Thinking beyond boundaries: A Technology Career takes off!
As a girl she dreamed of other galaxies. As a woman she fused family life with a high-flying career. Discover the inspiring story of a colleague who stayed true to herself and found joy in new places.
For the first in our new series shining a spotlight on our brilliant colleagues working in Technology across the bank, we're excited to introduce Dr. Javiera Guedes. Javiera is a Senior Data Scientist working in Global Marketing and has a remarkable story to share. Find out how her mother's love of cosmology led her to study Astrophysics, and how she embraced a new vision of the future when she moved to the US. Inspired by her family in Chile, her studies at a highly competitive university and the opportunities she found in a new country, Javiera is now an inspiration herself. Her story shows what you can do with the right focus, commitment, and willingness to dream big.
In each interview in this series we ask our colleagues the same questions, designed to highlight their key experiences, advice and honest reflections. Let's dive in and discover how Javiera switched up her dreams of the stars for a stellar career with Credit Suisse!
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Working mom, data scientist, astrophysicist
What is your career background?
I am from Chile, a country blessed with exceedingly clear skies, perfectly suited for astronomical observations. My mother was an astronomy fan, and we had pictures of astonishing nebulas and galaxies all around our house. It is not surprising that I was drawn to a career in astrophysics from a young age.
But despite this early enthusiasm, my career path towards astrophysics was far from easy. I started my career in Physics at the School of Engineering at the Universidad de Chile, where I studied for two years. One evening towards the beginning of my third year, as I sat in a lecture, my mother came rushing into the university hall, told me to pack my books and drove us swiftly to the airport: we had a narrow time window to emigrate. We took a flight to the United States, obtained permanent residence, and settled in Los Angeles, California.
A couple of weeks later, my mother returned to Chile and I began a new life without her in LA. My path towards a career in astrophysics had been heavily derailed by being in a new country and environment, away from close family and friends. But my mind was set and I knew I’d eventually reach my goal. I just didn't know when.
I worked hard for two years. I had a full-time job at a retail store and studied full-time at a local community college. I also tutored other students, to sustain myself and save as much as possible for college. Eventually, I was accepted at the University of California Berkeley on a full government-sponsored scholarship. I was ecstatic! It was my dream school, everything I aspired to. There, I completed a major in physics and another in astrophysics.
After completing my bachelor's degrees, I worked towards a PhD in computational astrophysics. I worked on many diverse astronomical topics, ranging from planet formation to galaxy evolution and black hole dynamics. It was wonderful – I learned so much about the physical universe, about data analysis and about myself.
My plan after completing the PhD was to work as a postdoctoral fellow and eventually become a professor of astrophysics. But plans, as I had learned, are subject to change. After my first postdoctoral fellowship at ETH Zurich, I was granted a ticket to professorship – a five-year prize fellowship to work at Princeton University. It was my dream position. By this time, though, I had met the person who would become my husband, and we had plans to marry and start a family. As a woman, perhaps mistakenly, I assumed that both life goals were incompatible. I felt compelled to choose one path: to pursue a professorship in astrophysics or start a family and work in industry.
I chose family.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in data science?
A computational astrophysicist is basically a data scientist who focuses on the field of astrophysics. Both careers require a holistic technical skillset: mathematics, statistics, computer programming, data mining, machine learning, data analysis and visualization. Even fundamental physics concepts such as fluid dynamics are useful to data scientists, for example to understand human mobility patterns or weather dynamics.
That said, there are some differences that meant a career change would be a challenge. I didn't have experience of the broader practical scope, the industry jargon, and wide spectrum of algorithms and programming languages that the data science industry sector requires.
When I decided to pivot my career from astrophysicist to data scientist, I consulted with other astronomers who had taken the seemingly impossible step. They inspired and supported me, and most importantly, they gave me the strength to leave my accomplishments behind and start a new career from zero. In this new field I had no name, no reputation, no list of accomplishments, no publications, and I was not an invited speaker to any conference. I was a blank slate.
Encouraged by them, I joined a training program in Silicon Valley to transition from astronomy into data science. I was two months pregnant at the time, so completing the program was difficult but I knew it was necessary.
Which project(s) are you most excited about?
I am excited about projects that have a positive impact, both to external clients and to internal stakeholders, like allowing marketeers to select audiences for digital campaigns, or predicting the performance of content published on our website.
What was the event or project that changed the career landscape for you?
Working on our in-house audience selection engine (EASE) has been a major milestone in my career at Credit Suisse. It is a large project with many stakeholders which requires strong coding capabilities and management skills. We faced – and overcame – our fair share of challenges, and I'm proud of the part I played.
What do you do outside of work? What are your hobbies?
I enjoy playing with my kids, playing piano, and playing chess. I'm not good at any of these, but I really enjoy them!
How would describe the culture in Credit Suisse?
I have always loved Credit Suisse, both as a client and later as an employee. I particularly enjoy working with people who share my enthusiasm for excellence in data marketing, who strive for the success of the bank, and who put the clients first. When you have colleagues who share these values it creates a great working culture.
What books or podcasts are you reading or listening to now? Any other recommendations?
I love listening to audio lectures about history, science, and literature from the Great Courses. I'm currently reading various books including: Tinta Roja by Alberto Fuguet, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Lately, I started to listen to the podcast Women at Work which always makes me smile.
Thanks so much Javiera for sharing your truly inspiring story! Stay tuned for more in this series and discover what makes Credit Suisse a great place to work.