True Life: Q&A with Rhonda Phillips, Senior Data Scientist at True Fit
To get us started, meet Rhonda Phillips, senior data scientist at True Fit – did you know she has a PhD in computer science? Here’s what she had to say about her role at True Fit and love for Kate Spade:
True Fit: How did you get started in data science?
Rhonda: I got my PhD in computer science at Virginia Tech. While there, I worked on a project in the forestry department about the automatic classification of satellite images. In forestry, one of the biggest questions is: What’s happening with forests on a global scale – are they growing back? Were they cut? Clearly it’s very expensive to send someone to every patch of land on the Earth so they use satellite images and algorithms similar to what we use at True Fit.
T: What’s similar about that algorithm from forestry and the one we’re using at True Fit?
R: Both of the algorithms can be solved when you have lots of forest pixels and examples of certain garments fitting specific consumers. These mathematical features elicit the questions: What intensity levels were in this image? What colors are these pixels? With people, it can be a particular garment that has these dimensions or fits these certain people. Both are the same when you turn them into a math problem.
T: What originally ignited your passion for data?
R: I spent four years working at MIT Lincoln Laboratory analyzing the U.S. government’s image and imagery sources, specifically radar images. We did a lot of work for the Department of Defense helping to pick out suspicious or nefarious things in images to save our troops, for example. After that, I spent two years at Microsoft helping to build a data science product. I got to learn how to make software and how a big company worked. Although the job wasn’t quite the best fit for me, I learned that I really liked doing the data science myself.
T: What led you to True Fit?
R: When I was looking for new opportunities, a recruiter mentioned True Fit and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool! I want to get an interview there!” When I was in high school my first job was washing dishes – I would save up all my money to buy Levi’s jeans. I’ve always been into shopping and clothes, so I felt like that was an awesome opportunity to work on problems that I really cared about.
T: How has shopping and clothes incorporated into your role as a Data Scientist at True Fit?
R: My first project at True Fit was focused on one of our clients, Kate Spade. I’ve shopped at Kate Spade before and so I felt this connection that I hadn’t felt before with projects. It was also awesome to get the opportunity to actually go to Kate Spade, enter her building and get to present to them my findings. In that meeting, I was being professional to the best of my ability while thinking, “OMG, I’m with Kate Spade this is so awesome!”
T: Tell us what it’s like working on a brand that you love.
R: It’s really motivating. Everyone on the science team will tell you that the data, the problems that we have are super interesting. For me, getting to work with brands that I really love is just extra awesome.
T: Is there a project you’re working on at the moment that you can share?
R: The first day in a data job is really about getting access to millions and billions of records in the database. There are hundreds of tables, so it’s really helpful to have something specific to focus on. Our Chief Analytics Officer Chris Moore – my boss – suggested I conduct a return analysis for Kate Spade so I began researching the idea that if someone buys something in one size, and then later buys the same thing in a different size, that you’d have more information to determine which the wrong size was. Based on what they returned, you can tell what the right size was – this is very valuable information for us when we’re using data to recommend sizes.
T: What do you like about working at a startup?
R: What tends to happen in a big organization is that you’re really encouraged to specialize – but here [at True Fit], the breath is encouraged and having the opportunity to do lots of things is better for my strengths. Kate Spade is a perfect example where I’ve used a lot of my communications skills so I feel like having the opportunity to get to meet with clients and have presentations on analytical work plays to my strengths.
T: What do you love most about True Fit? What’s your favorite thing about working here?
R: My favorite thing is definitely the people. We are a pretty close group; it’s nice to work with such nice and fun people. Also, especially coming from the tech world, it’s nice to work with a lot of other women and also have the balance that’s present here at True Fit.