H@H: Ep.37 – On this week’s edition of the Here@Haas podcast, Daniil Pushkin joins host Ray Guan to talk about his passion for data. Daniil shares his journey from Russia to USA in pursuit of a full-time MBA and a career in technology.
Daniil also talks about his involvement as President of the Haas Data Science Club, including workshops and club events. Daniil also shares his summer internship experience at Intuit and how he used data science techniques in his interview. Finally, we wrap up with some elective recommendations, culture shocks he experienced, and his favorite defining principle.
On why Daniil & his wife pursued a US MBA – “We were really considering several options because there are some good business schools in Europe, much closer to Russia, but eventually we wanted to get a two-year degree because we heard from everybody that the MBA is one of the best times of people’s lives.”
On his learnings from the 1st year – “I clearly understood during my first year how important it is to network with people and build warm connections.”
On the difference between consulting and product management – “In consulting you do some analysis for two weeks and then present it for one hour. As a product manager, you do analysis for two hours and then align it for two weeks with others.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:02] Ray: Welcome to another edition of the here@haas podcast. I’m your host, Ray Guan. And today we’re joined by Daniil Pushkin, a full-time MBA student of the class of 2021. Daniil is a dual MBA/master’s in engineering, student, and mathematician, and management consultant who’s also passionate about technology. Welcome to the podcast Daniil.
[00:00:30] Daniil: Thank you for having me here. I appreciate that.
[00:00:33] Ray: So, you are an international student from Russia. Why don’t you tell us about yourself and how you ended up here at Haas?
[00:00:43] Daniil: Yeah. So, I came from Russia here to Haas and before getting here, I was working at the management consulting company at McKinsey for almost four years. I think at some point in time I understood that getting an MBA degree would be the most rational and the most appropriate decision for me.
[00:01:05] So, a couple of reasons for that. First of all, I just wanted to investigate some other career opportunities for myself. I would have to consider also not on management consulting, but maybe a career in technology, which I was really passionate about. I just wanted also to take some posts from a consulting lifestyle and maybe reflect a little bit on my life and my long-term priorities.
[00:01:33] And finally, I wanted to do everything that I mentioned previously together with my partner and to get an MBA degree, together with Virginia.
[00:01:43] Ray: Yeah, that’s amazing. So, she’s also from Russia, right? You guys both came over.
[00:01:47] Daniil: Yeah. Yeah. We have an extra trace in each other and we started together for seven years in Russia, in the same group. And then we were both working in consulting and then we simultaneously decided to pursue an MBA degree.
[00:02:04] Ray: Man, I should have had her on the podcast too. Tell us then, what led you to consider a US MBA and why Haas?
[00:02:14] Daniil: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, we were really considering several options because there are some good business schools in Europe, much closer to Russia, and we would be much closer to our families, but eventually, we wanted to get a two-year degree. Because we heard from everybody that MBA is one of the best times in people’s lives.
[00:02:34] And the only thing that the one year in basic graded is that it was a one-year program. So, we wanted to go for two years. Yeah. And that’s why we chose US business schools. And we actually were both really excited about going to Haas because of several reasons. First of all, we’re both curious about technology and Haas is known as the school with the largest percentage of graduates that go eventually work in the tech sector.
[00:03:06] So that’s reason number one. Also, for me personally, the Bay area was always like an inspirational place. So, it was really exciting to watch how these companies are founded in the Bay area and grow from small companies to unicorns. And I watched it sitting in Moscow and I always wanted to feel this entrepreneurial drive of the Bay area.
[00:03:34] Ray: Yeah. Have you watched the show Silicon Valley?
[00:03:38] Daniil: Yeah. I’ve watched it. So, now watching them a second time, because it’s much different when you’re already inside the area.
[00:03:47] Ray: Yeah. That’s funny because the proximity that Berkeley and Haas is to Silicon Valley definitely provides a lot of opportunities, whether it’s larger tech firms like Google, Facebook, or startups that are comprised of anywhere between, I guess, like 1 to 50 people.
