the world. How far we can automate is, I think, the subject that I can help advance here at Ople.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like keeping myself busy and doing many things. In college, I dubbed Chinese over English and Japanese with friends. We mostly worked with game publishers and mod groups to localize video games in China. I still have all the equipment, but I don’t have as much time these days. Another hobby of mine is learning. Since I started my job at Ople, I found that I need so many more skills to help the team. So, I have a list of online courses that I plan to take over this year to expand my skills. And by the way, I like playing the flute.
What is your favorite number?
Because it is Lucky 7?
No, because my birthday is on the 7th so I like the number 7.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Yes, it is from Xunzi that goes, “Water can carry a boat, but it can also sink a boat (Shui Ke Zai Zhou, Yi Ke Fu Zhou).” The water is people, and it means that if you surround yourself with good people who will support you, you will succeed. If you surround yourself with bad people, they will pull you down. Right now, I am grateful to be surrounded by great people here at Ople who continue to help me every day.