Insights from Asurion’s Chief Data Scientist Sundar Kuppuswamy and the importance of continuous learning.Last fall, Asurion became a founding partner of the Fung Institute Industry Partnership Program (FIIPP),to foster meaningful industry collaboration as we train the next generation of technical innovators and leaders. This program allows companies to gain unique access to Berkeley Master of Engineering students representing seven engineering disciplines and undergraduates working at the intersection of health and technology. Asurion is a global tech care company headquartered in Nashville, TN. We help make people’s lives easier by helping them protect, connect and enjoy the latest tech. We keep customers connected, with more than 19,000 employees serving nearly 300 million customers in 21 countries. “Deeper industry engagement is one of our primary goals over the next few years here at the Fung Institute. Julie McShane, Director of Career Development and Alumni Relations, has been instrumental in reaching out to partners in the Silicon Valley and beyond and Asurion is a prime example. We value them for so many reasons, including capstones, job opportunities for our graduates, and guidance in our educational mission.” — Lee Fleming, Fung Institute Faculty Director. We talked with Sundar Kuppuswamy, Chief Data Scientist at Asurion, to learn more about the company and his advice for aspiring data scientists.
What is your role within Asurion?“My role at Asurion has been to build & lead a team of Data Science and Machine Learning professionals to develop features and applications that drive value. While working in cross-functional small teams that include our Product, Technology, Operational & Business counterparts, many interesting problems surface up — so an important part of our role is to ask the right questions, understand what problems really matter and continuously share learnings so we can decide what solutions to iterate and scale broadly versus where we need to stop or pivot. This cycle of building the team, empowering them to frame, solve problems, drive value and watching the team members grow is something I really enjoy everyday!
What is the company excited about tackling in the next few years?Asurion protects and supports the tech that keeps us all connected. We do this by providing easy, instant access to a community of tech experts, to solve any technology issue you could ever have, regardless of the device brand or where you purchased it. Our 10,000 Experts are just a call, click or tap away to provide ongoing tech support, same-day device repair, and same-day delivery and setup services. They’ll meet customers virtually, in-home, at select partner stores, and in more than 540 uBreakiFix stores across the country or wherever it’s convenient. We are excited about our continuous innovation in researching and testing the latest technology to help customers get the most out of their devices.
What are you most excited about for this partnership with the Fung Institute?All of the above cannot happen without the right people and continuous ideation. Asurion has a strong history in engaging with academia (research, practicums, tech talks, internships and full-time programs) and the partnership with UC Berkeley is one of our key avenues for this. We have many employees, who we had initially engaged via academia, working today in important core and growth areas. For example, Natural Language Processing (NLP) efforts in the intent detection space done by a student two years ago have led to many related NLP features deployed today. Working prototypes in the computer vision, augmented reality and speech analytics areas have generated excitement, leading to use cases we want to experiment and deploy. With UC Berkeley students in particular, we worked on predicting the difficulty and complexity of topics that customers contact us (See Captone project: Improving Customer Experience using Machine Learning). This is being leveraged for use cases in 2020 for quicker resolutions and to drive up customer satisfaction. We are very excited to have some of these students working at Asurion now!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?My background is in Systems and Industrial Engineering and my graduate research was in Intelligent Transportation Systems — it is very fulfilling to see autonomous driving in action! I enjoy finding and solving problems, so continuous learning is what keeps me going. I’ve always been interested in the modelling of a problem and the science of mathematical optimization to help make decisions. Previously, I was at Sabre, a global travel technology company, and there, I had the opportunity to work on algorithms to enhance customer experience in airport and airline operations, improving travel search and buy experience, and more. Accessibility to more data and better computing became a catalyst for me to frame and solve new problems. When I got the privilege and opportunity for a similar role at Asurion, I was excited since I felt I could learn something new and contribute with what I know in a completely new domain, especially to help people get the most out of their technology they use everyday.
What do you love about working in data science at Asurion?I would say continuous learning from the people, the variety of problems and the entrepreneurial culture at Asurion. We have a talented team with diverse thinking, that I feel proud of and enjoy working with and having healthy debates. Across the business, my coworkers are very knowledgeable, and the executive leadership provide the right balance of challenging asks and support. I continue to learn a lot from the people here. We work on solving a variety of problems across different domains (customer experience, fraud, supply chain, connected devices, new startup ventures etc.) leveraging different techniques (natural language processing, computer vision, speech analytics, optimization, etc). This diversity of opportunities and techniques is another thing I really enjoy. Lastly, the entrepreneurial culture at Asurion helps us continuously challenge ourselves to learn what actually matters to our customers and partners, and to try something new, learn from everyone and everything I work with everyday.
The entrepreneurial culture at Asurion helps us continuously challenge ourselves to learn what actually matters to our customers and partners, and to learn from everyone and everything I work with everyday.
What’s been the biggest learning in your career?My learnings from my experiences has made me strongly believe in the famous quote “You are the only thing stopping you!” Whenever I face a challenge, this mindset usually works for me. Although I still have to train myself to think this way as it does not naturally come to me — my surrounding environment (people, situations, etc.) comes to mind first.
What advice do you have for students pursuing data science or machine learning?I believe every individual will have their own unique strength/formula for success, so make sure you leverage and maximize it. Here are some points I have found useful thus far in my career:
- Practice the ability to find, frame and communicate a business problem as a data science or an ML problem and understand why it matters. Ask questions to ensure you believe in it so it inspires you to be curious and you enjoy working on it.
- Use common sense more often and first principles thinking — It helps break down complex problems & helps ensure you don’t over-complicate things unnecessarily or use state of the art techniques without a purpose. Understand the fundamentals of underlying data, algorithm/math and technical architecture. It will also be useful in knowing what to do when things don’t work as intended.
- Keep the users of your solution in mind, have empathy for them and find a way to observe if and how the users actually use your solution.
- Think in terms of learnings (rather than success or failure). Estimating the impact and continuously communicating/sharing the learnings as you progress is as important as modelling and engineering the solutions.
- Collaborate and partner with the team members using a humble healthy attitude. Effective team dynamics and building mutual trust are necessary ingredients for progress.
- Lastly but importantly…try & continue to stay curious my friends!”
Fung Institute Industry Partner: Asurion, LLC was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.