Carla Gentry aka data nerd (as her Twitter handle rightfully claims) has more than two decades of experience in helping businesses make better decisions. She has worked with some of the biggest Fortune 100 and 500 companies including Kellogg’s, Hershey, Firestone and Disney Media. Carla is an expert when it comes to data analysis, customer segmentation, statistical analysis and product analysis. 

She is one of the most popular big data influencers with a feature on the cover of O’Reilly Media to her credit. She talks about the things that matter in the world of data science—the role of data science in business, climate change, the impact of weather events, natural disasters, women in STEM and more!

We recently had a chance to interview Carla and loved her description of herself in three emojis! And the oh-so-relatable problem of data access. 

Here’s the complete interview. Happy reading!

How did you start your journey as a Data Scientist?

I started my career in 1998 with RJKA (R.J. Krumm and Associates) and our biggest client was Discover Financial Service. We had a mainframe and SAS… with that we were able to do amazing things.

But having to wait in line for IT to give me access to data made me crazy, so I took one of the programmers out to lunch and bribed them into teaching me how to load my own data via DLT tape and PICO commands. That started it all for me!

I’ve never changed fields and only added to my plethora of programming languages and skills. The tools that I work with may have changed slightly but the game is still the same—gleaning insights and making a difference in ROI.

Editor’s side note: Unbelievable! Even 20 years down the line, things are the same. Today’s data teams face the same problems—they still have to spend considerable time and effort on just finding and getting access to data. We’ve had analysts from top companies tell us that sometimes, it takes them up to 14 days to get access to the data they need.

And this is exactly why we are building Atlan—to reimagine the human experience of working with data. We are looking for answers to some of the most important questions in the data verse—what would it mean for data to have a profile like code has a profile on GitHub? Why can’t we share data irrespective of size through a simple link? After all, the democratization of data is a key step for organizations to boost data-driven decision-making across levels!

What are your go-to data science books or resources?

SAS manual to start and then SQL manuals. But then I got tired of reading and realized that the only way I was going to become good at what I do is to do. I learned everything I could from anyone who was willing to show me or teach me. And then I practiced and practiced and practiced! 

I took on other work not from my team and after 10 or 15 years, I could be called an SME (subject matter expert).

Long story short, there are no books or blogs that can teach you everything! However, I do have my favorites:

What are the top 3 skills that matter the most for you as a Human of Data? We read this blog from you.

My thoughts are still the same as I have mentioned in the blog! You must walk before you can run and you do have an obligation to your team/company to be transparent and non-biased in your models. 

Data scientists are inquisitive: exploring, asking questions, doing “what if” analysis, questioning existing assumptions and processes. Armed with data and analytical results, a top-tier data scientist will then communicate informed conclusions and recommendations across an organization’s leadership structure.

Happy data mining and please play with data responsibly!

Who are some of the Humans of Data you look up to? What excites you the most about their work or any quality that you especially admire?

Hmm, that’s a tough one: Geoffrey Hinton (of course), Albert Einstein, René Descartes, Ada Lovelace, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Sir Isaac Newton—they all made math and logic easy and had no tools, except for Geoffrey (he is just a rock star to AI).

Tell us about your work? What problem are you currently solving or working on?

I am able to take huge complicated databases, decipher business needs and come back with intelligence that quantifies spending, profit and trends. Being called a data nerd is a badge of courage for this curious mathematician/economist because knowledge is power and companies are now acknowledging its importance.

Some of my daily duties include:

  • Customer satisfaction and retention analysis
  • Brand research and competitive analysis
  • Employee retention research
  • Survey creation and analysis 
  • Database creation and mining
  • Social media and influencer marketing, incentive promotions
  • Project management (Scrum certified)  

What are the coolest tools or libraries or a hack that you recently discovered?

SPSS does everything all the other tools do and costs a fraction of what the others do. 

GitHub—for the nerd in all of us. 

Describe yourself in three emojis and tell us why?

🏖️ I traded Louisville and horse racing for the beach and salt life

🐶 My dog is smarter than most and he’s my best friend

🎶 I love to dance; anyone who knows me really well also knows that I played the flute from 8 years to 17 years of age. (Why did I stop? Life threw me a few curveballs).

What are some tips for collaborating with other people on your team, especially while working as a remote Data Scientist?

LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN… we all know you are smart, but what you don’t know is there are a million things you don’t know.

Bring your A-game—this isn’t just a job, it’s a career and a way of life!

Never stop learning… if you master programming, work on your data schema techniques. If you master that, on to the next mountain to climb. Never think you know it all.

What message would you give your younger self?

Message to my younger self… don’t be a workaholic and chase your loved ones away, your FAMILY is what matters, jobs come and go!

Have more questions? Reach out to Carla on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Stay tuned for more such insightful interviews with the amazing Humans of Data. You can also subscribe to our no-BS fortnightly newsletter to get the latest interviews directly in your inbox. 📥


Works on things around Talent, Growth, and Community at Atlan and tweets at @leenasoni_.

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