Saif Charaniya

Class of 2017.

Tell us a little bit about your life before you enrolled in the Big Data program at SFU.

I was born in Toronto and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I did a double major in physics and astrophysics & astronomy with a minor in mathematics. The program was fairly computation-based, so I had a lot of exposure to programming languages like Python and C. I worked with quite a bit of data for my undergraduate research project, where I performed a time series analysis on 8000 artificial planetary systems inspired by the results of NASA’s Kepler mission.  

During my undergrad, I worked as an Android developer at U of T’s MADLab facility. Both my research supervisor and my manager at MADLab recommended that I consider graduate school in a statistics-based area, and so I came across SFU’s Big Data program. SFU was the only school in Canada with a professional program fully dedicated to the study of big data. I knew that big data was growing rapidly, and I was very interested in joining the field and working towards a career as a data scientist.

What do you consider the greatest strength of the program?

What I love the most about the program is how much potential there is for students to focus on the areas of data science that they are interested in. In the lab course, we work with various tools, such as Spark, Hadoop, and Tableau, but instructors encourage us to use other tools as well and to choose topics for our projects that we are excited about. I’ve seen great data science projects by my classmates that use financial data and data from NGOs. We are able to practice what we’re good at and step out of our comfort zone at the same time.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the program so far?

The most important thing I have learned so far is how crucial it is to create effective visualizations and to derive creative uses of data, and how complex it is to do both. Once you understand your data, you can work at extracting intelligence using the key questions and insights you wish to explore, and figure out which tool is most appropriate for the given message. You also have to consider your audience in order to make the visualizations immediately useful to those who will use the data to improve other processes.

What types of jobs are you looking for?

Although I very much enjoy the programming side of big data, I am primarily looking for data scientist positions. I am interested in using scientific methods to create innovative technology and a meaningful, improved experience for technology users. Working in research and development (R&D) would be great. My aspirations are to work in social media, sustainability, consulting, and with artificial intelligence.

What are some of your other interests and hobbies?

I love reading. I do a lot of online reading to stay up to date on current events. I’m also a foodie: I love cooking and trying out new food. My favourite meal of the day is brunch! Some other interests of mine are: technology and science, using Instagram and Twitter, mobile app development, and I totally love anything to do with cars and bikes.

What would you tell potential students looking at SFU’s Big Data program?

If you have a passion for solving problems, if you want to use the latest software and techniques, if you love statistics and mathematics, if you’re not afraid of learning new tools and voicing your opinion backed up by your data, this is the program for you! Big data is a great and exciting field to be in.