Alumni Spotlight: Patrick Vacek, MS

Patrick Vacek, MS

Patrick Vacek received his MS in Statistics in Fall 2018. He currently works for Mercedes-Benz as a Data Scientist. Here's what he had to say about his experience in our program!

  • Q: Please describe your current job title/company and what your day-to-day is like.
  • A: I am a Data Scientist at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (MBRDNA). My day-to-day responsibilities generally consist of the following:
    --Developing further understanding of how our data is produced, and what insights can and cannot be extracted from it
    --Testing various hypotheses about whether the data works in expected patterns
    --Developing solutions to data problems such as:
    ---1. How to infer results, causality in the absence/presence of data
    ---2. How to program solutions that can work when there is too much data (e.g. using Spark/SQL)
    --Taking the data solutions I've developed, preparing various visualization solutions and communicating key findings with
    --When the data is tidy enough, developing machine learning/statistical models using Python
    --Occasionally working on developing anomaly detection systems
  • Q: What made you choose our graduate program?
  • A: I am a local to Northern California, so Davis was the right choice so I could stay close to family. I also went here for undergrad, and I was very happy with the education that I received already. I pursued the MS here because it would strengthen my foundations in the "harder to get" knowledge required for data science, which is having that strong math and stats background.
  • Q: What was your first job after graduating with your MS from UC Davis?
  • A: I was a Product Data Analyst at BetterHelp, which I started about two months after graduating.
  • Q: Can you describe your career path from your first job after UC Davis to your current position?
  • A: I am fairly early in my career, so the two jobs I've had are the two I've mentioned. I started at BetterHelp, and while it was a bit different from my work in grad school, it was a great learning opportunity to pick up SQL and deliver business value to stakeholders. Afterwards, I pivoted back to something that feels a bit closer to my MS at MBRDNA.
  • Q: How did your program and experience at UC Davis prepare you for where you are today?
  • A: I don't think I would have this job if it were not for the MS program. The knowledge I needed to pass the technical interview and get this job relied strongly upon the graduate coursework I took at UC Davis. So I can say that everything helped. To be more specific, though, the data science coursework here is second to none. The emphasis on working on practical data science problems is what makes or breaks someone who wants to get into industry. A lot of data science problems are 80% coding + data work and 20% modeling, not the other way around. By the time I started working, I had thousands of hours of data science and statistics experience and it has made solving work problems much easier.
  • Q: What were the most influential people, courses, and/or experiences for you at UC Davis? Why were they so significant?
  • A: The reason why I got into data science and even the statistics major was because of Duncan Temple Lang and his (now discontinued)* STA 141 class. I actually had not picked up a programming language in years when I took the course, and was really afraid of programming again because of my last experience with it (C++). The course format worked perfectly with my hands-on learning style. It was also the first time I felt like I had fun in a school setting. If I never came across the course, I would have likely stayed in Economics, and never even considered getting my MS in Statistics at UC Davis. I also would like to give shoutouts to those who wrote my letters of recommendation (Professor Debashis Paul, Dr. Erin Melcon, and Professor Alex Aue) and all of the faculty and department staff who helped us organize the iidata conventions in 2016-2017. And also I would like to give a shoutout to the faculty members who entrusted me with staying in the Stats Lounge past 5pm every night I needed to study.
  • Q: What advice do you have for students interested in a career in Statistics?
  • A: Practice hard, practice often. From the point I took STA 141 (where I started by data science journey), until my current job, it took four years and many, many long nights of studying to be ready. If you're looking for data science jobs, learn to code and do it often. Do projects, do big things until you feel comfortable with what you're doing.
  • Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
  • A: I still have my Statistics UC Davis coffee mug; it's my favorite one. [Program note: we give these out at awards nights and to students who volunteer at events! :)]

    *Program note: STA 141 was discontinued, but the content still lives on in the STA 141ABC series.