Interview With Saurabh Bhatnagar, Senior Data Scientist at Rent The Runway

'Deep Learning will have a major impact in how we think about learning patterns in big data in the far future'


Saurabh Bhatnagar is the Senior Data Scientist for personalization at designer dress and accessory rentals website, Rent The Runway. He created the big data analytics and recommendation platforms and is involved in many personalization incentives as well as back-end fulfillment algorithms that power the business. Prior to RTR, Saurabh was the founding member of the Predictive Analytics team at Barnes & Nobles and went on to lead it as the Principal Data Scientist. 

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the Business Intelligence Innovation Summit, taking place in Chicago this November 29-30.

How did you get started in Business Intelligence?

My background was Mathematics and Computer Science. This was 2000. My first job was as a C++ software programmer working on database systems (CA-Ingres). I switched to data architecture and data science roles over time as I tried to find work that fulfilled both my Maths and Computer Science aspirations. This later came to be known as Data Science, but I didn't know that at the time.

With self-service analytics tools now commonplace, what do you feel is the future for Business Intelligence as we know it?

Tools are helping us dissect larger data sets with speed, but ultimately it is up to the Data Analyst to understand the business problem and find the insight.

It is the responsibility of the Data Scientist to package that insight into a data product.

There are efforts like automated statistician but they are not up to the mark yet. For the foreseeable future, humans using these descriptive and predictive tools will the norm.

Do you think companies focus enough on external data when it comes to Business Intelligence?

No. External data is hard to come by and even harder to debug/clean. Things like US Census data, Maxmind or Nielson are extremely useful but those examples are few and far between. Companies tend to trust internal data for a reason. Sometimes that reason is simply not knowing of the existence of a useful external dataset.

What new technologies and tools do you feel are set to have the most impact on your role in the near future?

Deep Learning will have a major impact in how we think about learning patterns in big data in the far future. But that will first happen in a few companies and slowly trickle down to others.

In the near future, common statistical techniques will be more automated. For example, to see if two trends are related, correlation coefficient can be computed and a fit for each trend computed automatically. Things like that will get easier with smarter tools.

What will you be discussing in your presentation?

I will be discussing how we are using Deep Learning to change the way we think about dresses. The impact is not limited to recommendations but gives us tools to think about a lot of different problems that were untenable before.

You can hear from Saurabh, along with other experts in data analytics, at the Business Intelligence Innovation Summit. View the full agenda here.


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