David Llanos (MIDP ’07) and Paola Carvajal (MIDP ’08) met in college in Colombia and both earned their MIDP degrees from Duke. They visited campus recently and stopped by the DCID office to chat with DCID Communications Director Tiffany Goetzinger.
TIFFANY: Welcome home! So, what are you doing these days?
PAOLA: I work for a management consulting company. Basically what we do is advise energy companies about how to pursue new business, or assess ways to improve their operations- the way they are doing business.
DAVID: I work for a financial regulatory agency, FINRA. FINRA is a non-governmental organization and our mission is to make sure that the stock market is working fairly for all the players. My job in particular is to use analytics and data science to detect potential anomalous transactions or fraud.
TIFFANY: What was your path before this?
PAOLA: Before, I came to do work for the government in an energy policy institution. Then I came to Duke. While I was here in the MIDP program, I got a certificate in energy and environment and combined it with what I was learning about development policy. I have worked in advising both governments and energy companies. For companies, we look at increasing competitiveness, and for governments, we look at how to make investment more attractive.
DAVID: And for me, I came to the MIDP program to study international development and foreign policy, but while I was here it raised a lot of questions for me about the role of statistics and quantitative tools. So much so that I actually decided to pursue a Ph.D. I specialized in quantitative metrics and how to apply those tools to policy.
TIFFANY: I’ve been thinking a lot about what drives each of us forward on our career journeys. How does the idea of passion show up in your work?
PAOLA: Even before I came to Duke I was passionate about development, specifically related to energy. The work that I am doing on a national scale is important; I am always trying to help the people we work for extract the most value out of what they are doing. My goal is to bring best practices to the table; that really helps me connect my passion for energy and development policy into my day-to-day work.
DAVID: I particularly love the idea that we as a society have a bunch of data that we are not properly using, and the possibility of connecting all the different dots excites me. The ability to bring such insights into policy design is what makes me passionate about my job.
TIFFANY: I think a lot of people might be scared by the numbers side of things, but you just jumped right in!
DAVID: Yeah! And, in part that was because of the curiosity I developed and all the tools I actually acquired while I was here in the MIDP program.
TIFFANY: Well that was my next question: how has your education at Duke shaped the way that you approach your work?
PAOLA: I’d say two things: One aspect of the program that has definitely shaped me was the opportunity to have this multicultural environment. I came from Colombia to the U.S., and this was a great first experience – it was the first step to getting this global exposure, and I think it really helped me to be more comfortable in my career, which is now international.
Second, I would highlight the specific policy analysis tools I learned. In my work, most of my colleagues come from a business background. In my case, having the policy-related classes and policy background helps me bring a different perspective to the table. I also find it’s helpful when working with governments.
DAVID: For me, when I was here I realized the importance of having the big picture when it comes to addressing problems in a society. But also, at the same time, I developed an awareness that some of those policy solutions may come actually from deep analysis of a particular case or a particular set of data that you may collect in a particular country. This shapes me in my work today because I may start with a combination of very specific tools and techniques that I can apply in front of a computer, but then we also need to translate them into large-scale policy proposals that have big picture implications. I think about the challenge of how bridge those two approaches a lot.
TIFFANY: So, what is a challenge or a project that you’re working on right now?
PAOLA: Well, right the energy industry is going through some interesting changes: there are new trends of energy efficiency, of more electric cars, and changes in general related to the way that societies want to use energy resources. In the future, we see a lot of convergence of industries, so our challenge is to expand the way we analyze the same issues because it’s just not just isolated to oil or isolated to gas. It’s new trends of convergence between energy, between telecommunications, between different industries. In addition to changing the way you analyze the problems, you also have to learn new tools to be able to advise companies on how to manage this new environment.
DAVID: I think the main challenge that I’m facing right now is how to make people feel comfortable with the data size and the analytics tools. First, internally so we can actually work together and see the problems together, and get people familiar with the tools that we are using. Because once we achieve that basic level of comfort with the tools, we can start thinking of different ways to apply them to the organization’s needs.
TIFFANY: What advice do you have for the next class of MIDP fellows?
DAVID: Perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think that it’s important to have a basic understanding of what data science may offer today. Even if you are working for an NGO, or working for a national government, local government, or international organization, in every single instance there are opportunities you can actually take advantage of in applying those tools. I would say really absorb what you can from the statistical analysis classes in the program. Get into it, don’t be afraid. It may take some time to grasp but it will be helpful.
PAOLA: I actually agree. It’s important to really get into and learn the tools for analytics no matter what field you’re in. It will help you in your job search.
TIFFANY: Yes, even communications has analytics tools!
PAOLA: Yes! The other advice I have for incoming MIDP fellows is based on my own experience. I was interested in energy and policy, so I took classes here and also at the Nicholas School of the Environment. So, whatever the student is interested in, I would advise them take advantage of the flexibility of the MIDP program and the opportunity to get a comprehensive view of that issue. Not only from the public policy perspective, but from different schools- the business school even.
TIFFANY: Okay, last question. Why are you here this weekend?
DAVID: Our older son was four when we came here to Duke for the first time. Now he’s a rising senior and we’re doing college tours. We are here in an alumni session for admissions next year. Duke is on our list!