Q & A with Christopher Dancel, Senior Data Scientist

Q & A with Christopher Dancel, Senior Data Scientist

We sat down with Chris Dancel, one of our Senior Data Scientist, to find out what his day-to-day life looks like, what significant milestones he has had at Vortexa, and what he really thinks of our company culture…

04 November, 2022
Jessica Irvin
Jessica Irvin, Head of Operations & People
Chris works as a Senior Data Scientist in the Data Production team here at Vortexa.
Chris used to be a Climate Research Scientist but left early to pursue a career in industry. Since leaving academia Chris has built experience working in technology roles within corporate retail, healthcare, travel, and now the energy industry.
Fun fact: Chris was an avid practitioner of Tae Kwon Do and competed in many student competitions a lifetime ago. Up until a few months ago, Chris was the Head Instructor of Tae Kwon Do at his old university club before stopping to pursue other passions.
We wanted to find out what inspired Chris to join Vortexa, what some of his biggest milestones have been to date, and what day-to-day life really looks like for the Senior Data Scientist…

What inspired you to join Vortexa? 

For my next adventure I wanted to find a company that was an established start up; small and nimble enough to get things done quickly but with established processes in place that didn’t need to be built from scratch. Vortexa fitted this profile very well. What pushed me over the line to join Vortexa and not other start-ups was that during the interview process I learned that significant thought went into how teams were structured to maximise efficiency. Team members were placed in specialised pods of between 3-4 people where the skill sets were balanced for the ability to build fully functioning products from scratch. I knew then that this would be a place where I could ‘get stuff done’ with minimal drama. 

What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your role? 

Working with incredible people! Yes, it sounds cliché but everyone here has well-thought-out opinions that might not be the same as yours. When thinking about data science problems it’s very easy to be in a box of your own experiences and what you think is the ‘right’ approach. The number of times I’ve been challenged by ideas from others have more than once turned into eureka moments that resulted in the end product being far better. 

What have been some significant milestone moments for you at Vortexa? 

Building and launching the freight pricing prediction pipeline within four months of joining; this was a project that forecasted tomorrow’s price direction for > 25 Baltic routes, and involved building a pipeline that dynamically built route-specific models from scratch. The work has now been extended to try and forecast further into the future. To date, this was the most technically demanding and fun project I’ve ever been on.

[The most interesting aspect of my role is] Working with incredible people!

What does day-to-day life look like for you as the Senior Data Scientist?  

The day usually starts off with a pod stand-up to quickly go through tasks worked on yesterday, any potential blockers, and the plans for today. Depending on how many meetings I have I put aside time to work on data science related tasks such as exploratory data analysis, trying to improve the performance of current models, mentoring junior members, and/or planning current/future projects. 

Coffee and lunch times are a sacred part of my day where I can catch up with members from other teams and decompress; surprisingly these have been some of the best times for getting those ‘lightbulb’ moments!

Evenings are reserved for social activities such as bouldering and dinner/drinks usually with colleagues from the office; my long-term goal is to try and get every member of Vortexa to try bouldering at least once!

What key qualities make a Senior Data Scientist successful? 

  • Perseverance – Data science problems rarely have a simple solution and you need to know when to step back, re-evaluate and modify your approach before trying again
  • Curiosity – Always ask why and what if! Why are we using this model, or this approach, or using this data? I have found out by answering these simple questions saves a lot of time in terms of coding and analysis 
  • Flexibility –  A solution to one problem won’t necessarily fit well with another; don’t be too attached to your favorite model or previous way of thinking
  • Planning – Do you know what your definition of done is? What is your evaluation metric? Do you have enough data to start with? What are the main project torpedoes? It is very easy to just keep working without having a clear goal in mind
  • Communication – So you’ve built a lovely model but do you have buy-in from the stakeholders? Communicate frequently and with high-impact presentations for quick and honest feedback – blockers and doubts should be dealt with asap
  • Being nice – very rarely do data scientists work solo; get to know your colleagues and foster good working relationships
  • Having fun – if you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong! 

How would you describe the culture at Vortexa? 

Fun, yet serious without being stuffy. 

What advice would you give to people hoping to join Vortexa? 

Always be curious and know enough about your subject to form your own opinion(s). Ideas are generated from opinions and the more great ideas we have, the faster we all move forward.  

Describe your working life at Vortexa in three words!

Coffee, Coding, Climbing

Jessica Irvin
Head of Operations & People
Jessica Irvin
Jessica is Head of People & Operations at Vortexa and is responsible for hiring, learning & development, culture, engagement, performance management and leading expansion plans.