[00:04:07] Daniil: Yeah.
[00:04:07] Ray: One of the points that I want to circle back with is you mentioned the European MBA being only one year or sometimes 15 months. So, because I actually did a master’s at IIE University in Madrid. I think that’s one of the top maybe 10 business schools in Europe and you’re right.
[00:04:25] With such an accelerated MBA, oftentimes you don’t get the internship opportunity because you don’t have that summer in between the two years where you can work for a company and really explore day to day what it’s like working in a job or role that you identified as one that you had an interest in.
[00:04:47] So, super pumped that you’re enjoying this experience. So, I’ve actually been to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I went there for two weeks. This is in 2018 during the world cup, and I know there are a lot of differences. So, can you describe to us maybe some of the culture shocks that you and your partner received when you guys first came?
[00:05:10] Daniil: Yeah, I would love to do that. So, there were lots of cultural shocking things for me. First of all, I was not familiar with the beginning of conversations with all the small talk. And, yeah, so, Russian people tend to not have small talks. So, when we meet, we immediately go to discuss some business or some main topic.
[00:05:34] And I understood that here in the United States really important part of the conversation and I’m now I’m used to it. I also was impressed by the diversity of people, with the diversity of backgrounds, the diversity of points of views, aspirations here.
[00:05:52] So maybe it might be a specific for the Bay area but I never been in such a place where people are so different. That’s actually great because of some clash of different points of views, some brilliant ideas are born and raised here in the Bay area.
[00:06:10] So, that’s great. And actually, I also appreciate the tolerance to mistakes maybe here in the Bay area. So, every second person I met is a serial entrepreneur. So which means that basically, several startups maybe failed, but some others actually raised up and both market and society here are quite tolerant to making these mistakes, making experiments, and stimulate people to do it.
[00:06:38] So, I really appreciate this cultural phenomenon here.
[00:06:42] Ray: Right. I think that’s part of the startup mentality. It’s, you know, fail and fail fast and learn from your mistakes so that you can get up and get ready to fail again. And eventually, you know, when you do succeed, first of all, it will taste a lot sweeter and it’s a good lesson to have in life as well because we’re in our twenties and thirties and that we still have a long path ahead of us. I think the emphasis is mostly on process versus outcomes.
[00:07:14] Daniil: Yeah, that’s right. It’s like being a student always like in Haas. Yeah.
[00:07:18] Ray: There you go, one of our defining leadership principles. Okay, Daniil, so you are the president of the Data Science Club. Why don’t you tell us about the club itself and also what led you to pursue a position of student leadership here at Haas?
[00:07:36] Daniil: Yeah, so I can start by answering your second question about why I wanted to join and lead the data science club. I’ve got my first degree in mathematics, so it’s like a very relevant background. And I used the data science frameworks while I was getting my first degree.
[00:07:54] I also applied machine learning while working in consulting. I was on an engagement when we built a model of an iron ore plant and thanks to data science, we managed to increase this productivity. So, that was a great and one of the most exciting engagements for me and eventually, I understood that I want my future career to be related.
[00:08:21] We said data science and specifically machine learning because I’m feeling that it would be applied in any industry and huge potential for that. So now let me tell you about the science club itself. So, it is like a club of people who are curious and passionate about data science and also data analytics.
[00:08:44] It unites folks who have actually a previous background or relationship data science. And also there are many folks who are actually not so technical and from the beginning and the day where they joined the club to get some understanding the high-level picture of what is data science, what is machine learning, and how can they apply it to their future work?
[00:09:07] There are people with diverse backgrounds in our club and the club stimulates people to develop a lens in several ways. First of all, we organize the workshops just intro to programming languages like Python are on CQL and also intro to data science. We also promote workshops from other societies at UC Berkeley, for example, G-Lab or machine learning at Berkeley.
