Solve These Tough Data Problems and Watch Job Offers Roll In

Late in 2015, Gilberto Titericz, an electrical engineer at Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, told his boss he planned to resign, after seven years maintaining sensors and other hardware in oil plants. By devoting hundreds of hours of leisure time to the obscure world of competitive data analysis, Titericz had recently become the world’s top-ranked data scientist, by one reckoning. Silicon Valley was calling. “Only when I wanted to quit did they realize they had the number-one data scientist,” he says.

Petrobras held on to its champ for a time by moving Titericz into a position that used his data skills. But since topping the rankings that October he’d received a stream of emails from recruiters around the globe, including representatives of Tesla and Google. This past February, another well-known tech company hired him, and moved his family to the Bay Area this summer. Titericz described his unlikely journey recently over colorful plates of Nigerian food at the headquarters of his new employer, Airbnb.

Titericz earned, and holds, his number-one rank on a website called Kaggle that has turned data analysis into a kind of sport, and transformed the lives of some competitors. Companies, government agencies, and researchers post datasets on the platform and invite Kaggle’s more than one million members to discern patterns and solve problems. Winners get glory, points toward Kaggle’s rankings of its top 66,000 data scientists, and sometimes cash prizes.

Ryan Young for Wired

Alone and in small teams with fellow Kagglers, Titericz estimates he has won around $ 100,000 in contests that included predicting seizures from brainwaves for the National Institutes of Health, the price of metal tubes for Caterpillar, and rental property values for Deloitte. The TSA and real-estate site Zillow are each running competitions offering prize money in excess of $ 1 million.

Veteran Kagglers say the opportunities that flow from a good ranking are generally more bankable than the prizes. Participants say they learn new data-analysis and machine-learning skills. Plus, the best performers like the 95 “grandmasters” that top Kaggle’s rankings are highly sought talents in an occupation crucial to today’s data-centric economy. Glassdoor has declared data scientist the best job in America for the past two years, based on the thousands of vacancies, good salaries, and high job satisfaction. Companies large and small recruit from Kaggle’s fertile field of problem solvers.

In March, Google came calling and acquired Kaggle itself. It has been integrated into the company’s cloud-computing division, and begun to emphasize features that let people and companies share and test data and code outside of competitions, too. Google hopes other companies will come to Kaggle for the people, code, and data they need for new projects involving machine learning—and run them in Google’s cloud.

Kaggle grandmasters say they’re driven as much by a compulsion to learn as to win. The best take extreme lengths to do both. Marios Michailidis, a previous number one now ranked third, got the data-science bug after hearing a talk on entrepreneurship from a man who got rich analyzing trends in horseraces. To Michailidis, the money was not the most interesting part. “This ability to explore and predict the future seemed like a superpower to me,” he says. Michailidis taught himself to code, joined Kaggle, and before long was spending what he estimates was 60 hours a week on contests—in addition to a day job. “It was very enjoyable because I was learning a lot,” he says.

Michailidis has since cut back to roughly 30 hours a week, in part due to the toll on his body. Titericz says his own push to top the Kaggle rankings, made not long after the birth of his second daughter, caused some friction with his wife. “She’d get mad with me every time I touched the computer,” he says.

Entrepreneur SriSatish Ambati has made Kagglers a core strategy of his startup, H2O, which makes data-science tools for customers including eBay and Capital One. Ambati hired Michailidis and three other grandmasters after he noticed a surge in downloads when H2O’s software was used to win a Kaggle contest. Victors typically share their methods in the site’s busy forums to help others improve their technique.

Related Stories

H2O’s data celebrities work on the company’s products, providing both expertise and a marketing boost akin to a sports star endorsing a sneaker. “When we send a grandmaster to a customer call their entire data-science team wants to be there,” Ambati says. “Steve Jobs had a gut feel for products; grandmasters have that for data.” Jeremy Achin, cofounder of startup DataRobot, which competes with H2O and also has hired grandmasters, says high Kaggle rankings also help weed out poseurs trying to exploit the data-skills shortage. “There are many people calling themselves data scientists who are not capable of delivering actual work,” he says.

Competition between people like Ambati and Achin helps make it lucrative to earn the rank of grandmaster. Michailidis, who works for Mountain View, California-based H2O from his home in London, says his salary has tripled in three years. Before joining H2O, he worked for customer analytics company Dunnhumby, a subsidiary of supermarket Tesco.

Large companies like Kaggle champs, too. An Intel job ad posted this month seeking a machine-learning researcher lists experience winning Kaggle contests as a requirement. Yelp and Facebook have run Kaggle contests that dangle a chance to interview for a job as a prize for a good finish. The winner of Facebook’s most recent contest last summer was Tom Van de Wiele, an engineer for Eastman Chemical in Ghent, Belgium, who was seeking a career change. Six months later, he started a job at Alphabet’s artificial-intelligence research group DeepMind.

