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From Failure to Philosopher and full-time Data content creator

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

MindSpeaking Podcast Episode 7 - Harpreet Sahota, Data Scientist at Comet



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Introducing Guest


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: So, let's do it. Let's start mind speaking. Today on the mind speaking Podcast. I'm talking to Harpreet sahaja. If you like a bit of a deeper conversation about philosophy, about life and about work that you will like this interaction. In this episode I talked to Harpreet he has is a data scientist working for Comet is a statistician. He is also the podcast host of artists, the artists of data science a podcast I definitely recommend. Yes, over 40,000 followers on LinkedIn. And he also hosts the weekly open office hours next to all that he's also the principal data science mentor at Data Science dream job. He's a busy man, so I'm lucky to have him in the podcast. I really enjoyed this episode about all kinds of things. It's more of a conversational episode. So if that's what you like, you will enjoy this conversation. upgrades. Welcome to the show. Man, thanks for having me. I'm really excited for today. I remember being on your podcast and actually there was my first podcast appearance ever. I was really nervous. And but you call me down and you gave me some good feedback to improve author as well. So I really appreciate that. And it's so fun, so much fun to look back. It's how we interacted and how we collaborated. And now being in this podcast again to speak so thank you for making the time.


Harpreet Sahota: Absolutely.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Did I know it was your first podcast? I don't think I knew that. I don't think I don't think I told you so. It was overdue.


Harpreet Sahota: It was great man. So if you guys are listening to this, go check it out on my podcast, the artists and data science. It was great, man.





Who was Harpreet in High School?


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: In between podcasts a lot, and we'll dive into podcaster later a bit more as well, because that artists have data science is a great show. And, of course, many people know you from LinkedIn or other platforms like medium. But some people don't. And I will. I also know you, but I would like to discover more about you. So let's start at the beginning. What type of person was was our creed in high school and where did you grow up? Grew up and tell us a bit more about that. I grew up in South Sacramento, California.


Harpreet Sahota: So the the region I was in was called like the more subnets slash valley high area. So if anybody's from Sacramento, you know, that's where I'm from. In high school man, like the first few years I think I was a pretty decent kid like I was on the right track. I had big aspirations and the honors and all the honors classes and stuff like Don't bad shooting just hanging around campus not doing stuff. I didn't get my act together really? Until I was like 21. And then at that point, I was like, Well, you know, I kind of don't want to be delivering pizzas forever. Like normally that's not a good use of my time. He just tried to do the school thing. But then even then, when I went back to university, it was still the same stuff, right? Like I still managed to find myself in the same type of predicaments with the same type of people doing the same type of stuff.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Why do you think that is? That happened,


Harpreet Sahota: it's just it's just, you know, maybe I just have a proclivity to waste time. You know, take the easy, easy route wherever possible. I mean, maybe I just didn't have a lot of role models growing up like you know, I mean, like my mom's uncle, my mom's brothers who are my uncle's are all great are great. Role models. But nobody really was, was there to kind of show him that, hey, maybe you shouldn't do that. You should try to do this. And even if they were I probably wouldn't have listened. I don't know why that was.



Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Do you have any conversations with them? Did they bring you into a conversation about what was happening or trying to influence you?


Harpreet Sahota: None of none of that? Right? Like, none of that.





Role Model


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: And they were a role model in some sense. Do you imagine so?


Harpreet Sahota: So my uncle was, you know that my uncle's only pizza restaurant called Mountain Mike's pizza, and they opened that up and they made sure that I work there because I'm glad I worked there. It did keep me off the streets and it kept me from probably doing even worse things that you know, some of my other classmates and cousins got into and so that was great, but at the same time, it's like alright, well, you know, you just showed me how to deliver pizza be like a small business owner, whatever. Like it just wasn't, wasn't. Wasn't enough, right? Like I just didn't, I didn't have many examples around me of what success actually looks like or what is actually possible. Yeah.





