Arun Anantharaman – A Federer worshipper, hopeful trekker, haiku and tanka rhapsodist and, a welcome outsider to analytics

It’s November 2005. I have just got engaged the month before and am now back in Meerut, ruminating in my hotel room. I have spent the previous two years as an e-governance consultant working on random projects at some strange places – sometimes finding my way around alone, sometimes with a colleague or two. I have checked in at Angul, Vishakhapatnam, Riyadh, Kuwait City, and now here at Meerut, my longest stint at one location. Despite the not so great pay, and often not so great work, I have enjoyed the radical shift from my previous desk-bound jobs – wonderful three years pre-MBA as a software developer, and not so great 9 months as a Business Analyst (arguably, the most meaningless designation I have seen) post the MBA.

But now, the idea of being a perennially traveling consultant post marriage doesn’t sit well with me anymore, though there are many good folks who do it well enough. The thing is, I am not quite sure what I am good at anymore. Once, I loved coding and was pretty good at it, and much as I like it still, that it’s not the career for me is one of the few things I am certain of. And so, that’s how I find myself chatting with a few folks from my B-school to figure out what next.

One day, my B-school classmate, Vikram (hey there, buddy!), pings me on messenger to let me know that he’s joined this group in HP that does Analytics. He thinks I might like it, and should consider it. While I know the word “Analytics” and the work seem interesting enough, I find it odd that there are folks who do it for a living. But the clincher for me is something else – hardly any travel, he says. And so, a month or two later, when I return to Bangalore, I find myself interviewing at HP, though interview isn’t quite the right word. It’s a sort of effort to convince myself that this thing is real – weirdly I don’t entertain any notions that they won’t consider me a right fit.

Anyhow, I meet a few smart folks, one thing leads to another; we decide we are willing to take a risk with each other, and in less than two months after I am married, I am done with my consulting life and on to Analytics!

And here I am still in December 2016 – a Human of Analytics now, apparently! Writing this, I realize, I crossed 10 years as an Analytics professional this year, cheers to that! I don’t think it occurred to me before – but hey, that’s a pretty good milestone. And I have just been in two companies in these ten years. Five years at HP, five and a half and counting at Accenture.

A few short trips to the US and Europe and that’s that. So much for having been and wanted to be footloose once. Heck, for nearly ten of these 10+ years, I have only reported to two managers. And I think it’s right that I should acknowledge them here. So, Arnab (who might read this), and Roxana (who might not), thank you! You have been good influences in my professional career, tremendously supportive mentors and have inspired me in very different ways. Cheers to that! There have, of course, been many others I have enjoyed working with during these years, folks who reported to me, folks who blew me away with their skills, folks who expanded my boundaries, folks who I have collaborated with on a few exciting projects, and folks who were just bloody good fun to hang around with.

There have, of course, been times when I have wondered what exactly I am doing in the Analytics industry. These moments tend to particularly zoom in when I am in an Analytics conference listening to someone talk about Advanced Deep Learning (how tautological) or a Hierarchical Bayes Approach to Modeling Level of Incoherence in a conference I shouldn’t have attended in the first place.

You see, my career graph in analytics hasn’t been quite the conventional one, so I only hesitantly call myself an Analytics professional, or maybe I should say Machine Learning professional now! For the most part, I have always felt like an outsider looking in. A welcome outsider, I must add. But then, I like being that outsider. So, it’s easy enough to navigate those odd conference induced moments of darkness.

Anyway, this is about me as a Human of Analytics, right? The relationships with our family and friends, indulgence in our interests and passions, our good health, our material and emotional wellbeing, our ability to be in touch with our better attributes – if these are the things that make us human, then on that count, this industry has delivered for me in spades. To be around to teach your kid to cycle, play with her and be inspired by her extraordinary creativity, take spur of the moment decisions to catch a movie with your wife on a Monday afternoon knowing that work can wait, take a 45-minute time out to make yourself awful black tea while watching an engrossing post lunch session on Day-4 of a pulsating test match, those are ordinary things to be grateful for.

I am infamous in my family for my horrible memory – so I suppose that I have the luxury of making more ordinary memories than most people thanks to a job that lets me make the time for those moments, is sort of divine justice. And what can I say about my interests – Trekking, quizzing, tennis, writing (maybe this one, not so much) – I doubt I would have had the time or inclination to pursue these with the same enthusiasm as I do now, if not for the friends I make at work and the people I meet.

For those who know me, I suppose it’s appropriate I end with a tanka to sum it up – so here goes.
In the time between
models we build for others,
for ourselves we built
a career and a life with
an R-square of – well, pick yours.
Meet Arun Anantharaman: A Federer worshipper, hopeful trekker, haiku and tanka rhapsodist and, a welcome outsider to analytics.


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