I was sitting in a well maintained office on the 4th floor of a commercial building in downtown Boston. It was July. I was slightly sweaty as my suit was a bit too warm. My eyes glazed over as I tried going through a lengthy Excel test document. As I was trying to understand software packages in SAP and financial accounting procedure at a large investment bank, my mind went blank and I was only left with one word in my head:
Don’t get me wrong, I knew that my work during this internship would help “streamline processes”, “increase efficiencies” and boost the client’s bottom line. My team did a good job of explaining the project details.
But our client was a multinational investment bank with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets under management. Reducing costs for such a behemoth by 0.00001% would hardly be a matter of life or death. Why, then, was I doing this? Did it really matter? And more importantly, did I really want to keep doing this after graduation?
Towards the end of August that year, I received an email with the following subject line: “Congratulations, Sourabh Banthia, on your offer with…”. My friends congratulated me. Not everyone who did the internship got the offer, after all. To my knowledge, all the fellow interns in my program joyfully responded with their acceptance.
What was not to like? It was a prestigious firm. It had great pay relative to other entry level jobs. Everyone I met at the company was super nice. Everything looked great.
But that question of “Why?” never left my head when I came back from my internship.
I stalled replying to the offer until the deadline. On that last day, I said no.
Back then, I had no clue about my post-graduation plans. But I knew that I wanted to be at a place where, if I ever paused, looked at my work and wondered “Why?”, the answer would come easily and I would be satisfied with it.
When I first saw SocialCops on AngelList, I immediately knew that it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill consulting company or tech startup. I knew there was something different. What attracted me to the company was the quality of their work. SocialCops was trying to bring world class data-driven analyses and consulting to the most pressing problems and the most marginalized communities around the world. For example, SocialCops’ work on the Ujjwala scheme involved meticulously going through 6.4 million data points, collecting data from 17,000 locations and tracking 27 million LPG connections. And that was simply awesome.
And so I applied for a position at the company. The entire process of interviewing for the company was both a tremendous test of my analytic capabilities and an introspective journey. I spent a whole night before my final semester exams not studying for them, but working on my interview task.
I was given 62,430 entries of agricultural market transactions from the Government of Maharashtra spanning the past three years, and 155 different minimum support prices (MSP) — prices at which the government would purchase the products in case the market prices dropped. I had to connect the two sets of data, de-seasonalize them and then analyze the data to figure out trends and outliers in the data. Matching the two files alone took me 3 hours.
As I got more comfortable with the data, I realized how important my work would be – by adjusting the MSP for crops with volatile prices, the Government would be able to provide a more stable income for the millions of farmers in the state. It was this realization that kept me up the whole night.
Coming up with a comprehensive and insightful report would make the livelihoods of these farmers less uncertain. My work mattered.
After creating my report, I was asked to interview with various members of the SocialCops team. I wasn’t asked run of the mill interview questions. Instead, I was grilled with questions about my purpose and my values. Each member listened to what I wanted to do with my career, and gave me feedback on how SocialCops could help me on my path. I knew then that SocialCops actually cared about my career, and the team in general wanted only the best from all its members.
Finally, after writing 262 lines of code, preparing a 13-page report, presenting on a 28-slide deck and interviewing with 9 people at SocialCops, I have arrived at the end of my first month at the company.
So far, I’ve worked on multiple data projects for multiple stakeholders at many different stages of delivery. I have created a district ranking index using our internal data for an individual project, cleaned raw data from government websites, and worked on creating dashboards that would provide insights that will impact development decisions in real time.
I am very happy to have joined a team that really cares about its members, the problems it solves, and the quality of its solutions.
And the best thing about my work today is that “Trying to solve the world’s most pressing problems using data” is the satisfying answer I get if I ever ask myself “Why?”