Mentorship


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right. And what what I see in you, when you interact with people, when you do presentation for your outings on social media, I see a lot of mentorship and maybe trying to be that role model. Is that is that a right observation? Or how do you see

Harpreet Sahota: the mostly reminders to myself, I would say and maybe just just putting some positivity out there. I don't know if I'm like a role models anyone think they should consider the role model? I think you are. Or a mentor? Yeah, maybe as possible. But yeah, like there's mental shifting that I got into was kind of by accident. Like, you know, none of this stuff was predetermined or planned pre planned. Like I've never would have thought that I would be in a position where I can give people life advice or difficult career advice and they take it and it works for them. And yeah, I'm gonna answer a question.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, this works, because it leads to the next question as well. About, you know, giving advice and helping people and having an impact on people. You think. Do you think people should be mentoring more often taking care of others or guiding them? But do you think so,


Harpreet Sahota: for me, this is kind of like my, my journey for mentorship, like, people should always take care of themselves first, first, and foremost, like, you're responsible for yourself, and just take care of yourself first. You know, that's, that's why I say about that. But mentorship does give people an opportunity to get better. So I was part of this program, data science dream job, which I don't know when this episode's gonna be released, but it's going you know, the businesses closing. But I was part of this thing back in 2018, just as a student myself, and people were asking questions in our Slack community. And these questions. I was like, Dude, this is the most easily Googled question like if you just put in the slightest bit of effort, you could get the answer to this question relatively quickly. But then I said, alright, well, that's an interesting question. I kind of want to know the answer to that myself. So let me go look it up, find the answer, accumulate the knowledge myself and then give it back to you. And so if it wasn't for those types of opportunities, where people are just asking questions, and I'm like, Oh, this interesting question that like no, the answer to that. So let me look it up and give you the answer. Like, that was probably the thing that accelerated my knowledge in data science and machine learning the quickest. So there's completely selfish motives I guess for how that planned out that panned out for me, was I just use that as an opportunity for me to get better and more knowledgeable. And then part of it is just people people are saying thank you, right. And that's so helpful. Thank you for doing that. That kind of feels good to men like don't mean it. And you kind of want to get more and more of that. So that's kind of how my mentorship getting started, was just finding opportunities for me to learn more by answering lazy people's questions.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: And it works out very well. Because I because of all those people asking questions stupid or not, you found the honest answer. You found more knowledge, you got more experience, you got feedback from people that it was helping. So that's how you kind of understood what was important for you. Maybe you discover more of your values, what do you want to do in life? And part of that is also understanding what matters to read, becoming more self aware, and doing introspection. What what do you see of the what you see is the role of introspection and self awareness and in your journey.


Harpreet Sahota: That's the stuff that has really helped shape me over the last few years like all this introspection, self awareness stuff. I probably started doing that like I'm 38 years old. 39 In May 2022. Right. But even then, it wasn't until 2018 2017 late 2017 early 2018 where I started, like being exposed to more ideas, you know, books like killed blacks, mindset, Angela Duckworth, grit, and Charles Duhigg power of habit and reading those books just started kicking off thoughts in my head and it's like, it made me think about the way I thought about stuff. Right? It really shook some of my core beliefs for the better. So through that bit of introspection, to be exposed to those ideas, made me audit and kind of audit and question my own belief system, and then tear down the ones that just I feel we're holding me back and then rebuild a whole new belief system.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: And how did you create that because From experience I know it's very hard to kick old beliefs or habits and talk to us about how you got kicked those and adopted a new mindset or or belief systems.


Harpreet Sahota: Just like the thought processes I was having like the beliefs I had, they just weren't helping me like I've lived in my life as a kicker I'm 35 years old, educated right by a master's degree in math and statistics. Has to from actuarial exams. I was in a biostats biostatistician with no kind of brainy job, but then I just wasn't progressing. Like I wasn't using my time wisely. I wasn't climbing up my career like I was stagnant like five years in that role. And a lot of it had to do with just the what I believe right, like a belief that okay, well, this is this is it. This is all there is for me, like I can't do anything else. I know. I'm too old. I can't learn a new skill. If I can't pivot. Things are too hard. You know, this, this is just complacency. Like, it doesn't matter. You know, it doesn't matter if you stay in this job or not gonna fire me I can slack off whatever. It was just, it was bad, right? Just these beliefs that I had these thoughts that I had, were just not, not helpful, really useful. And so I kind of had to get out of my own head, right, like you're in your head all the time, like some thoughts you have. And you sort of associated yourself with these thoughts. Like I was just firmly my thoughts, but then I was like, Wait, hold on. I'm thinking like, these are stupid thoughts. Like, what is it that you're actually believing? Like, why are you believing this stuff? And since I just dismantled a whole set of beliefs are holding back like, things have just been crazy. Crazy from your elite? Yeah. What's the positive? The positive has been like a hockey curve. Yeah. And the hockey stick curve.





