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Learning Data Science, Mentorship, Humility

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

MindSpeaking Podcast Episode 1 - Danny Ma, Chief Data Mentor @

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Introducing Danny Ma

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Welcome, everybody. In his first podcast episode, we have Danny Ma on the show. I'm very excited today that he mind I had some LinkedIn chat conversations, but we haven't had the opportunity to speak in person in a real call was Danny is the Chief Data mentor at data with He's also the founder and CEO of Sydney Data Science. And then he is a regular speaker at global data conferences, meetups, and podcasts where he shares the importance of mentorship for old data professionals, and we're gonna dive into the mentorship piece later. He's also an incoming technical instructor, but really and Pearson and 60,000 people following his tips on LinkedIn.

Danny Ma: Thank you so much, Gilbert. It's absolutely an honor to speak with you and to meet with you for the first time as well. So this is really a privilege and thank you so much for the opportunity.

Muay Thai Kick Boxing

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Thanks so much. And I think it's fascinating that we are connected from the other side of the globe, right? You're based in Sydney, I'm based in Amsterdam, which is exactly or almost exactly on the other side of the world. So I'm excited to hear from you. You have such an interesting journey. So much to share on data science data analytics, and I'm excited to talk. What I would like to start with is I would like to start by talking about Muy Thai Thai kickboxing. So recently you did a post where you were in action, right? You showed your passion for my time. Can you tell me more about that?

Danny Ma: So Muy Thai is I think it's one of the most effective martial arts if you really need to damage your opponent whilst you're standing up. But apart from that side of the effectiveness of it, I just really enjoy the training to be doing six hours of training a day in Thailand was almost like a dream because I just love working out and doing all those things that were really challenging. These days, I'm not training six hours a day, but I still like going on relatively long runs when I can so anywhere from maybe around eight kilometers is my average running distance. But I just liked the feeling of getting your body moving and doing things that are challenging and always trying to improve and learn new things. And I think that goes not just for kickboxing. And Muay Thai but also for our careers and data and everything else that we're we're learning in life in general.

Who is Danny Ma in high school?

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: You spoke a bit about your past you know about kickboxing and Muay Thai. Can you tell? Kind of takes us back to your childhood, what type of who was Danny MA in high school?

Danny Ma: That's a great question and it makes me feel like I'm talking to my therapist. But in terms of childhood, I think I had a very so I was first I think it's a first-generation immigrant. So my parents were from Hong Kong and I was born in Hong Kong, we made it over to Australia when I was around two years old. I've just turned 30 So that's around 28 years or so. I think my childhood was pretty regular like a typical Asian immigrant family. My parents wanted me to do well in school, become a doctor become a lawyer. All those sorts of things. My mom was very, very smart. I think she was where I acquired most of my brain genetics. And my dad was very, very talkative and very friendly. And he actually challenged me to try and do lots of different things. So if I could kind of like summarize my childhood in a nutshell, it was that I just tried a lot of things and there was no fear of failure. But there was always the pressure of doing better than average. So I don't know if that's like an Asian thing or if it was just my parents always pushing me or if they spotted in my personality when I was young that I could just keep going until I reached some level that I was happy with. But yeah, I did a lot of different sports musical instruments. My mom always told me to go to extra additional math classes and English classes when I was growing up as well. Because that's what all my other cousins did. And I eventually made it into like the I think it's still the top-ranking high school in all of Australia. So I think like, every year 1000s of children would try and qualify and replace in this high school which only has like 120 students intake each year. So I somehow made it in you have to do like some crazy multiple-choice tests and all these other things and you have to rank at the top. Top one percentile or even higher. Yeah, I think growing up and going through my adolescence in that sort of environment was also very interesting. People were always trained to be very competitive in the bookmark area. So you'd have people like discussing their grades and you would feel like a failure if you've got an average mark and all these different things as well. So I think all of those sorts of experiences kind of turned me into who I am today, I think. But most I think most of my young childhood. The time that I spent with my dad and my mom was probably the most character-building part of it. That led to probably why I'm doing the things I'm doing today.

Importance of being kind

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I see in your journey as well right now that you're not afraid to try new things and in a very kind way as well. You always try to help others grow and make steps and I remember last week he did a post about how being kind to yourself is important as well that you need to put yourself in the first place and put your oxygen masks first on yourself before you help others. Can you tell me a bit more about that and how that shapes your decisions?

Danny Ma: So that's that's always the same on an airplane that they tell you. Put on your oxygen mask first before you go and help others and most of the time, I'm not that person. I'm the person who tries and put masks on everyone to make sure I help as many people as possible without really taking myself into account. And I think that over time, even though I'm aware of this, and I know that I should be taking care of myself first I still fall into periods where I just kind of burn the candle at both ends. And I might be working but I'm also trying to do crazy hours of training to help some of my mentors or some of my mentees and some of the different platforms or I'm just trying to overload myself and I think over time I've become quite good at juggling different things. But there's still there's always like a period where you just need to kind of focus on yourself and the person that you're mentioning it was actually the same kickboxing post. I recently Sydney just came out of like a big lockdown for three, two or three months and I was really, really motivated to go back into the gym and start kicking something to release some stress or whatever it is so yeah, the past two weeks or so you can do usually on LinkedIn, I'll be posting probably once a day, at least sometimes even twice a day. But in that period of two, or three weeks, I just kind of stopped posting. And I know that posting is great for your brand, great for your businesses, and all that sort of stuff. But I just kind of took a big step back and just tried not to care so much just for a little bit and focus on spending my time just doing the things which I enjoy. So then I can recharge myself and come back and continue helping others.


