Meet João Santiago, a data scientist at Billie with arguably one of the most interesting career stories. Santiago originally left Portugal and came to Germany in 2015 to continue his medical studies, having formally trained as a doctor in Lisbon. So how did he end up a data scientist at Billie? We sat down with him to learn all about his story.
So what first brought you to Germany?
“I finished my studies in Portugal and I always wanted to do a PhD in Neuroscience. I looked at the universities in Germany and they were really strong, but a lot of people I knew were put off by having to learn German. I thought I could do that, so I didn’t let that deter me and I got started.
Also, I realised there was an opportunity to receive a salary for something I had always wanted to do. So I applied for a Neuroscience degree at the University of Tübingen and I was successful. I focused my research on the relationship between diabetes and sleep, looking at the effect good sleep can have on the condition.”
Sounds like you were on the right track to becoming a successful doctor. At what point did the first thoughts about changing careers come in?
“Well I had always been a person who was interested in technology and I was coding from a young age. I guess I always saw it is a hobby, and that I needed a real job alongside my interest in coding and tech.
However, whilst I was working on my PhD I started to notice that the parts I was enjoying the most were the tech and statistics parts. Then, when I discovered what data science was I suddenly had a realisation that I was doing it every day already. Before then, it had not been something that I had known about.So once it became a potential option, I started thinking about it more and more. I started to put more effort into my coding and invested time in version control systems, docker containers, APIs, and other tech I had used before but never saw as career tools.”
What were your first steps in making an application, and how did you end up at Billie?
“To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen as I had no experience in the tech field. When I first started applying for roles, I wasn’t considering the finance industry. At that point in time coming from medicine, I probably had a negative view of the finance world thinking that it was only focused on profits.
So I started my applications, but I was getting rejections all the time. This was not very surprising to me because I had the CV of a doctor and whilst the skills were transferable, it was not so clear from my CV. Then after three months, I came across the position that Billie was advertising. I sent in an application and had an initial interview with my now manager, Daniel.
The interview process dispelled the ideas I had about finance companies only being focused on profit. Everyone I met was focused on the company’s mission of helping small to medium sized businesses. Once I looked at the product, I also saw it was something that could have helped friends of mine in Portugal, who were running small businesses.”
Do you think your medical background has helped in your career at Billie?
“I guess it did help to an extent in the application process. When I looked at the case study Billie gave me it actually stood out to me that it was very similar to the statistics work I had done in medicine. The case study was looking at the customer lifecycle, and from a statistical perspective, it was very similar to looking at medicinal data for a person’s life cycle. Therefore I used a survival method to approach the problem, which I was told no one had ever done before. So from that sense, once you took away the context of the numbers it was very similar to what I had done during my PhD.”
How steep was the onboarding process for you having come from such a different background?
“In the beginning, things were very hectic for me. I was coming from academia which moves a bit slower and I was used to working on projects by myself. Suddenly I was having to work with different teams and I was learning the intricacies of working cross functionally. Part of the learning curve was working with people on projects, where they have different motivations and agendas to you.
I think some of my previous training helped me here. As a doctor, you are coached in conflict management, and I previously taught classes to students about doctor-patient communication. I still try to bring my doctor's approach to work, trying to be aware of different sensibilities and dealing respectfully with other people.”
What were you working on then and how has that changed compared to today?
“When I first started at Billie I was working in Credit rating models, but then I moved on to work on a bigger project about fraud. We did not have a formal, structured way of dealing with fraud, so I had to start from scratch: establish a framework with processes, team organization, and new models and data streams. It was a really enjoyable project as it is a very different type of fraud to other businesses. It was very long, conceptual work and included doing lots of research. It was great to be trusted with such a large project, which changed our focus from curing problems to preventing them.
That has been one of the best things about my time at Billie, people approaching me with problems and having the freedom to tackle them in my own way. I was impressed by the people I met when I first interviewed and I still enjoy working with them now.”
Do you feel Billie is the right working and growth environment for you, too? Check out our current job openings on our career page. We are looking forward to hearing from you.