From academic, to data scientist, to startup co-founder. Alex tells us about about how a unique venture building environment shaped her journey to become Head of Research at Fospha.

The people behind data science. Our Head of Research Alexandra Darmon has accomplished a lot at Fospha. Here, she talks about how important research, opportunities and people have been to her.

What were you doing before you came to Fospha?

I’ve always been interested in dynamic and challenging environments. When I left academia, I knew I wanted to apply my knowledge to concrete problems, so I joined a venture called Fusetech. Like Fospha, it’s under the Blenheim Chalcot venture building umbrella. I was the first Data Scientist hired there, and I designed and developed the recommendation engine for a mobile app which provides personalised articles. I built the categorisation of articles’ content via NLP and SVM classifier methods with an algorithm extending classical approaches. From there, the project evolved into an app called Researcher that helps academics stay on top of the literature in their field. I was part of the founding team; I actually brought the idea to the table.

Why did you join Fospha?

Three reasons: The projects, the opportunities, and the people.

The projects: I’ve always been eager to link research to business applications. I knew that Fospha would allow me to do that, and that it had enough projects and challenges to let me learn and grow quickly. The projects are challenging in so many ways:

  • Domain expertise. Working with a company called Instrumental meant I became a music aficionado. I’ve extracted Spotify and Youtube data, and learnt about everything from drug discovery to mortgages, fraud detection for loan companies and marketing strategies.
  • Product builds. We build everything from proof of concepts to fully integrated products and we’re always tackling new performance issues to give our clients what they need. And no, adding more RAM is not always the answer…
  • Research and innovation. For all of our projects, Fospha adds in research pieces, whether it’s to optimise performances or improve accuracy of the models. We’re always pushing the thinking. That’s because we know how valuable and important it is for our projects to be differentiated, and it’s also because we like it so much.

The opportunities: It’s simple; Fospha is growing fast. So how can we scale growth in the right way? There’s a huge opportunity here for more exciting projects and for growing Fospha and its data science team even further. I believe it’s research that’s going to make this happen. We need to target the problems that are common across different projects and focus on these so that we can lift our solutions to a whole new level.

The people: I was really impressed by the people. I knew that we could achieve a lot because the people I work with here are smart, super motivated and not afraid of going big. I joined Fospha because it felt like we could build great things; that’s what happens when people have the right expertise, experience and motivation.

What would you say about the part someone can play as Fospha grows?

I’d say ‘Would you dare?’ Would you dare to take on the opportunity and responsibility to actually make a difference and shape the future of the company? We have been amazing at turning ideas into projects and turning projects into differentiated products. Now, the challenge is how we generalise our approach and make sure we share the knowledge in the team to grow the projects even bigger and deeper. Would you dare to tackle really challenging research projects? It’s about communication, about spreading your knowledge and working with others to overcome your limits. Fospha is growing for sure, but there’s a lot left to be built. This is the moment to dream big. If you dare, you can leave your footprint in Fospha’s future.

Our graduate scheme was a huge success in 2018. What have you personally found to be the most rewarding outcome? 

The graduate scheme means a lot, not only for me personally, but also for data science at Fospha, Blenheim Chalcot and beyond; the existence of a scheme like this represents a great achievement. It’s good to know that our work in data science research is valued so highly, and part of that has been the chance to go to universities to inspire students to follow in our footsteps: it’s already a great reward. But what’s even better is seeing graduates join us, grow and take on more and more responsibility. Bright, challenging minds eager to work on exciting projects and come up with innovative and surprising solutions: that’s what this is all about. No one person has the right answer and it’s when we bring out creativity and motivation together that we can achieve big things. The challenge is to keep this balance of brilliance and make sure we can integrate the upcoming 2019 cohort. The bar is high! I know that the rest of the team and I are excited to see what the graduates are made of.

Are you a natural born researcher? What keeps you interested?

Yes! For me, it’s all about looking for ways to improve your field. The question is, how much do people want to challenge themselves and challenge the state of the art? Innovation is to industry as invention is to academia. In my academic work I don’t need to find a direct application. In industry, though, use cases are key to great research. It’s a good way to avoid rabbit holes, even if it means the pressure is always there to show the direct value of a piece of work. Recently, I’ve been getting especially interested in NLP. It’s emerged across many of our projects, so I keep researching it in my spare time. At the moment, I’m worrying less about the applications, so some of my work may sound slightly gimmicky: my latest paper is pushing the limits of NLP and investigates the power of punctuation in stylometry. Find it here: https://goo.gl/wPy2yH

So yes, I am certainly a natural born researcher and I believe all of us at Fospha enjoy sitting on the cutting edge of science. It’s a great opportunity!

What are the best bits of working at Fospha so far?

I’m pleased to say it’s the same three things that drew me here: The projects, the opportunities, and the people.

About Fospha

Fospha provides its clients with an accessible, centralised, and actionable data platform. Our solution can seamlessly integrate disparate performance data siloes and present clients with a comprehensive – and most importantly – accurate picture of their marketing performance. By combining MTA with an extensive list of different datasets, Fospha provides a single interface where clients can understand how buyers are interacting with their brand, understand where they’re getting the best return on investment, and optimise their marketing strategy accordingly.

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