Gilbert Eijkelenboom: The best feeling is when I got an email from someone who took my training or read my book was sharing how they implement it the things they learned from the book and how it's changed their life. For me, it gives a massive amount of purpose and a reason why I do this type of work. But I need to realize and constantly remember remind myself that I first need to be in a good shape, physically and mentally, so that I can help most people. But it's certainly something I need to be. I need to be aware of it. You also talk a lot about mentorship. You're a very strong believer in mentorship. Why is that so important to you? How have you experienced that yourself and what do you see right now with your mentees?

Danny Ma: So I think the whole mentorship thing for me really started when I was making my transition into the data science industry. So a bit of my background when I started so I studied a Bachelor of Commerce mostly focused on Actuarial Studies and Economics. So I did a lot of maths and statistics and different things like that. And then I started working in the data industry as a data analyst. After two years I kind of got bored of what I was doing. there and I wanted to move into a data science role. Something which was I thought was more challenging, had more sexy things to it. And as I was, as I was making my way and learning by doing all the things that people are doing these days to try and break into data science, doing Kaggle and reading books and doing blog posts and all those sorts of things. I was very, very lost. And I wish that I had someone who was kind of guiding me on that journey. So in a way, I'm every time I make a post, it's almost like I'm posting to my parcel trying to provide younger Danny some sort of guidance. But as I was making that transition into a data science role, I was very lucky to actually have a few mentors of my own. And I think without those very experienced senior people in my life, things would have turned out very, very differently. And I'm eternally grateful to all the people that I've learned from and all of the mentors who've given me a lot of assistance throughout the years. There's always one story that I usually tell all my mentees and it was one of the first data science projects that I took as a professional working in the workplace. And I was working with one of the best in in the company at the time. And I literally led I would say almost 80 to 90% of all the skills that I use now from that one project. And that same experience is what really drives me to help others get that same single breakthrough project or experience that they need to kind of take them to the next level. Yeah, and I think having experienced the value and the importance of mentorship firsthand. It's something that I really, really want to get across to everyone that I work with.

Role of Communication Skills

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: What have you noticed about the role of communication and communication skills and empathy and people skills in the field of data?

Danny Ma: I think that having really good people skills and just general communication skills in our specific field and data is, I would say it's almost a game-changer. It's like it's a way to really supercharge your I think you'll power essentially within any sort of role. But especially in the data because traditionally, I think most data people tend not to be such great communicators. And the stereotypes are that the data people are kind of always looking at their screens. They don't know how to talk to other people and all those sorts of negative stereotypes. And in a really sad way. It kind of gets perpetuated through time. And so I think these days, it's if you are a data professional, and you have really great communication skills, it's like the perfect combination. And for me, as I've always just been sort of like a pretty extroverted person, always trying to like trying to talk to someone or talking too much or shit oversharing whatever I have on my mind. So those sorts of things came quite naturally to me. I think the parts which I had to learn over time was hard to talk with different types of people and try to understand like a lot of the times my painful experiences when I was working were usually either I got offside on someone because I stepped on the toes or I didn't read the room properly. I said some of the things which hurt a lot of people I had no idea what was going on. That was just kind of being me being authentic. So I think it's it's very interesting and I think the whole point of in from your book as well which is amazing. I have it on my table. Right now. There was a point about getting better at communication skills is almost like a lifelong pursuit. As always a new scenario that you can learn from. You can always take something away from a new interaction, someone that you just meet all of those things makes me really, I think passionate is probably the right word about improving my skills in that area or at least having very genuine, clear conversations with others. I feel that over time, it's just something that I always focus on much more than sailing, I need to code a new Python program or something. Like I feel that the coding aspect of things is like they're almost given like if you work hard enough and you don't give up eventually you'll get that. And I think it's the same with communication skills, but it's slightly different. You have to come at it from a different perspective, but also have the same idea. If you stick with it, and you want to continue improving you'll improve in the long run.

How to Improve Communication Skills

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: You say you need to approach it from a different perspective. What do you think is the difference between, say improving in Python and voting or communication skills? What is your approach and what tips do you have or what approach do you take to improve in that area?

