Business Spotlight

For Data Science Expert, Vaijanath Rao, Cutting-Edge Ml Technology Is Not Just A Job – It’s A Passion

Author: Anshul Panda

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Data Science Expert
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In the words of the brilliant Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Of course, that is not to say that doing work that is great is impossible if you don’t love what you do, but the truth is that when you are passionate about your work – the possibilities become endless.

For Vaijanath Rao , having an incredible passion for technology, and machine learning (ML) in particular, has helped to take his career to heights that he never could have imagined. In a highly competitive field, his ability to think outside of the box and push beyond what already exists is a valuable asset. Add to that a playful sense of curiosity, the spark of a creative mind, and a relentless desire to learn. This leading data scientist is not afraid to venture into the unknown, and is inspiring his colleagues along the way.

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First things first

Rao was born and raised in India. After completing his bachelor’s degree in computer science, he went on to study computer vision, neural network, and pattern matching from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) of Bombay – now IIT Mumbai. During his studies at IIT, he worked as a research assistant on complex patterning identification with both parallelizing compilers and also prostate cancer imaging. Although vastly different subjects, both projects helped to foster his powerful ability to pick up on subtle patterns, while also drawing meaning and direction from those patterns.

The first time that Rao worked as a senior software engineer was with Yahoo, and it was also the first time that he worked with search systems – a sector that he would come to revisit at many stages over the course of its evolution. With Yahoo, it was work on building vertical search engines, but he soon went on to work with AOL, where he focused on their top-rated mobile search engines and also built modules for content duplication, clustering, and keyword identification to improve the overall search experience.

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Making his mark as a data scientist

In 2009, Rao was given a new and exciting opportunity within AOL. Leading India’s MapQuest search team was a significant undertaking – moving from the traditional five box search to a single line. In addition, he developed technology for reverse address searches, which utilized predictive text, as well as spatial queries to generate recommendations and personalization within the platform. The query segmentation and intent detection work, led by Rao, eventually resulted in a patent for AOL. He had earned his first major stamp of recognition.

Rao went on to join the team at Ask.com, formerly Ask Jeeves, in 2012. Although he was initially hired on as a senior software engineer, he was soon promoted to the role of architect. He led the team that developed and deployed advanced ML models, which were then able to process terabytes worth of data daily. These systems were utilized to build the latest question and answer product by understanding user intent to generate the most ideal responses to each user question. Rao also developed the platform’s question graph, designed to help users navigate the various types of questions.

The next rung on his career ladder was at Glassdoor, where he worked for over five years. Rao was promoted several times within the ML department, and in his final position with the company he was the sole principal architect for the machine learning team – the entire company had only three principal architects. At Glassdoor, he highlights: “I was instrumental in designing and scaling [the] personalized algorithm and building the real time ranking and personalization in Solr. [It had] the biggest impact in terms of clickthrough and apply rates. The ranking solution also paved the way for building more engagement solutions, such as recommendations and personalized recall to help users find [a] job they love.”

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During that time, Rao also led the development of a platform to analyze the reviews of employees, which resulted in innovative new business ideas and substantial growth in employer’s insights. Never satisfied with the bare minimum, he would use any spare time to experiment with new ideas around things like rapid NLP (natural language processing) prototyping, summarization and automatic segmentation of data. Of course, his team members were often curious and eager to learn from him, so he also invested time in mentoring and guiding team members on various NLP projects.

An expert in a highly-competitive industry

Nowadays, Vaijanath Rao is bringing his expertise to the world of personal finance at Quicken , where he is the Head of Data Science and is responsible for ML across all departments. This leading finance company has been operating for 35 years, and nearly 2M customers have utilized their services to develop stability and confidence in their financial lives.

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In this role, Rao leads various teams to build best-in-class ML products that deliver new sets of data-driven capabilities. By leveraging data from Quicken Cloud Services, as well as data stored in their AWS-based data lake, Rao’s products provide incredibly efficient data analytics. He explains that: “[This helps to] eliminate redundant interactions within [our] systems by learning from user behavior and pattern trends with model-based predictions. [In turn, this allows us] to advise users on their best course of action.”

In recognition of his achievements, Rao received this year’s International Achievers Award, as well as Business Mint’s 2023 award for Most Prominent Industry Expert. His passion extends beyond the office. He is a member of several esteemed groups, including Sigma Xi, IEEE, ACM, Global Journals, and IFIA’s "INV". He also spoke at the Hadoop Conference and contributed to the judging panels at BIAS, PAKDD, WebConf and the Globee Awards. Add to that his efforts to review books on ML, and the chapter that he contributed to ‘Untamed text: exploring the next frontier’ in Taming Text – a book from Manning publications. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Vaijanath Rao.

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