Self Awareness


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Also my like I you described that talking about your own thoughts, you know, and looking at your own thoughts and I think you need a pretty high degree of self awareness to be able to do that to look at yourself and look at your own thoughts and say, Hey, this was useful in the past, but I'm putting it down. Now. I'm choosing for a different route. And one of your blog posts you also mentioned the word non portable. So can you talk to talk to us about remember so now I'm comfortable?


Harpreet Sahota: Comfortably now? Yeah. Yeah, man, this complacency feeling like like it's very it's very easy to take the easy route. But then the easy route leads to more hardship in the future, right, because it's kind of a paradox of life. So it's very easy to feel complacent, like you know, oh, I'm where I am right now. Because this is easy, like I'm coasting like I got a decent job, like, you know, I could, I could spend my afternoons or evenings just watching TV all day, and, you know, and he's just getting these habits and, and it's just comfortable. And you kind of get stuck in that routine. Right? Exactly. It Yeah, I mean, it's just it's




Vision


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: so easy to stay there because it takes so much courage so much wisdom through to know where you want to go right but also you need to jump before you know exactly, just explore the unknown and, and this also relates to one of the quotes from that same blog post you wrote, it's an excellent blog, by the way, I'll put the link in the show notes. It says, It doesn't matter what other people think about what you're doing, as long as you have a clear vision of what you're trying to achieve. And then the My question is, how do you create that clear vision or how have you created that? You touched upon it already a bit, but maybe you can explain?


Harpreet Sahota: Yeah, how you come up with that clear vision and it's thinks a lot of work. I'll tell you that. It takes a lot of effort. Because you have to sit down with your thoughts and actually see, okay, like, what is it that I actually wanted? She writes so for me, you know, there's been many many moments, right to sit down and think about what it was I was trying to achieve and then deconstruct the thing going backwards, right. So first is like, Okay, well, I want to be an actuary, right? That's 1012 years ago, that was the case like, I want to be an actuary. Great. Well, how do I become an actuary? Well, first we need to find a community of actuaries and talk to them and find out about their journey, and then see what kind of advice they give me then collate all that advice and kind of come up with a plan for yourself, right. But it all starts. It starts with just the realization that you just got yourself stuck. In some type of position, right? And once you figure okay, like, you own up the fact that you know what, like, I got myself stuck. I'm in a position that I don't like, like, I'm working a shitty job. You know, I'm doing something I do not care about. And I'm just complacent and I'm just living everyday like, like, it's the same day without any real clear vision or goal a acknowledge that fact. And if there's like, Alright, cool. Let me figure out a plan. Right. Let me figure out where in my day, I am misusing time and then figure out how I can use that time to set me up to get to where I want to go, right. And for me, like, it doesn't matter if it's trying to become an actuary. It doesn't matter if it was trying to learn Python or machine learning or become a data scientist or learn anything. It was just coming to a realization that I was stuck and I need to formulate a plan and spend every waking minute that I have attacking about plan, right? It doesn't matter if you got a full time job doesn't matter. If you got family wife and kids wake up early and you start just doing the thing, right? And just attack. Attack like your life depends on it. And out Oh man, it's I don't know if that's answering the question there. But I think he just started just realizing that, you know, if you if you're in a position that you feel like yourself stuck at, acknowledge that effect, figure out where it is you're trying to go. Devise a plan to get there, and that plan might be listening to other people's story might be reading blog posting might be reading people's posts on LinkedIn or reaching out to people figuring out how they did it.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: That makes total sense. And I did that and it answers the question. And I think once you admit to yourself that you're stuck or that you don't want to you want to go move to a different place where you're not right now, I think that's a big hurdle. Right? Once you have done that, the rest is more clear, because it's really clouded by your unawareness of or an unwillingness to admit that you're not in the right place. And then once you define those steps, I think everything becomes clear. And I think we often make those steps too big. Right? Okay. I want to move from, from finance to data science. Yeah, where the hell do I start? But I think you'd have some very practical tips about, you know, following people on LinkedIn or reaching out to them or joining a community, I think that's very helpful.


