Darden and Data: How Dual-Degree Student Mastered 2 Programs
By Meg Evett
She will graduate with both her MBA and MSDS in May 2021.
Rajagopal attended University of Michigan for undergrad, where she majored in computer engineering and minored in entrepreneurship.
Following graduation, she started working at IBM as a software test engineer in Rochester, Minnesota. Throughout her time at IBM from 2014 to 2019, she worked on several interesting projects including in automation testing, open source, patents, and cloud. Most notably, as a web technologies and operations engineer, Rajagopal worked on IBM’s cloud platform products, including a proof of concept for IBM’s second generation container service, which is now the foundation of all IBM cloud and analytics offerings.
Throughout all of her five years at IBM, Rajagopal pursued leadership opportunities. She was a business resource group leader, president of the IBM Rochester Women’s Network, and a member of the IBM Central Area Diversity Council. She also served as a board member for the Society of Women Engineers Minnesota Professional Section.
Looking to the future, Rajagopal realized she had a decision to make after almost five years of working at IBM. She asked herself if she wanted to continue on her current path, working towards a promotion to a more technical leadership position, or did she want to broaden her skills?
Rajagopal explained that she knew she wanted to do more than programming, and she decided on the path to pursue education and expand her skillset. She began to look into MBA programs.
“I wanted to be able to broaden my horizons earlier on, which is why I was looking at MBA programs in particular, because I thought that I would kind of round out my skill set,” Rajagopal explained. “What in particular caught my eye at UVA was the fact that they had the most consistently best rated faculty across the board, in terms of MBA programs, that was really important to me.”
When she was admitted to Darden, Rajagopal attended an admitted students’ event during which she met Patti Edson, the associate director of admissions and financial aid at the School of Data Science.
“I was intrigued with Aditi on paper before I ever met her,” Edson said. “She has a degree in computer engineering from Michigan, and has worked in the industry for IBM. Gosh, but when I met her in-person, the intensity and focus of that very first conversation sort of stopped me in my tracks.”
Rajagopal noted that she loved meeting Edson and was immediately intrigued by the dual-degree program. As a leader at IBM, she knew she wanted to pursue an education path that broadened her skill set in business and data utilization.
“Looking at the courses offered through the MSDS program and seeing the breadth of skills that you can gain was something that was super appealing to me,” Rajagopal said.
After talking to Edson and being admitted to the MSDS program as a dual-degree candidate, Rajagopal accepted her offer and began her courses in July 2019.
Rajagopal has loved taking both business classes and data science classes and seeing the two intersect.
“This quarter I have a supply chain class, a financial modeling class, and ethics of big data,” Rajagopal noted. “I have a couple of innovation classes as well, and in each one there’s a very clear application of data science. It’s really interesting to see data science play out in those roles.”
Rajagopal noted that she has seen so much change in the field of data science since her time at the University of Michigan.
“It’s interesting, because when I was in undergrad from 2010 to 2014, I feel like data science wasn’t really a thing. Back then, I think it was kind of an offshoot of computer science. A couple years after I graduated, it started becoming more of an emerging space.”
During her time at IBM, Rajagopal saw that there was so much data, but it was not all used. She wanted to learn data skills to track customer data to improve and optimize user experience. Rajagopal said that she believes data science will be integral in the next generation workforce, and she wanted to be a part of that.
“As someone who likes to dabble, I’ve learned that it’s not so much about knowing the coding skills. You don’t need to be a super programmer anymore,” Rajagopal explained. “You just need to know enough to be dangerous enough to ask really good questions and enough to be able to empathize with the teammates that you work with. I use empathy not just in the feeling sense, but to be able to say, ‘I understand why this is a constraint,’ or ‘I understand why this can be implemented in this way but not this way.’”
This summer, Rajagopal is working as a summer associate at Transform Capital, a later-stage venture capital firm in California’s Silicon Valley that is one of the sponsoring firms of the 2020 Mayo Fellows program led by Darden’s Richard A. Mayo Center for Asset Management.
“I’m someone who’s excited about seeing what startups are doing in the tech space,” Rajagopal noted. “I’m really interested in the intersection between data science and venture capital and actually seeing what some of these like data-oriented companies are doing.”
Edson knew immediately that the MSDS program would be a great fit for Rajagopal, as she could see her passion for making the business world more effective and asking the right questions. Is this algorithm a company is using working the way it is supposed to? How can the algorithm be improved?
“She’s a force of nature and her intelligence is immediately matched by this intensity and curiosity about all things data science,” Edson said, describing Rajagopal. “‘How do we advance the world for the better using these tools, either in a start-up culture, or traditional business?’ That’s her question! And she means it, ‘how do we use the power of data to have an impact – globally on the world?’”
This story originally appeared on datascience.virginia.edu.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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