[00:09:34] So, data science members can join many different events at UC Berkeley. We also organize a speaker series that’s called Eat Data and invite not only hustle Omnia to just a tell the students about how they apply data science at their work. Besides that there we have just company events, like for example, a Salesforce AI workshop or this year’s rep Lang to do the hackathon.
[00:10:05] We are still searching for the sponsor because it’s a bit challenging in this COVID time. But it’s planned to be by the end of the semester. And actually, at the beginning of October, there will be an AI summit. It’s a beaker daylong event that we organize for a lot of speakers in the AI field. And there will be also a panel discussion at the end.
[00:10:28] Ray: That’s amazing that there are still a lot of these events that are held in this, you know, the pandemic year that was, and, yeah, and I will have to say being a member of the data science club, I went to several of the meetings last year where I think you guys had workshops on Tableau, on R.
[00:10:47] So on a Python, I think SQL was one of them. And I’d have to say I’m very impressed because you guys served pizza at every single meeting. And it might not seem like a big thing but a lot of the other clubs that I went to, there’s no food there. It was just more of basically a networking thing.
[00:11:10] You know, they do have drinks. But I suppose maybe drinks and programming don’t really go hand in hand. So, anyway, and I have to also commend you guys for the diversity like you were talking about. I believe the folks who actually gave the presentation on the Tableau training I went to were actually undergrads.
[00:11:32] And so I was very impressed that you know, these two girls, I think, who were maybe 18 or 19 or 20 years old were given full-on PowerPoint presentations and they were doing it really well. I would say they were actually better than some of the people I’ve seen in my li comp classes.
[00:11:48] Daniil: Yeah, I agree with you. I was also impressed by the undergraduate data science clubs. So, the folks are so knowledgeable and they actually know how to teach the designs to folks who are older than themselves. And that’s amazing. And did I like speaking about your pizza thing? That’s why we called the speaker series Eat Data because they all usually accompanied lots of pizza.
[00:12:15] Ray: I love it. That’s amazing. I can’t wait to be back in person just to go to another one of these Eat Data events. I know a lot of MBA students don’t end up graduating and working as data scientists but you mentioned earlier that there are still ways that we can apply data science in projects, in classes, or even at work. Can you elaborate on some of those applications?
[00:12:41] Daniil: Yeah, absolutely. So, an example of my own experience. For this summer, I was working at Intuit and for the interview, yes, I had a take-home case when I needed to analyze the customer feedback and provide some recommendations for product improvements and their raw thousands of customer feedback messages.
[00:13:02] So it will be hard to analyze all of them manually. And, thanks to the things that I learned in my previous roles and also during the thing of this data science club workshops, I actually use a neural network, and I manually processed just a few messages. And then, the network did everything else.
[00:13:25] That was very convenient to apply this data science framework to this case. Did not take so much time but it was a very effective way to solve such a problem. And I can say that the data science methods can be applied in any type of work whether you want to be a product manager or any role in the tech industry on not non-intimate tech in a consultant. Also, you can apply some elements of data science or just generally data analytics.
[00:14:00] Ray: So, in terms of this application, are we talking about something as simple as writing some VBA code in Excel? Would that qualify or are we talking about running some programs in Python, in R, in some of the, you know, heavier languages that analyze the data?
[00:14:22] Daniil: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I would say that typically, people who use the machine learning or data science elements, use some programming languages like Python and there are a huge amount of libraries that developed functions that you can just black and play and you do not need to have a really deep understanding of how neural networks work.
[00:14:48] You can just use them. But there are some cases when you don’t even need the programming language. So there are just available solutions that you can find on the internet that have also built inside machine learning algorithms and a very friendlier interface. So, you can just know almost nothing about machine learning and still apply these algorithms.
[00:15:16] Ray: Nice. I’m curious then, did you tell into it that you applied machine learning to their case that they gave you?
[00:15:25] Daniil: Yeah, actually I told about that during the interview. And honestly, I think it was even like a positive thing. It was like some kind of signal that I know how to use machine learning. I was interviewing for the technical product management role, so it was a relevant skill.
