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How Shahul found a career through Kaggle

Unlike most of his friends, Shahul ES found his first year at MEC uneventful. Of course, classes were good, but beyond the classroom, there was not much for Shahul to explore. While Shahul’s fellow folks were running behind certificates and KTU credits, and in his own words, he ran behind knowledge and free resources. Having decided not to attend “overpriced and overhyped” workshops, he took to self-learning, using what he calls the biggest teacher, Internet.

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Believe or not, Shahul has made great inroads into cracking ‘python’ and Data Science. He is now ranked in Kaggle top 50, a big feat for a student from Kerala.

Here, quite lucidly, Shahul narrates his life so far. And his future plans.

How did it all start?

I was an average student while joining MEC. My first year in college was eventless. Then I started hearing more about technical jargons and ‘technical gurus’ in our college. Most of my classmates were curious about KTU credits and workshops and they were keen to attend them. But, my idea of picking up things was different, and I never attended any such workshop. I thought many of them were overpriced. So, I started teaching myself. I started learning python by reading this great book called ‘Automate the Boring Stuff with Python’.

During my semester breaks after the first year, I joined an online food aggregator as a delivery partner to earn some quick buck. During this period, I started observing the working of food delivery applications. I was fascinated by the way the application predicts the locations and hotels getting a high number of orders from time to time. I also observed that delivery time was also accurately predicted. I went home and Googled to find out how the whole system worked and during my search, I came across a random website named Kaggle. That moment changed my life.

What happened next?

Slowly, I started learning more about Kaggle community and a lot about Data Science and its applications. I got really excited when I saw the prizes for the competitions launched in Kaggle (up to $100,000). Before I started learning, I made a strategy and read a lot of articles to find the perfect ways to learn the required skills. I found Kaggle as a helpful space to practise all these and get hands-on experience with the same. Then slowly I started interacting with other data scientists and professionals in the community. I never knew the bells were tolling for the next twist in my life/career.

One day I saw one of the top DS in the world, Andrey Lukyanenko, who appreciated my contributions to Kaggle. I contacted him through LinkedIn and we became friends. Andrey is now my mentor and inspiration.

I started making valuable contributions to Kaggle and am now ranked in Kaggle top 50 (out of 100,000+ users). A mentor can actually do wonders in your career. Einstein was right when he said, “The only source of knowledge is experience ''. So we should try to utilize it to the maximum. Networking with people pursuing similar careers can do wonders.

It should also be noted that data science is not limited to just Kaggle competitions. As a data scientist, one should also be able to use and find its industry-level application and also learn skills like putting your model into production.

There are many dynamic development communities around us like the School of AI, Skillenza, etc. Joining these communities and taking part in their events helped me meet many people sharing similar passions. I gradually started organizing and taking workshops for AI enthusiasts through various communities. Gradually, I become one of the well-known figures in AI communities and started getting invitations to speak in various meet-ups.

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MY HABITS

The first thing is that I stayed deep-rooted in the strategies that I made. I never deviated from it. I usually read at least one data science article each day. This may be a Kaggle notebook or any other article from my resources. The main issue that students face when learning data science is that they are in a dilemma about whether to start with theory or practicals. In my opinion, both are equally important and one should never focus entirely on one of them. I prefer to learn theory and do the practicals (coding stuff) simultaneously. This helps me gain a better understanding and at the same time makes the theory part interesting.

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The above diagram is self-explanatory and something which is hard to achieve. Often we hear stories about tech enthusiasts dropping out of colleges to pursue their passion and I have seen many guys who make it big in studies but fail miserably when it comes to social life and relations, often losing many good moments in life. So try to keep a good balance among them. The one thing that helped me a lot is my whiteboard!

I developed a habit of writing notes in the whiteboard, which reminds and helps me not to forget things. If you have a memory issue like me, you should definitely try this approach!

How much money did I spend on this?

Zero bucks! Yes, it’s true. I believe in self-learning and the internet is my principle resource. In this era, I think it’s the most efficient means to acquire any skills (mainly in the CS sector). There are many methods to get paid resources on the Internet for free. For example, you can apply for financial aid in coursera to get the course for free.

My future plans

Since I am doing final year, I am trying to get a data science job and acquire industry-level experience. I would like to continue my Kaggle journey further and rise up to a Grand Master-rank. I am looking forward to collaborating and working with experts in the industry and pursue my passion for Data Science. I am really interested in Fintechs and Customer analysis which is a process by which data from customer behavior is used to help make key business decisions via market segmentation and predictive analytics

A chat with Shahul

How do you just start reading a Python book (or for that matter any tech book)? We are sure it is very different from taking up Harry Potter.

Yes, reading technical books is different from novels or stories. One should not hurry up reading and should focus on implementing examples given in the book.

What would be your advice to someone who is not confident to just open up in a community like Kaggle?

A. Start reading Python notebooks that are published by people with master/grandmaster rank. Try to read at least one and implement it during weekends. Don't feel reluctant and back away. Just stick to it.

It’s interesting that Andrey Lukyanenk appreciated your contributions on Kaggle, and that opened up an avenue for you to connect to him. What do you suggest aspiring DS students should do to get a good mentor? One can’t expect experts like Andrey Lukyanenk to reply and appreciate someone’s random request. So what do such students do to get a good mentor?

Yeah, getting a good mentor is difficult. Be super active in AI communities around you and you will definitely find someone who is kind enough to help you through. If you want to find someone from Kaggle, find his/her LinkedIn account and try approaching him/her.

How do you apply for financial aid on Coursera? What is the criteria for getting the aid? Anything specific that students need to do to improve their chances to get the aid?

Check this link

How easy is it to get a DS internship these days in India? Do you recommend going to any company that offers you a DS internship or do we need to be picky in terms of where you do it? Suppose you don't get an internship in a good company do you think it is better to skip internship and self-study or just grab whatever hands-on opportunity comes your way?

Regarding internships and companies in India, many companies here are adding the phrase ‘AI-driven solutions’ to get better clients but, AI is like an imaginary friend to many of them. Try getting details of the project and work if you feel the project is good and related to AI. I worked on recommendation engines during my internship and it was a great learning experience.

Are you ready to be a mentor to those aspiring DS students out there?

Yes, I always encourage freshers and as a part of that I take workshops for free on AI communities and other events where I am invited. Here is link to my portfolio website. Also, interested candidates can contact me

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