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Data UnZipped: Q&A with Sam


Sam Manila


December 7, 2023

Data UnZipped: Q&A with Sam

Sam, tell us about your background, how long you’ve been with Zip and a little bit about your role and your day to day work here

My career has always revolved around Data, however, my journey as a Data Scientist started whilst studying for a Masters in Data Science & Innovation. This path eventually led me to Zip, where I embarked on my journey four years ago as a Data Scientist. After a year at Zip, an opportunity emerged propelling me into roles of increasing responsibility—from Team Lead to Manager, and now, as a Senior Manager of our Customer Data Science team.

Gone are the days of programmatically building machine learning (ML) models; instead, my focus has shifted to empowering and coaching my team of skilled data scientists in developing their own ML models and delivering a diverse set of data science initiatives.

A typical day may involve collaborating with stakeholders to implement our data science solutions and also planning for new solutions and initiatives to address other business challenges. I may also be engaging with our platform vendors such as Databricks to maximise usage of our platforms and ensure we’re adhering to best-practice usage and processes.

Thinking about the modern data stack and platforms you are exposed to in your day to day work, what impact has this had on your skill development/career growth?

I've been incredibly fortunate to work in a place that's at the forefront of technology and where rich, high-quality data is right at our fingertips. My confidence in our data stack and the ease of which I can use and access data, has meant I now get to spend more time tackling a variety of higher-impact customer, business and team challenges, enabling me to experiment with more advanced and innovative solutions. It's really pushed me to level up in both my tech and leadership skills.

What are some of the initiatives you’re working on that you would consider to be ‘bleeding edge’, and why are you excited by them?

Since joining Zip, my journey has been an exploration of cutting-edge initiatives. Most have involved Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ML solutions aimed at delivering the best experience for our customers or minimising our risk.

These projects have ranged from developing our shopping recommendation engine, which powers our app's personalised shopping journey, to our fraud detection model which identifies fraudulent transactions in real-time.

We're also now venturing into the world of Generative AI to improve operational efficiency and our fellow Zipster's experience. But for me the best part is the real and tangible impact these innovations are having on our business and knowing that they're driven by what excites me the most - data and new tech!

Working in smaller squads or teams at Zip means we often need to take on new responsibilities, learning on the job as we go. What appeals to you about this way of working?

What appeals to me the most is the new challenges we're constantly exposed to and collaborating with amazing individuals across different departments, each with varying skills and experience, all of whom I try to learn from.

In a typical day, l could be learning from our data engineers and vendors on how we can improve our CI/CD process, then a meeting with our execs to delve into their thoughts on a particular product feature, and after that I might be joining a session with one of my data scientists who'll be sharing their recommendations to our marketing team to help them improve their campaigns. It's four years in at Zip and it continues to be as exciting as when I started, and happily I’m still growing.

What sets working in Data Science at Zip apart from how you’ve experienced working in your previous career?

It's the people and the culture! At Zip, we don't just talk about values, we live them. Our executives and leaders do deserve a shout-out as they've exemplified these values but also fostered an environment that rewards these values.

The organisation's flat structure also means more ownership (even at junior levels) and in such a collaborative and innovative space, it's impossible not to feel motivated to deliver your absolute best, not just for the business but also for our customers.

It's a place where your contributions truly count and where 'culture' isn't just a buzzword. The additional day of wellbeing leave every quarter is also a bonus!

What one thing that people outside of the organisation may not know about Zip makes you proud to work here?

I see more memes on Zip All-Hands, slide deck presentations and Slack channels, than I would outside of work!

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