[00:15:45] Ray: So, that’s actually a perfect segue into what I want to talk to next, which is how your summer internship experience was? Can you elaborate on your experience with Intuit?
[00:15:56] Daniil: Yeah, absolutely. So, just to recall, I was working as a technical product management intern and that was actually my first experience in the tech industry. And as, in the PM role, before that, I was working as a consultant. So, that was great learning for me as like every single day and new things and use skills, useful for me for my future career.
[00:16:22] And read a lot, you know, so this Intuit is a great company with a very collaborative and supportive culture and very customer-oriented approach. So these two things, like the great strengths for me and that convinced me to join the company for the summer. And there, I really like how the PM role is different from the consultant role.
[00:16:47] Like, one guy told me that in consulting Q do some analysis for two weeks and then present it for one month. As a product manager, you do analysis for two hours and then align it for two weeks with others. And that’s really interesting because it’s a totally different type of work and very important also.
[00:17:09] And, it was great for me to understand whether it fits for me or not.
[00:17:14] Ray: Yeah. Did you enjoy the collaboration aspect of being a PM versus maybe a more of an independent role as a consultant?
[00:17:22] Daniil: I really joined to work in a team and a very diverse team of people in different roles. So, with engineering backgrounds and designers and other product managers, I really loved how people are supportive of me and how people are eager to share their skills and their knowledge and teach me something. So, this cultural element of collaboration. I appreciate it a lot. Yeah.
[00:17:49] Ray: Right. Yeah. And it sounds like the PM work was much more team-oriented whereas a consultant, it might be more individual. Okay. I actually want to take a step back and ask you about your experience when you were recruiting as an international student. Whether it’s recruiting for an internship or what you might be doing at the end of this year, which is an actual job or a full-time job. And, I just want to ask you what challenges have you faced as an international student with regards to the recruiting process.
[00:18:27] Daniil: Yeah. I would say that recruiting in the United States is so much different from my previous experience. And during my first year, I applied to, I would say hundreds of different positions, and the conversion ratio actually to the invites was about 10%. So, initially I didn’t think that it would be the case.
[00:18:51] That’s why I would say that for an international student who also wants to switch both geography and function and industry as I did, it’s a bit challenging. But I would say that it’s absolutely possible. And one thing that I would do another way is I would not apply to so many companies just sending my resume.
[00:19:17] I would love to do more warm applications. I clearly understood during my first year how important it is actually to network with people and build these warm connections to these companies and use some referral programs that companies have.
[00:19:34] And that’s a big learning for me. And I definitely recommend it to all the international students who want to make some big pivots in their career too. Use these warm connections.
[00:19:47] Ray: That’s a great point there. I think it is actually the first time I’ve heard of that, the warm/cold concept, but it’s very apt because you’re kind of stressing quality over quantity. And for someone like yourself. And we actually had another student on the show, I think it was Adolfo, who mentioned also actually an international student from Spain and is also doing the triple switch, right? Like a new location, a new role, and a new industry. So, when you’re switching all those at once, I think it definitely helps to have made those networking connections during recruiting fairs, during company info sessions.
[00:20:32] So Danielle, you are now at the start of your second year. We’re recording this in the middle of September. What are some classes you look forward to taking this term?
[00:20:44] Daniil: Yeah. So, I already managed to take some very interesting classes during my first year and so for my second year, I want to do work both on myself and hard skills. And for the first group of skills, I took the parent politics class. This is really great in terms of understanding how can you perceive yourself and present yourself to others in a more powerful way, be much more self-aware about what are your personal strengths and what you need to work on.
[00:21:23] For the hard skills, I took a couple of classes specifically related to startups. It’s the startup sales course by Java Con. It’s focused on the great skill of how actually to sell your products when you are working on a small company, which is quite unique and it’s a hard picture to find some good courses in this area.
