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How the Harvard Business Analytics Program Helped Arun Shankri Stay at the Forefront of Emerging Technologies

Written by Stephen Eichinger on Jun 12, 2020

Related content: Data Science, Graduate Programs, Outcomes

Sixteen years into a successful data science career, Arun Shankri decided to go back to school. It wasn’t the conventional choice. “After getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and being in leadership positions, most people don’t think about pursuing further education,” said Arun.

For him, it was a natural next step.

Arun was passionate about using his leadership position to make an even larger impact—and he wanted to use data effectively to do it. But first, he decided to sharpen his skill set by gaining deeper insights about data implementation across industries. At work, it was often easy to fall behind on the latest innovations. “There’s so much information out there, and I always like to stay educated,” said Arun.

Determined to strengthen his expertise, he started exploring educational options.

Finding his fit

Instinctively, Arun gravitated toward programs that focused on emerging technology and data-driven disruption. “Data science is still in its infancy, and I’ve always wanted to be at the forefront of using technology to help people lead better lives,” he said.

Before long, he came across the Harvard Business Analytics Program. “It perfectly fit the bill,” said Arun.

Sights set on the future, he excitedly enrolled.

An education in learning

For Arun, the Harvard Business Analytics program wasn’t only an education in technology but also an in-depth insight into the power of effective learning.

From the beginning, Arun was pleasantly surprised by the program’s collaborative learning model. “You don’t realize the value of peer-to-peer learning until you’re actually experiencing it,” he said. “Everyone has a unique skill set, coming from different institutions and bringing different perspectives to the digital classroom. It was very humbling to collaborate with and learn from such brilliant minds.”

Arun also appreciated how faculty consistently tailored conversations to the classroom. At the time, he was working as the assistant vice president, analytics and data science at the global insurance company Chubb. “One case study focused on the insurance industry, so my professor knew to call on me,” said Arun. “Faculty remembered who we were and what industries we worked in, always making an effort to incorporate our experiences into discussions.”

That level of care was consistent across the board. When asked to identify a favorite class, Arun found it impossible to choose just one. “There were quite a few ‘wow’ moments throughout the program,” he said. “Every instructor brought their A-game.”

The flexibility to go further

Thanks to the program’s blended format, which combines synchronous and asynchronous learning, Arun had the flexibility to learn and participate at his own speed while further exploring areas he was especially passionate about. “There are tons of async online materials available, and you can dive deeper based on your interests,” he said.

When Arun developed a fascination with predictive modeling, an online library of supplementary tools, articles, and simulations allowed him to gain a more nuanced understanding of the subject area.

“I loved taking deep dives into subjects I could apply in my professional life,” said Arun. “Applied learning stays with you for a longer period of time. It doesn’t leave you.”

Rigorous, real-world learning

Even with his computer science and math background, Arun found himself learning something new each day. “The program is designed to challenge you,” he said. “It’s not about completing exercises; getting a deep understanding takes much more than that. After finishing coursework, you have to implement those lessons in the real world.”

With the help of the Harvard Business Analytics Program faculty, Arun has been able to do exactly that. He recalls a particularly impactful encounter with Professor Karim Lakhani during an immersion weekend in Boston.

“The immersion weekends were some of the best educational experiences I’ve ever had,” said Arun. After an eventful day of case studies and intense classroom discussions, Arun headed to a happy hour with some peers and faculty, including Professor Lakhani.

“I was casually chatting with Karim about a global data project I wanted to introduce at work,” said Arun. “We started bouncing ideas off each other and wound up talking through many interesting ideas and implementation concepts.” Before long, Professor Lakhani had inspired Arun to move from ideation to execution. “I went back to my team at Chubb and got started on the project right away,” he said.

“You get so much more than you signed up for.”

Learning how to lead

For Arun, the Harvard Business Analytics Program was also an education in further sharpening his leadership skills. “I learned how to think outside the box, challenge myself, stay ahead of the curve, take smart calculated risks, and encourage others to do the same,” he said. “By the end of the program, I’d developed a broad, strategic mindset, which is critical for leaders in this day and age. That’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Since graduating, Arun has made a point of actively incorporating these lessons into his everyday life. In April 2020, he accepted an interesting new role as Facebook’s head of data science for marketplace.

“The Harvard Business Analytics Program inspired me to constantly push myself further,” said Arun. “At Facebook, I’ll be making decisions that impact billions of people day in and day out. I’m really excited to see how it plays out.”

The future is online

Arun enrolled in the Harvard Business Analytics Program with high expectations—and it far exceeded them. “I gained much more than I could have imagined,” he said.

Reflecting on his experience, he’d do it all again without hesitation. “I actually prefer online learning now,” said Arun. “It’s much more practical and flexible since you can learn from anywhere. We had the right tools and technologies to constantly stay in touch, and classes were always engaging. If my experience at Harvard was anything to go by, I’d do another online program in a heartbeat. Online learning is the future.”

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