Harpreet Sahota: Yeah, I think just like, like anything in data science, computer science, whatever it says, taken a big problem, a hard problem, just bring it down to smaller smaller chunks, right. Like if you're trying to make that career transition. Okay, like you've been trying to get into data science from whatever type of role you're going to i Well, what are the core skills I need to get the data science right? What are the fundamental skills, identify the fundamental skills and pick one at a time and attack that one skill for you know, three, six weeks, move on to the next skill. Do that for three to six weeks, run the next skill three to six weeks and go back to that first? Skill? And then can we keep this loop until you know you've acquired the knowledge you need? But then acquiring the knowledge you need isn't really enough because you need to apply it and do something with it. Right? And there's so many career paths out there that are permissionless where you don't need to be in a job to do the work where you can just do the actual stuff without anyone's permission. You know, that's the wonderful thing about tech and data science, right? Like you don't need anyone's permission to go download a dataset. You don't need anyone's permission to set up Python VS code established, you know, a local database or database in the cloud. Like there's so many things you don't need permission for. So back in the days, like doing this, like you and I like recording something, broadcasting it when I was growing up, that was impossible. You'd have to go to a public radio station, pay them I think 150 bucks an hour. And then even then you were only available on air for that. One hour, right? Like now it's like there's no we don't need anyone's permission to do this man. Like you don't have the everything that you want to do. Like I guarantee you the barriers to entry are far lower than you think they are. So yeah, that's for tirade there. Sorry about that.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: No, that's okay. I love the messenger because I don't think enough people realize how, how many opportunities there are right now. Because, right, and with opportunities, I mean, not just jobs, but opportunities to learn. And indeed 20 years ago, 10 years ago, it was much more difficult to to access all of that information, access all those people write up via LinkedIn, you can send a message to anyone, even the most famous authors or public speaker or whoever, and they might respond as well. And I think their response rate is pretty high. If you're, if you're a kind person is communicating the kind way and I believe most more people are willing to help and we realize so and it's something we can benefit from.


Harpreet Sahota: Yeah, so that's probably the biggest world shaking. A belief that I've acquired over the last few years is just that the things that I once thought required someone's permission to do are actually in fact permissionless. Like, you do not need to ask anyone to do a lot of things. You just do it.





Challenges in communication skills


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Awesome. I would like to talk a bit about communication skills and you as a statistician, and data scientists, what have you experienced in terms of communication? What challenges have you faced and what did you find difficult and what did you What did you experience,


Harpreet Sahota: man? Do I have communication skills? I don't know man. I guess that's my phone some math, it's tough question. Because I don't I'm still I'm still working on it. Here's my communication skills, right? Like I still don't think I have got solid communication skills. Like I feel like there's a lot of work that can be done. It's one thing to be able to sit and write down your thoughts and clarify and distill those. It's another thing to communicate verbally, but I think it all comes down to just a few key points, right? Like versus just have empathy for the person that you're speaking with, right? Especially if you're trying to convince someone to persuade someone to do something you first need to have. Putting yourself in their shoes and understand what kind of emotions might this person be feeling? The perspective taking is putting yourself in their cognitive thought process. Okay, there's one thing to understand how some And then if you get those two that that you can get closer to, to influencing people.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: And I think it's about I think it's something I mistake I made many, many times in the past I still do sometimes to be too eager to jump to persuasion, right, because you have the data already you have the facts, so why not present them right away and not take so much time empathizing and, you know, getting the perspective of the other person because you have the truth already. So why why why bother? But how many times people are not listening and I only, you know, try to give them more facts and more details. Maybe they don't really work out that can tell you Yeah, and like is that because


Harpreet Sahota: yeah, we sort of like it's hard trying to convince people with facts, right. I feel like that doesn't do the work as often as you think you would like cuz you're like, I'm a rational person. Like I understand the facts. So why don't you understand the facts like here they are. Let's look at the truth.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, yeah. And I think most or most many data scientists, data analysts, they have a pretty rational perspective, which is very helpful in their job, but it also can be detrimental when you try to convince or collaborate with other people. Because, I mean, we're all emotional, whether we like it or not. Some people are a bit more emotional, and especially for those people who skip the emotions. You will never get them on your site. Yeah. And you say you are still working on your communication skills. Well, I can tell you you're doing that every day because you're out there a lot right? Writing LinkedIn posts, creating content having to open office hours, your podcast. So a lot of a lot of the time you're you're out there communicating your message, and it means you're in the spotlight quite a lot. Do you enjoy that? Yeah.



