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Sara Malvar – Meet the Mentor

Sara is a Research Software Engineer at Microsoft Research with 8+ years of experience in industry and academia. Besides having a Ph.D. in engineering and being a postdoctoral fellow for Shell, she has been working as a mentor and trying to engage people with data-driven solutions.
Sara Malvar

Senior Software Engineer, Microsoft

Why did you decide to become a mentor?
Well, back in 2017, I’ve started teaching a new class at the University and I realized that students were extremely different. Some of them were not so interested in the subject and others were eager to learn anything that they could. That was a little frustrating because they needed different levels of attention and I could not provide that. So in 2018, when Udacity invited me to become a mentor, I realized that this could be the opportunity to engage with people that were really trying to learn something new.

After that, I realized that I LOVE mentoring way more than teaching. And it makes sense: there is so much material available, but there is no path to follow so having someone to guide you is extremely useful. Being a postdoctoral fellow, I have had many good mentors in academia. Fellow PhD students, back in 2017, Professors and people engaged in education. At the same time, when I started my career in 2011 at IBM, I had no one to help me for the first two years. As it is a competitive environment, the corporate world often does not offer the help we find in academia.  I realized that many people who wanted to change careers did not have this opportunity.

How did you get your career start?
When I was a kid, I always said I wanted to be a scientist. I graduated in electrical engineering and started working at IBM. I was assigned to the data area and, at the end of college, I did an elective course on neural networks. At the time, nobody worked really worked with that, but I decided to do a master's degree using these techniques. I went on to the PhD and, at the same time, I started teaching on the subject. After a few years and some publications, other opportunities started to arise and I started to work as a consultant for large companies. In addition, I started teaching at Udacity, Data Science Dojo and a few other EdTechs. For the past two years, I've been working as a postdoctoral fellow for Shell and now I have just joined Microsoft Research as a Machine Learning Research Software Engineer. I'm really excited to work with the industry-applied solution team!

How do you usually set up mentorships?
I believe that the best way to learn is to get your hands dirty. This, I already start projects with my mentees. The idea is to go on producing projects and talking about the data science and machine learning pipeline while we build your portfolio.

In the mentoring program, I set a maximum response time of 48 working hours for any questions, queries or difficulties you have in the chat. I also offer two 30-minute monthly calls, mock technical interviews, help with the recruiting process and resume review. In addition, if you want to use your dataset and need help with that, we can also manage a special program for you.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?
I’ve never learned as much as I learn from mentoring people. There is no better way to embed knowledge than through teaching. In addition, sharing my insights, learning and networks with younger colleagues helps to grease the organizational wheel. In addition, mentoring is a unique opportunity to step outside your normal circle of friends and social media’s echo chamber to gain an intimate understanding of how the world looks through someone else’s eyes. And, at the end of they, I’ve heard new stories, met new people and engage in different ways of thinking. It’s amazing!

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