Hongxin Shao: 5 tips on building a data science career

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Original interview by Melanie Lim

Born in China’s Taizhou city, Hongxin Shao is a mild-mannered man who has vested interest in the wondrous field of machine learning. Based in Shopee Singapore, the data scientist’s projects are the ultimate sweet spot between scientific methods, business strategy and data hacking skills.

We ask Hongxin to share with us five tips on making a data science career work. Scroll away to follow in his footsteps!

1. Expect work to be different from school

First, Hongxin advises, have a good expectation of reality. “When I first entered the workforce, I was surprised by how contaminated real market data was. It’s so different from a research environment where data is already sanitised. Learning to overcome that difference quickly is key for every fresh graduate.”

Elaborating on workplace demands, Hongxin quotes the wider varieties of expertise, modelling focus and solution-orientation. “In scholarly research, you can afford go deep into one specific area. With business needs, however, your value depends on how adept and flexible you are. A workplace also comes with higher pressure and a quicker pace, so be prepared for that!”

2. Experiment with new concepts

Asked about his first encounter with deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, Hongxin recounts his conversation with his senior. “[He] had real world experience, and was able to share new methods with me. The introduction escalated quickly, and here I am today!”

Making the transition into AI, Hongxin now finds himself knee-deep in projects that involve machine translation projects on Shopee’s eCommerce platform. “Today’s data problems are incredibly dynamic. Traditional models can only do so much, but with AI, nothing is impossible. You won’t regret working with it!”

3. Don’t be shy about being a student

Learning doesn’t stop at graduation; it’s an everyday decision. For Hongxin, on-the-job discussions, online resources and community meetups work best. “I don’t believe a person can know enough of everything. The best thing we can do is humbly learn.”

Advising fresh graduates to make use of every chance they can get, Hongxin also brings up public interest groups like Spark+AI. “Such groups often work with companies to conduct office visits and sharing sessions, which I’ve personally found useful. In fact, I’ll be speaking at one of the upcoming meetups – I hope my topics and approaches will be useful to the audience!”


Hear Hongxin in person as he speaks about the use of deep learning in Shopee’s machine translation system. Sign up here from 21 February 2019 onwards!


4. Do things that scare you

Just last year, Hongxin found himself involved in one of Shopee’s Tech Bootcamps. “[They] wanted me to talk to young graduates. Being a behind-the-scenes kind of person, of course my first instinct was to decline the request!” Not remembering how he wound up agreeing to the gig, Hongxin amusingly summarises his terrifying experience as unforeseen satisfaction.

Suggesting Shopee Singapore’s National Data Science Challenge (NDSC) 2019, Hongxin hopes young students and professionals alike will take part. “Academic papers can only teach you so much. To be really good, you need to proactively find ways to learn. Experts will be present at the NDSC – why waste the head start?”


Registrations are closing on 9 February 2019 (Sat), 2359h! Sign up for Shopee Singapore’s National Data Science Challenge 2019 today!


5. Join a company that’ll take you further

As a job-seeker, Hongxin was clear with wanting opportunities to make a real difference. “I wanted to dig deeper into automation and work on groundbreaking projects. Today, I’m in Shopee working on a product listing project that will create one of the industry’s most accurate automated translations. The company’s ambition is my experience!”

An active user of Shopee’s gym membership, Hongxin reminds young graduates to consider fringe benefits. “Work can get very demanding, but if the company has perks like free meals and activities, it’ll help to cool you down a little bit!”


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