Danny Ma: I would say, okay, so learning, let's say you're trying to improve your Python programming skills. There are definitely there's a lot of blogs and a lot of technical content that you can learn from. And the majority of the time, they will work for you. But you have you'll have to find the right sort of content that really vibes with you. And I think that you can learn from that over time if you just stick with it and keep working on your Python programming, you'll get really, really good at painting the program. However, on the other hand, I think for communication skills, when we're coding in Python, things are pretty static, like the data types remain the same. The data might change every now and then but still, data frames these JSON files and CSV files, and things are relatively okay like you, you know, the lay of the land. I feel when it comes to learning about communication and applying your learnings every situation is a new situation. There might be situations that remind you of something from the past, but there's a quality about human interactions where every new interaction is literally a new interaction. It hasn't happened before. So there's that aspect of I think the unknown that you have to incorporate when you're trying to improve your skills in communication because no scenario is ever going to be the same as something that you faced before. But in programming, I think a lot of the time that scenarios will be the same so it's a matter of just doing the repetitions. In a way like communication is very similar, but different at the same time.

Importance of being humble

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I see your humble mindset shine through as well. You seem to be a very humble person. Can you talk to me about that? Has it always been this way? And, and why do you think that is important?

Danny Ma: That's a great question. I've never been asked if I wasn't, if I've been humble for a very long time. When I think back to my childhood, I never really tried to. I never really tried to show off. I just wanted to share what I knew with other people. So it's like oh, II tried this. In primary school. I tried tackling someone because I played rugby when I was a kid. I teach my friends how to tackle people extra hard or something like that. But I would never really do it in a bragging sort of way. It wasn't like I'm better than you because they know that x y z. I just kind of wanted to share what I want the other day. And I feel that that's been my mindset throughout my entire life essentially. In a way I think at work, right? When you do the knowledge sharing, it's good for yourself because you can demonstrate that you know, your stuff. And you also have to actually be very good at your stuff in order to teach other people what you're doing. But there's an extra dimension to it in the workplace, because it's sort of like, Oh, I've done this. I'm going to teach all of you how to do what I can already do. So we can do more together. And then I can go and do something else because now you guys can help me do what I was doing by myself. It's like, I don't know if it's some people would call it strategic but in my mind, it's just okay, I've learned this. What can I do next? I'm very happy to teach people everything that I know. But I'm often looking for the next thing because I'm super curious and just want to learn continue learning and enjoy myself really.

Importance of saying “No”

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: For people listening who can relate to this can relate to struggling, saying no to people and being overloaded, and still saying yes. Do you have any practical tips for people on how to deal with that and how to avoid such a situation?

Danny Ma: I think I'm so disclaimed. I'm not very good at doing this myself. I'm like one of those people who say yes to everything and then just kind of figure out what to do. But if I was the person who would say no. Some of the really great advice that I've heard is it's applicable not just for this situation, but also for goal setting. I heard this very, like some famous dude once mentioned this or something where it was kind of like write your top 10 goals that you want to achieve in your life, and physically write them down on paper. So now that you've got 10 things that you want to do, you would then say, okay, choose two because that's what you're going to focus on. And when I first read that I was like, well, that's pretty, pretty harsh, but very accurate. And I think if we took that same approach to what we can deliver, at work, maybe not to such a drastic extent, but within reasonable limits, and if you communicate very strongly about okay, I only have this much time. I can do this much with what I've got. Now, if you would like me to take on more work. There are some things which I will not be able to do. Which ones do you want me to let drop and you've kind of like pushed the onus on the other party to decide for you which things should get prioritized. But there are subtle ways that you can communicate that some things are more important than others. But I think, yeah, maybe that's an interesting way to do it.

Self-belief and Vulnerability

Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I'm also wondering because you're very open on your LinkedIn account about your struggles you show a lot of vulnerability. I was about to ask why is that but I do know the answer to that and I think many people know because you find it important. But have you always been this open about yourself? That's the question I would like to ask.

Danny Ma: I was definitely not the open type of person. I don't know what happened or what change to make me want to be more of an open person. I think growing up and everything I was I was pretty open as a child-like those like, we would all I think most children are quite an open environment vulnerable in general. Whether it's I think that's just something that comes naturally to most humans. But over time, we kind of lose that way. I would say life experiences have led to people becoming more and more closed and not wanting to share for fear of getting hurt or different things like that. And for me, it was definitely like that. So it was almost like a defense mechanism. Don't be vulnerable because people will take advantage of you sort of thing. But over time, I've realized that if you really want to be your true self, then you want to like not just to be like be authentic like everyone is telling everyone to be authentic. Authenticity is everything. I think it's it's beyond that labeling. I'm an authentic person. No, I talk about what's on my sleeve with different things like that. It's to comes from vulnerability. And I feel that being open about what you're about the good times and the bad times, is what kind of makes people real and that leads to a better connection. Whether it's on a one-to-one call, or if it's on like, let's say social media were posting and try to share our message with 1000s of other people who read our posts. There's an aspect of connection that I really try and share and I think one of the really heartwarming comments that I've received not just on the post, but just from various people messaging me on different things is that they can really feel that I'm there when I'm sharing something on LinkedIn. And that made me think about what I was trying, I don't think I was even actively trying to do that. I was just kind of just doing it without realizing it. And at that moment, I realized all this. This seems like a pretty good strategy if you wanted to, like show your true self and do these things on social media. But yeah, it was very interesting. I think I just kind of went with it. I would say if you're more vulnerable as a person and as a human being you, you are more likely to accept failure. And I think that the key to having strong self-belief is accepting that you might fail. That's right, really smart.


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