[00:21:43] And another course is called Lean Transfer. It’s an amazing opportunity here to work with engineering and Ph.D. students who have some quite sophisticated technology and help them to actually commercialize it, like find some target customers and help them actually do Jerome. Just great technology into a company. So, they said these are the classes that I wanted to focus on this in my second year.
[00:22:18] Ray: That’s a very well-rounded set of classes looking at both, you mentioned both hard and soft skills. So, then I guess that kind of begs the question. Have you thought about your plans after graduation?
[00:22:31] Daniil: Yeah. I’m still kind of reflecting on what I want to do next and what are my long-term priorities. What I definitely understood is that I would love to stay in the Bay area for at least several years. And I want my work to be related to the tech industry. I might have still been trying to figure out for myself what will be the best role and what will be the best side, whether I want to be on the client-side or not.
[00:23:03] Ray: Yeah, and I think that’s very natural for a lot of us MBA students is we’re on this kind of path to hopefully our eventual calling or career or industry or role. And it seems like you got the industry figured out and you just are narrowing down the role at this point. Cool. So, next, we have what we like to call our lightning round, in which we’re just going to do a quick Q and A for a few questions.
[00:23:32] You mentioned earlier that you had a passion for math. What’s your favorite number? Nice. And what’s your favorite math joke?
[00:23:43] Daniil: I think I could sound nerdy if I would tell my math joke, but it’s basically about the fact that if you put eight, like turn it 90 degrees, it would turn into infinity and I really like such kind of stupid, but some kinda like a beautiful, like from visual, the jokes
[00:24:06] Ray: Don’t worry. I’ve got that in my mind now. Awesome. Okay. So, what is a shelter in place, hobby, or habit that you picked up?
[00:24:16] Daniil: I found this activity of building constructions from whatever I found in my house, in the backyard. Very interesting because my hands and my mind, totally not related to at this point of time, my heads are building something, but my mind is thinking about other things and that’s an interesting experience.
[00:24:37] Ray: Yeah. If you don’t mind me asking, what is a statue of? Is it a person? Is it like an animal or?
[00:24:45] Daniil: Actually, it’s neither something person or animal, just some random, I would say combination it’s like, it’s modern art.
[00:24:56] Ray: I like that. Nice. Okay. And then what was the biggest culture shock? Other than the talk that you from Russia to the US.
[00:25:11] Daniil: Yeah. So, I was struggling with the question, how you’re doing. Because in Russian ask a, hi, how are you doing? It means that person is actually very interested. How are you doing? And you start answering and what’s in your mind and so on. And well, for the first couple of weeks, I could not understand why people are asking how I’m doing and then not listen to it.
[00:25:42] Ray: Yeah. Yeah. Right. And then the next moment you look up, they’re already gone.
[00:25:47] Daniil: Yeah
[00:25:47] Ray: Nice. And then lastly, what is your defining leadership principle?
[00:25:54] Daniil: Action. Yeah, there, it’s hard for me to choose between the two, but I would say probably that question the status quo is the number one for me. I’m looking on at it philosophical way. So, for me, obviously, civilization is developing based on some interventions and whenever some guy is making an invention, he or she, they actually question the status quo. So, they ask themselves, why should we continue doing things in an old way? Why cannot we do it in a new way? So, folks who are questioning the status quo, they actually drive in the progress of our whole humanity. And that’s why I always stimulate myself to challenge the old approaches and to question the status quo in my work and also in my life.
[00:26:49] Ray: Cool. Well, that’s what we like to hear because Berkeley and the Bay area in the US is one of the most innovative areas most forward thinking geographies universities in the United States. And I’m glad that that effect that you perceive as well. Well, thank you so much, Daniil, for coming on the podcast today.
[00:27:14] Daniil: Thank you for having me here.
[00:27:15] Ray: Thank you for tuning in to another episode of here@haas. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a rating and review. For more Haas podcasts, check out our website at haaspodcasts.org. This episode was produced by Navea. T3, me ready, show notes by rendering the Murphy and Dharmic Patel. I’m your host Ray Guan. And we’ll see you next time here at Haas.