Harpreet Sahota: It's tough, man. Like it's really hard. Like it's one thing to be in the spotlight when it's kind of a premeditated kind of thing, right? Like when I do a presentation, like I know what I'm going to talk about, like that all mapped out. When I'm doing the podcast interview, like, I know what questions I'm going to ask. I put in work, I've understood the author's work, but it's like situations like this where it's like I you know, I kind of go away and, and thinking of, you know, the seat of my pants or whatever the phrase is, these type situations are really tough for me to be good to go into like an unknown and just formulate and clarify my thoughts on the spot. So in terms of like, communication like that, it's challenging for me. Because if you guys are still listening, you know, 25 minutes into this podcast, you notice that I have a tendency to just ramble and go off on tangents, or ethics, sometimes I'm not addressing the question correctly. So those type situations are always tough. But in life, you are more often in these situations than you are in premeditated situations. So from that respect, like like when I write a piece, like like, that is hours and hours of work, research editing that goes into that, that helps communicate it when I write a LinkedIn post the same thing a lot. Of that's premeditated. But, you know, the ability to clearly communicate your thoughts on the spot in conversation to me is something that I feel I'm not good at, and I need a lot of work at. Again, not not directly ask the answer your original question. And just actually including different questions, but I will say this tough being live a lot like I've mixed like, Alchemy, opening and expose people are not nice. I mean, on average, people are nice, but there are people out there who just are just mean just because they want to be right. And that stuff will stick out and so forth. And how are





Dealing with negativity


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: you looking for? I wanted to ask how do you deal with that with the negativity or people that are insulting or trying to offend you or whatever? Yeah,

Harpreet Sahota: I just realized it's not actually doesn't have anything to do with me. Like, this person's reaction to the content I'm creating or what I'm saying, actually has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with me. But it's got more to do with them. That has to do with me. And I think that's just the markets are really set ignoring what goes on and other people so no one ever came to grief that way. That's kind of like the thing I remember and you know, other people's thoughts and opinions and objections, they are their own. They have nothing to do with me. They might be directed towards me, but doesn't mean that it's anything to do with me. It's a subtle shift. I think realizing that. It has been helpful.



Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, it's a subtle shift, but it makes us a big impact of you realize that you know, it's not personal, personal and if you don't take anything personally, which is difficult. But in the end, nothing is nothing is very personal, because it's personal to that person that is in a certain certain state at the moment that minutes or maybe a month or a year or life even. But it doesn't have so much to do with you. It's more to the trigger. But it's so difficult to think because I like good relationships, right? I like I like to be in harmony with people. So when people say something like that it's easy to set that done that


Harpreet Sahota: it was tough to to ask the original question I do I enjoy being open out there all the time. Yeah, probably because otherwise I wouldn't have I wouldn't do it so much but it's draining Right. Like I'm naturally like an introvert. Right? Like, just this month, the month of January rather. I was live streaming, you know, 10 hours live streaming. Plus, you know, 234 hours giving presentations at conferences and things like that. That's super draining. October October 2021. I live stream I think 30 hours. That's crazy. So hot, right. And it's definitely burned. You know, got to point I did get burned out right. I had three or four podcasts interview scheduled beginning of February. And I can't cancel all them. I was like, I just can't like it's not going to be the best version of me. interviewing you. I just can't I can't do it. If I had to cancel a few interviews that I had lined up. It's tough. It's not for everyone. Open yourself up a lot, but





Handling burn-out and being an introvert


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: it's fun. And you make a interesting comment there. Her comment? I would like to hear more about because you're saying you're an introvert, right? And many people see introverts not as people that are in the spotlight. But it does drain you you're not to have a lot of hours of life. How do you balance that apart from you know, canceling podcasts if you're really burned out? How do you how do you do that now, because I think there's some things to learn from for me, because I've been too stressed in the in the last six months. So maybe some lessons for me. And maybe the


Harpreet Sahota: man is weird because I do spend a large majority of my time by myself in my room, right? Physically just by myself in this office. You know, my wife is working my babies at the grandparents house. So I spent a lot of time by myself in this office. But the majority of the time that I spent by myself in this office, I'm usually on calls with other people. I'm either in meetings, I'm doing conference presentations, I'm hosting, podcasts, officers, all sorts of things right. And that stuff is draining because like it's given away so much energy, right? Like it's just it's draining to do that and what's helped me to really, really kind of combat that is I spend a lot of time every morning just the the writing in the journal or reading books, or just spending quiet time that is just for me, right? Yeah, so this is so weird. Mally, the Zoom world that we're living in, spend all of my time by myself, but yet I'm with other people from all over the world all the time and it's draining. You know that just to be talking and and giving away all energy. So yeah, just just carve out tim