Q&A with Cynthia Lo
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT DATA SCIENTIST
Cynthia loves having the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects. The best part of her job, she says, is seeing her work applied in real-world situations.
Cynthia’s background is in chemical engineering but she is following her passion for data and analytics in her role at Ford. She loves having the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects and the freedom to think about new ideas. The best part of her job, she says, is seeing her work applied in real-world situations.
I joined the Ford team in April 2017 as a data scientist in the research and development (R&D) department of Global Data Insight & Analytics. My background is in engineering, however, most of us in R&D come from diverse backgrounds, including physics, mathematics/statistics, economics, and computer science. An advantage I had was that I have worked extensively with computer simulations throughout my career. In a previous job, I incorporated machine learning techniques into various projects. As I learned more about the field, I thought it would be great if I could do machine learning full time and actually apply it to a tangible problem that was relevant in the industry.
Research and development is unique in that we have the freedom to read papers, discuss new ideas and work on things before they are implemented in the business. We get to work with more business-facing teams that actually put what we do into practice. I recently worked on a project involving marketing analytics that had us engaging with marketing and sales teams to help execute some campaigns. Afterward, we wanted to know if we could have performed better in terms of customer response rates – had we made different choices in the campaign – so I developed a computer simulation to help us answer some “what if” questions. Another project I’ve been working on is optimizing incentive spending and trying to better understand the motivation behind customer loyalty.
Ford is diverse, both in terms of people’s backgrounds as well as in the type of work we do and the real-world applications of that. Everyone, of course, is smart, nice and curious. But people are also passionate about their work, and it shows in their professionalism and their discipline.
Giving back to the community is a huge part of why I came to Ford. I watched many YouTube videos when I was interviewing and read a lot of social media posts about the company’s community service projects. One thing I did not quite realize was all the unique events and opportunities for employees to participate. Last summer I participated in a K-12 STEM outreach event with the Detroit Lions hosting a football skills camp. Half the day involved doing STEM activities, like building little models and learning about different types of careers through Jenga, but students also learned how to throw a football and do various agility drills from the players. It was great because I got to see some professional football players.
I have learned many technical things. It is a new field involving a lot of new computer science and a lot of economics and business. However, I think the most valuable part for me has been working with a diverse group of people from different academic backgrounds, different levels of experience and different perspectives. That’s neat and it has helped me grow. It is probably the most rewarding part about being at Ford.
Functional and technical excellence are essential, but I think what is more important is the human element – having a passion for improving the business and helping our customers.
I would encourage them to leverage opportunities to learn from a wide variety of people, including people from their own group and their supervisor, as well as higher-level managers and others across the company. I would encourage them to participate in various learning and development opportunities and to meet people from different skill teams, including product development, human resources, finance and manufacturing, to understand how others came to Ford and what their jobs entail. They might discover other teams could help them better understand some of the information they encounter. Having that networking has been valuable. Everybody has a lot they want to share with you. That has been refreshing.
It’s important to find the right cultural fit in the workplace, one that is welcoming toward women. That’s one reason why I chose Ford. I read a lot about its culture and talked to a lot of people who had worked at Ford. It was key to me deciding to join the Ford team.
As I learned more about Ford in the interview process, I was drawn to a company that cares deeply about urban issues – in this case, transportation. I grew up near and have lived around major cities my entire life and I really care about transportation issues, quality of life, etc. I wanted to work at a company that cares about this but also offers a range of opportunities to work on a variety of basic and applied problems.
I enjoy the fact that I get to work on a variety of different things, and I love the freedom to think about new ideas and actually be able to implement them in the business. I get to read papers and discuss them with others and implement ideas in code that might influence new directions. It is a refreshing environment.
I have always been interested in math and science. At 10, I told my parents I wanted to be a physicist. My parents are not scientists, but they tried to introduce me to scientists through our extended family and friends. I took as many classes as I could and participated in competitions when I was in junior high and high school. I have always been around the math and science community and always thought engineering would be a neat thing to do. I have always loved research and thinking about new ideas.
It has gotten better over the years, and I see more women pursuing engineering degrees. In the workplace, I think we still have a ways to go before we get to an even gender split. There are many opportunities for women to be more involved and to be represented at all levels in the company, from scientists to upper management. It’s important for women to be represented and the only way to be represented is to be there.
The diversity of opportunities that can leverage machine learning and data analytics training is attractive. There is also a wide variety of business units that you can help support. In research and development, we are free to work on many different problems, so that has been rewarding. In addition, the balance between short-term research and long-term research is attractive – we get to work on both. Reading papers and developing our own ideas has been refreshing.
The people here set Ford apart from other companies. Everybody has a mindset to serve other people in the organization but also to serve our customers and the community.