The Math Chronicles

Neethu’s Journey: What Made Me Choose a High-Growth AI Start-up Over the Top MNCs prajwal

My journey with analytics consulting took me to two large organizations before I took the plunge and decided to join a start-up in 2018. The one thing that really prompted this decision is how hierarchical, process-oriented, siloed, and slow-moving some of the bigger organizations can be – while that’s great for a company in terms of effectively managing a large workforce, in my experience, I’ve found that it may not be the best option for an ambitious data scientist. Although TheMathCompany has long since outgrown the start-up label, it retains its core ways of working – through innovation, flexibility, and a rapid pace – that not only make a start-up viable but also turn them into successful businesses in the long run. My experience in the move from a traditional setup to a new, exciting analytics environment, and the lessons I’ve learned, still hold true today. Here are some of those learnings and unlearnings that came my way when I switched from an MNC to a start-up.

prajwal

Never Have I Ever…

Seen decisions taken so swiftly, and smartly too. A defining feature of start-ups that proves to be conducive for growth is how the lack of rigid processes makes them quite lean in terms of decision-making. Good ideas are seldom caught in red tape and far too many rounds of scrutiny. Start-ups thrive on the backbone of good ideas and are built, by design, to encourage ideation.Moreover, ideation in large organizations is pursued with little to no visibility of how these ideas will take shape versus start-ups, where most of the conversations center on the practicality of bringing ideas to life, making it an empowering experience. This has been instrumental in my journey, in shaping thought-leadership skills and cultivating awareness of the nuances of good decision-making. I have also noticed a remarkable difference in my own appetite to pursue out-of-the-box ideas as a direct function of working in a start-up.

Stepping Outside the Analytics Bubble…

Is how my journey in a start-up proved to be transformational. Often, analytics ecosystems in large organizations have a clear demarcation between business teams and data science teams, leading to disjoint operations. However, in reality, data scientists thrive when they work closely with business teams, knowing where to look for insights, beyond the purview of their knowledge and/or hypothesis. Analytics ecosystems themselves are often in a bubble of their own, with data operations happening in one corner of the organization, far from nurturing a data-first culture. For me, this experience was turned on its head when I moved to TheMathCompany, as I was closely involved in collaborating with analysts, data scientists, data engineers, visualization experts, and consultants to collectively build a solution that truly delivered meaningful results. It felt like moving from being a cog in the machine to steering the ship together. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many cross-learning opportunities when you step outside the analytics bubble! You become a versatile consultant who is conversant in multiple disciplines – from data engineering to visualization – and knows the ins and outs of developing an analytics solution.

The Thing About Hierarchy is…

It is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps organizations decentralize decision-making and bring order to chaos. Moreover, for a lot of organizations today, hierarchy does not mean there is absolutely no access to the leadership team or decision-making. In fact, with both the organizations that I worked for, there was a lot of effort put in by the people team to ensure that there were enough regular check-ins with the senior leadership, especially for campus hires – to connect them to the company’s purpose. But a key difference with start-up culture is how accessible senior leadership members are during day-to-day activities. This is a gamechanger for anyone looking to fast-track their career. With access to high-quality feedback on a regular basis, you are most likely to reach your goals much faster. Good experience is second to none. And being in a workplace where you can just walk up to seasoned analytics practitioners comes a close second and, some would say, is almost a good enough proxy.

Another great value brought in by a flat hierarchical structure common in start-ups is that the environment is conducive for a mentor-mentee relationship. At TheMathCompany, everyone is expected to bring something to the table – it could be a refreshing perspective from mentees or seasoned knowhow from mentors. What’s important is that the learning happens in both directions.

When I joined TheMathCompany, I did not know how sales or marketing functions worked. Playing these roles and being taught by these functions during different occasions helped me borrow a lot of tactics that I now use to strengthen client relationships and fuel my data science projects. Also, given that there are more fluid roles and responsibilities in a start-up, it is natural to find yourself working closely with other folks in the organization, whether it is on a hackathon recruitment drive with the human resources department or designing learning modules with the training team. It goes without saying that the role you play is multifaceted. Exposure to many different responsibilities propel your growth like nothing else. While you might decide to take on a more focused role eventually, the experience of playing multiple roles is invaluable, as you develop technical and people skills, making it a holistic career development opportunity.

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