Balancing the Grind with Heena Otia, Data Scientist at EMX Digital

Heena Otia is a Data Scientist at EMX Digital, a leading, end-to-end technology and programmatic solution, purpose built to evolve today’s digital marketplace.

Interested in talking about how you balance the grind? Get in touch with us here!

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, India and got my Bachelors in Engineering degree in Information Technology. Even though I had a good background in programming, I wasn’t sure at all about the career journey I wanted to undertake.

So, after dabbling a bit with a web development-based role, I moved to The United States to get a Masters in Information Systems, focusing on Data Analysis.

I was really fortunate to get an exciting Digital Analytics internship opportunity at The Madison Square Garden Company – the famous Arena that hosts several concerts and sports! This role opened the gates to being more confident in the corporate world, as the team encouraged and integrated interns’ ideas and project work very well.

Although it didn’t turn into a full-time job opportunity, I was more focused than ever at nailing a Data Scientist or Analyst’s job in New York City. Initially it was a bit tough, given the fact that I needed work visa sponsorship in order to continue working in the US.

But finally, I landed a full-time job as an Associate Data Scientist at CPXi in 2016- where I learned Python from scratch (had prior experience in SQL, C++, Java). My team was super-supportive and gave me a lot of avenues to keep learning and grow every day.

Our division was then acquired by The Engine Group – a creative & media marketing company with its HQ in London. I’ve been working here as a Data Scientist under Engine’s programmatic AdTech pillar Engine Media Exchange (EMX) – and I can say that every day is very exciting and challenging!

My current role entails a full end-to-end work package meant for a Data Scientist – data acquisition & cleaning, data analysis & predictive modeling, visualization as well as communicating results with the stakeholders. I wish to further elevate my skills with handling data pipeline & deployment tasks for machine learning projects.

My team definitely keeps me motivated at my current role and my manager says, “the only person holding you back is yourself”.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Due to COVID, I’ve been working remotely since the past year. My day starts with some breathing exercises and yoga stretching flow, followed by a very heavy breakfast with my husband- yes, I’m a huge fan of breakfasts/brunch!

I don’t check my cell phone until I start my work, which is around 9 or 9:30am. I normally kick off work by catching up with my teammates on project updates and progress, attend Sprint meetings or schedule sync up meetings as needed.

Usually, it helps me to split my workday with heavy tasks in the morning- testing machine learning models and light ones such as data analysis/research/business reports in the latter half.

If time permits, I do like to check out Data Science blogs and articles as well as LinkedIn for professional updates. I also take a lot of mini-breaks from work in order to have screen-free times, move and stretch a bit.

COVID has really re-shaped the way we’re all working, so I try to make sure I’m well connected with the team and keep the communication channels always open.

Another important thing for me is to have my lunch away from screens/devices (exceptions during meetings). Once I finish up my work, I either work out a bit, watch a series, go for a stroll or hang out with friends.

Finally, after dinner I’d wind up my day with a book and video call with my parents.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I recently moved to Silicon Valley, California with my spouse but my team is based out of the East Coast, mostly NYC.

As I’ve been working remotely since last year, initially I tried following NYC work hours but later it got tough for me to wake up super early as they’re 3 hours ahead. I’m beyond thankful to my manager for allowing me to be flexible with my working hours.

It was a little hard getting used to working from home as I loved working from our NYC office- the city has that energy and vibe which is incomparable. But slowly I set up a good, dedicated workspace and made sure I have a standing desk as well.

Working remotely also gives me more “Me-time” as well as time to cook.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I feel “inspired employees make for stronger companies.” For me, work-life balance means having 100% satisfaction with my job. And this has been possible due to the amazing work culture at Engine Media Exchange and of course my manager.

There isn’t a single day when I feel stressed out at work, or don’t have time for myself and my health (mental or physical) or my loved ones.

I also work towards improving the balance by being very honest with my manager regarding my likes and dislikes related to work projects. I feel having a manager and a company that values your opinions is very crucial.

We have Flexible Time Off policy as opposed to limited annual PTOs which is another great advantage.

Also, as I mentioned I make it a point to have dedicated “no devices” times during the day and spend time with family/friends and outdoors.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’d say that I’ve started cooking a lot more as compared to pre-pandemic days. I sort of get excited with the thought of cooking my next meal and love planning things ahead every day. For example, before the pandemic I’d sometimes buy breakfast or other meals on the way to work or even have leftovers normally.

I’ve also become more active as I get to save the commute time and spend it on working out or being outdoors.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

The Audacity to be Queen by Gina DeVee is my all-time favorite book! Simply very empowering for women.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I’m not hugely dependent on gadgets/devices, except for Skype. I haven’t met my parents for over a year now and let me admit that I Skype them almost thrice a day! They are in India and I wish to meet them very soon!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’d love to know Jacinda Ardern’s (Prime Minister of New Zealand) and Elon Musk’s work-life balance.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. In these times, it’s very important to pay attention to your mental and physical health.

Many people don’t separate their professional and personal lives and get stuck with work all day, which later becomes a toxic habit that they like to normalize. Staying connected with your loved ones and finding time for the things you love to do will go a long way.

Lastly, being out in nature always elevates your mood, so it’s good to get moving after a day’s work.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.