What a Difference a Decade Makes:  Humberto Corona, Data Scientist

Instagrammers, Uber drivers and digital marketing strategists are just some of the roles that a decade ago would have raised eyebrows on a resumé. As Zalando celebrates its ninth birthday, we talk to a few of our staff who have some of the newest job titles on the block. We already spoke with Louie about Community Management and Lana about UX Design. Now, meet Data Scientist Humberto.

What’s your current role?
I’m a data scientist in the customer data platform. There are three people in my team and we build customer centric insights. Those insights are used to personalize the customer experience at Zalando. We’re trying to make the experience of every customer unique. My role is quite varied; building models, writing production code, and working with our product managers to realize their product vision. In my team, I also assist with planning and driving the meetings and so on. Aside from my official job, I help organize the Data Science Summit in Dublin, the Data Science Guild at Zalando, workshops, talks. There’s lots going on!

Humberto Corona, Research Engineer at Zalando Tech in Dublin

How long have u been with Zalando?

I joined in November 2015, so I’m coming up on two years. I was one of the first thirty people in the Dublin office.

How did you choose to be a data scientist?

I was originally super into sound processing. It was during an internship with Sony that I first heard about “recommender systems”. This was around 2008, so the technology was still very new, at least in a public-facing sense. It was at Sony I became interested in the idea of recommender systems. The role of “data scientist” wasn’t even on my radar, but I knew I wanted to research machine learning recommender systems. So that became my undergrad thesis, and I followed the thread from there, which eventually put me in Dublin with a research grant. When my buddy, John recommended Zalando as somewhere I could pursue my interest further, I thought, “This is perfect!” It’s kind of embarrassing, but I used to have a fashion blog. Match made in heaven! When the term “data scientist” finally surfaced around 2011, I thought, “Yeah, that’s me.”

Why are data scientists so important to Zalando?

As we’re an online fashion platform, I can’t stress enough how important data science is. People want more and more personalized interfaces; they don’t want dumb interfaces where they have to search and do everything manually. They want to be presented with things that are tailored to them. That is impossible without data scientists. We are the ones who drive all the models, allow for recommendation, activate the shop-the-looks, and understand the customer on a very deep level. But other than that, there are so many areas that data science is useful for: trend forecasting, stock optimization, warehouse organization, and so on. Almost every service and product within our company can be improved with data science.

Do you think data scientists will exist 9 years from now?

People are sometimes scared of change, but I believe this change in robotics, AI or machine learning, is a good change. And yeah, I think we data scientists will be around for a while. It’s still really early in the game for data science; the name only started being used around 2010 or 2011. It’s only in the last two years or so that we’re seeing undergraduate and masters courses in the discipline. Even the term ‘data science’ is constantly evolving as the profession takes root and matures. So nine years from now, will it be the same? No, it will have evolved, but I think we’ll still have an iteration of it. It’ll be more mature and possibly more nuanced with different sub-categories like, “Machine Learning Researcher” or “Data Engineer” will be mainstream jobs. We’ll also see a ripple effect into other areas like data law and governance. I’m not afraid we’ll be replaced any time soon.