Alum of the Month - October 2020

Bingqian Gao

Remember, if you wait for something to happen, you might be forever waiting. See yourself as the one that can make a difference, take ownership and act now. 
Bingqian Gao

Bingqian Gao for website 625x465

  • Programme studied: MSc Economics and Management
  • Year of Graduation: 2013
  • LinkedIn profile

Meet our October Alum of the Month, Bingqian Gao. Bingqian is the Data Science Lead at TrueCue, the first female Certified Expert of Alteryx in the world, and was nominated for the 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2020.

Tell us about your career journey since graduating from LSE.

The quantitative subjects I studied before and during my LSE MSc programme have been the backbone of what I do today (data analytics and data science). One of my favourite subjects, Econometrics, helped me form a deep understanding of the core methodology called Conjoint analysis when I started my first job with a market research and decision behaviour consultancy in London. It gave me a unique competitive edge and helped to establish me quickly as one of the technical experts within the team.

When I moved onto my second job in analytics, the Statistics and Econometrics foundation allowed me to take initiatives and venture further into the Advanced Analytics and Machine Learning space. I am now creating, leading and shaping the Data Science practice within my firm, together with our young, ambitious and extremely intelligent data scientists. This has been a really exciting journey, even more so when I see how I get to transform what I learned in the classrooms to something that can be more easily digested, communicated and understood by the industry.

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your career?

Part of the fun being in the consulting industry is that the work is almost guaranteed to be challenging as you work with new clients, new industries, new tools and new business problems all the time. The analytics and technology landscape is changing quickly, and to stay on top of the game you have to keep learning, adapting, and innovating.

However, to me, the biggest challenge is not any one specific technical or business challenge, but to keep having faith in myself. I often give up (internally) really easily – fear, frustration, timidity, and impostor syndrome are all symptoms of lacking faith. I still have the feeling that I am not good enough, and not doing enough every now and then. The way I am overcoming this challenge, which I am still having to consciously and mindfully practise, is to acknowledge that this is part of who I am, and will probably be for the rest of my life. I am no longer anxiously waiting for the day to come when I will never feel the impostor syndrome anymore. Instead, I accept it and I try, with intention, to transform the energy into improving myself where I can and appreciating others who are better than me. It is not easy, and I am still on the journey. I’d welcome anyone to join me on this journey if you feel that it resonates with you.

You have recently been nominated as one of Computer Weekly's 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech. What advice would you give to female students who want to follow your career path?

One of the most important lessons I learned in my career so far is ownership – if you really want to achieve something and strongly believe in the value of it, don’t easily give up just because you are not receiving enough support or external validation (yet). Take ownership, think about how to make it happen, talk to people, come up with different solutions and test them; and in that process, you will either start to figure out how to get there and be surprised at the amount of help and support you get along the way, or gradually adjust your goal because of the new knowledge and ideas you gain. Either way, it is a learning process and you will be happy to see it through even if at the end of that journey you arrived at a destination that was different from where you set out to go. Remember, if you wait for something to happen, you might be forever waiting. See yourself as the one that can make a difference, take ownership and act now.
What opportunities are available to current students or new graduates to allow entry into a career in analytics and technology? Are there opportunities you took or wish you had known about at LSE?
A career in analytics and data science is becoming more and more accessible, thanks to the development of technology, open source programming languages, and many free or affordable resources available online. It doesn’t require a specific degree to have a successful career in data. Have a problem-solving and “growth” mindset instead. There is a wealth of resources available online that range across mathematical and quantitative foundations, statistics, coding, data visualisation, advanced analytics, machine learning, business specialisations and soft skills. You can follow industry practitioners and technology evangelists who regularly recommend good resources (e.g. on LinkedIn). But at the end of the day, what makes the real difference is how much time and effort you spend on actually going through the courses, digest and practise what you learn, so that the knowledge becomes part of your problem-solving skills which you can clearly articulate.
It is also extremely important to realise that it requires more than just technical skills to thrive in technology and analytics – an excellent analyst, data scientist, or even developer, combines strong technical skills with business acumen, creativity, communication and people skills to make a real impact.
Are there any exciting projects you are currently working on or involved with that you can tell us about?
Client projects are always exciting for me. We completed a machine learning project for a San Francisco based tech company recently, and now I am working with the public health sector in the UK on some of the challenges posed by COVID-19. Unfortunately, I cannot share as many details on client work as I’d like to. However, there are some exciting non-client related projects that I’d love to share with the LSE network.
Firstly, we’ve launched the TrueCue Women in Data campaign, which is an initiative to help promote gender diversity and inclusivity in data and tech. There will be a series of events as part of this campaign, the first being a Women in Data Hackathon, where participants who are interested in data but have limited experience can improve their analytics skills through working in teams on this 2-week hackathon with Covid-19 data. We are also bringing experienced data experts to volunteer as facilitators, which is not only a great way for them to directly contribute in helping girls and women in the early stages of their data career, but also a fantastic opportunity to meet other industry experts involved in this initiative. You can go to the hackathon page for more information. I feel extremely thrilled to have established partnerships with many esteemed organisations such as Women in Data UK, Tableau, Alteryx, and the student-run association, Lean Further, to support us on this endeavour.
Secondly, I am in the process of co-founding a not-for-profit consultancy that aims to help charities and social enterprises transform into sustainable operations by providing free consulting services in Analytics and Finance. We already have a volunteer pool with experts from big and small consultancies. We use our professional expertise to help identify the analytical and financial challenges organisations are facing, and leverage our volunteer network to deliver the skills, technology and tools to implement solutions. We already have delivered a few successful projects (an example here) despite that we are still working on the registration of the charity. I would love to hear from LSE alumni with expertise in Analytics or Finance who would like to volunteer, or those that work in charities and think your organisation could benefit from our services.
Lastly, I am leading a committee that has recently taken over and rebranded a not-for-profit initiative called Tiny Viz Talks. It gathers people who are passionate about data visualisation, and provides a platform to share ideas, tips & tricks, stories and best practices. We are going to launch the inaugural event on the 21 October 2020.

Share a sentence on your Covid-19 experience. Has it made you rethink your career goals or what is important to you?

The Covid-19 experience has enhanced my understanding of one old saying - the only constant in life is change. It intensifies my appreciation and respect to life, and those who fight for and protect it. On a personal level, it also makes me think deeply about my view and relationship with change and uncertainty, which I am sure has had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on my career and life choices.