Faculty Spotlight: Kashif Saeed
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JSOM: Tell us about your professional background.
Saeed: I came to the United States in January 2000 as an international student. Once I graduated in 2002 with a master’s in computer science, my first job was in Boise, Idaho. I happened to be in the field of data warehousing and business intelligence starting from my first job. I have about 15 years in the industry.
When I was attending school, I used to be a teaching assistant and then a teaching fellow and then an adjunct professor, so I always enjoyed teaching. I wanted to come back to teaching. I started teaching here as an adjunct in the fall of 2014, and then apparently I did something good, and I was hired full time. I won a best-teaching award. So that’s my background.
How long have you been in Texas?
I’ve been in Texas five years.
So now you’re fully acclimated and fully a Texan?
I’m originally from Karachi, Pakistan. The weather is very much like Houston’s weather, and I went to school in Houston. Texas is my second home. It just happened that when I graduated I didn’t find a job in Texas. I always wanted to come back to Texas. And here I am. I’m actually happy that I found a job at Fidelity Investments. They moved me to Texas, and then from there I moved on to Parkland Hospital and then came here.
Where is the field of data analytics going to land in the next five to 10 years?
There is so much happening in this area that it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen in 10 years, but — in the next four or five years, there are certain patterns appearing. One thing is, companies are getting into data that they’ve never gotten into. Big data is going to become more and more important. Spark and Scala are going to become really important. Down the road, in four or five years, machine learning is going to become very, very important. One other area that is coming along is cognitive analytics. There is a lot of investment and research in it. So these are the areas that are going to grow immensely.
What advice would you give to a student who is thinking about a career in business analytics?
The students in business analytics cannot just take the courses and complete the degree — they have to immerse themselves in the field. They need to know what certain companies are doing, what kind of articles are getting published, about … future trends, what Facebook is doing, what Google is doing. Because these companies are really, really important in dictating or driving where the field of business analytics will go. Cloudera, Hortonworks, SAS — they all are doing certain things because they are getting themselves ready for what’s going to happen next. They are in the industry, so they know where it is going to go, and they are some of the drivers of the industry as well. They sometimes direct the industry to go in certain ways. Students have to spend more time reading articles, knowing what the industry trends are — completely immerse themselves in this field.
Is there a good way to facilitate that immersion?
Yes. There are a couple of different things students can do. In the business analytics program, we are trying very hard to get the industry perspective to them. We had competitions last semester; we are planning to have more. We are planning to have a monthly newsletter for students. That will contain articles which are some of the best articles that discuss what is happening — artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, cognitive analytics.
We are doing things to make our students more aware of what’s happening, but at the same time, the effort needs to come from them as well. They just need to understand that, since this field is evolving all the time, the biggest risk is you don’t want to get outdated. Literally every week there’s something new coming out in the big data space which I’ve never heard of before like Banana and Phoenix. All of these new tools are coming out all the time. So getting into the domain and knowing what’s going on is very, very important.
How do you balance your work life and your personal life?
There’s a lot of responsibility with this job. The program’s growing — we already have about 550 to 600 students in the program. If the program is growing that fast, I feel like there’s a burden on my shoulders, and I want everybody in the program to get a job. That’s a constant thing that's playing on my mind — that I do something else, that I have to do something more.
A lot of times when I’m driving, I come up with a good idea, I pull up in a parking lot, text myself and then write it down on the board in the office. My program manager is the same way. She has an idea; she texts herself, and then she comes here and … we put it on the board. Those kinds of things have to happen to help get everybody a job or get everybody relevant development experience — and that’s why sometimes it’s tough for me to handle the personal and work life or have a good balance. But whatever time I have outside of work, I enjoy spending with my family.
What sets the Jindal School business analytics program apart from other business analytics programs at other institutions?
My philosophy is simple: Have a wide variety of courses in the program. The interesting thing about business analytics is there are people coming into the program with a computer science background; there are people coming into the program with a business background — and we have to cater to both audiences. People who are coming in from the business background like to learn analytics and apply it in a specific business domain. That’s why we have a lot of analytics courses that have to do with marketing, finance, and operations. I am in discussions with the internal audit department to have an audit analytics domain. Those courses mainly cater to the business audience.
And then we have some technical people coming in who like to stay more in the pure technical realm — machine learning, to do Python and all of that. We have the data science track, and I’m already working on adding more and more courses to it.
I believe that’s the strength of the program. It is designed in a way that it allows me to have more specialties added; it gives everybody what they’re looking for.
How would you describe JSOM students?
JSOM students are very hardworking, very dedicated.
One thing that I will say is that they need some direction, which is pretty normal for anybody. I mean, I came in as an international student. I needed direction as well. I did not know how to do basic things. So there are things that happen with time, but I have learned that, if the students are given right direction in the beginning, they are good at execution, and that’s one thing that I'm promoting to the students in the program.
Starting from the first meeting, I guide them toward things like these are the careers, these are the salaries, these are the jobs that they can target. I have individual sessions with the students to explain what, based on their profile, makes more sense. Once they have the direction, they basically run with it. So that’s one thing I’ve learned in the last five or six months — that, as a program director, the most important thing that I can give them is a clear direction of what they can do to get a job and then line up good courses and good instructors to teach the courses. It all adds up.
What else do current and future Comets need to know about you?
Well, a lot of students know me pretty well, but I have an attitude of never give up. I’m very competitive if you see all of the trophies in my office. I like table tennis. I play professionally. I’m about 1,700 rated, which is pretty decent. The people who play for the U.S. team are 2,500-2,600 rated, so I’m not too bad.
I have four kids. My oldest is 10 years old. My youngest is 18-19 months old; so my hands are full there. I joke with my kids that I have four kids at home, and I have 500 kids at school.