H2O is trying to bottle some of the lightning that sparks from Kaggle grandmasters. Select customers are testing a service called Driverless AI that automates some of a data scientist’s work, probing a dataset and developing models to predict trends. More than 6,000 companies and people are on the waitlist to try Driverless. Ambati says that reflects the demand for data-science skills, as information piles up faster than companies can analyze it. But no one at H2O expects Driverless to challenge Titericz or other Kaggle leaders anytime soon. For all the data-crunching power of computers, they lack the creative spark that makes a true grandmaster.

“If you work on a data problem in a company you need to talk with managers, and clients,” says Stanislav Semenov, a grandmaster and former number one in Moscow, who is now ranked second. He likes to celebrate Kaggle wins with a good steak. “Competitions are only about building the best models, it’s pure and I love it.” On Kaggle, data analysis is not just a sport, but an art.

Tech

A Woman Asked Tinder for All Its Data on Her. Their 800-Page Reply Will Terrify You

Think about all the information internet companies have collected about you. Now think about all of it being made public. (This shouldn’t be too hard to imagine given the recent, massive Equifax breach.)

Chances are good that the nightmare scenario which flashed through your mind involved sensitive financial data and hackers making lavish purchases or taking out ruinous loans. That indeed is a horrifying picture. But I have bad news for you, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personal secrets stored up and poorly guarded by companies you interact with every day.

Imagine 800-pages of your deepest secrets

At least that’s what you’d have to conclude from a chilling, must-read article by Judith Duportail in the UK Guardian recently. “A typical millennial constantly glued to my phone,” Duportail uses European regulations to request all the data dating app Tinder has collected on her. The company’s response will terrify you:

Some 800 pages came back containing information such as my Facebook “likes”, my photos from Instagram (even after I deleted the associated account), my education, the age-rank of men I was interested in, how many times I connected, when and where every online conversation with every single one of my matches happened …

Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.

Of course, Tinder, being a dating app, is particularly likely to know extremely personal details about you, but don’t be comforted if you don’t use Tinder. If you use Facebook or other social media apps, the trove of data out there on you is probably even bigger.

“I am horrified but absolutely not surprised by this amount of data,” data scientist Olivier Keyes tells Duportail. “Every app you use regularly on your phone owns the same [kinds of information]. Facebook has thousands of pages about you!”

And while this shouldn’t come as a huge shock — Tinder’s privacy policy comes right out and says they’ll be collecting everything and it won’t necessarily be kept secure– seeing all that information printed out physically was still a wake-up call for Duportail.

“Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data. This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality,” Dartmouth sociologist Luke Stark explains to her.

If you’re not a European citizen (and a journalist with the skills and professional inclination to engage a lawyer and internet rights activist to aid your quest) you’re unlikely to ever see the physical manifestation of the mountains of personal data myriad companies are collecting on you right now. Which is why Duportail’s experiment is such a public service.

What should do you do about it?

What should you do about the reality this experiment revealed? As Duportail points out, for many of us, our online and offline lives have grown so entangled it’s basically impossible to share less data without radically overhauling our lifestyles. Though there are, of course, still sensible steps to take to protect important financial data, like setting up fraud alerts, using more secure passwords or a password manager, and enabling two-factor authentication where available.

But the truth is, while these steps might thwart hackers, they won’t prevent businesses from using your data to tailor what they offer you and how much they charge for it, which is completely legal. And that alone worries some.

“Your personal data affects who you see first on Tinder, yes,” privacy activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye tells Duportail. “But also what job offers you have access to on LinkedIn, how much you will pay for insuring your car, which ad you will see in the tube and if you can subscribe to a loan.” Thinking through the implications of this reality and responding appropriately is beyond the scope of any one individual. Instead we’ll have to have society-wide conversations about the dangers and ethics of this sort of ‘big data.

In the meantime though, just visualize that 800-page dossier of secrets to keep you alert to how much you’re really sharing online.

Tech

Deloitte Is the Latest Target of a Cyber Attack With Confidential Client Data at Risk

Global accountancy firm Deloitte has been hit by a sophisticated hack that resulted in a breach of confidential information and plans from some of its biggest clients, Britain’s Guardian newspaper said on Monday.

Deloitte—one of the big four professional services providers—confirmed to the newspaper it had been hit by a hack, but it said only a small number of its clients had been impacted.

The firm discovered the hack in March, according to the Guardian, but the cyber attackers could have had breached its systems as long ago as October or November 2016.

The attack was believed to have been focused on the U.S. operations of the company, which provides auditing, tax advice, and consultancy to multinationals and governments worldwide.

“In response to a cyber incident, Deloitte implemented its comprehensive security protocol and began an intensive and thorough review including mobilizing a team of cybersecurity and confidentiality experts inside and outside of Deloitte,” a spokesman told the newspaper. “As part of the review, Deloitte has been in contact with the very few clients impacted and notified governmental authorities and regulators.”

A Deloitte spokeswoman declined immediate comment, saying that the firm would issue a statement shortly.

Tech

Privacy Opponents Are Using a Sneaky Trick to Help ISPs Sell Your Data

Do you know what your internet service provider is doing with your data? You probably know that it can see the sites you’re visiting, but have you ever thought about whether it’s selling that information to advertisers? Anti-regulation officials are planning to make sure your ISP never has to tell you.

Read more…


All articles