Vaibhav Kumar

Making choices with maximum flexibility

After five fast-paced years as a Senior Data Engineer at auto-tech disruptor Tesla, Vaibhav Kumar (BAeroEng(Hons) 2009, BCom 2009) has landed a position as a Senior Data Scientist at Shopify, a forward-looking commerce platform that helps people worldwide start, grow and manage their business.

“At Tesla, I converted massive amounts of data on vehicle behaviour into reports used to evaluate customer usage, address issues and drive future design,” explains Vaibhav. “Now at Shopify, I’m part of a team responsible for understanding and predicting the risk associated with lending capital to businesses. I write algorithms and model our data to ultimately improve our consumer experience.”

When Vaibhav joined Tesla in 2013, it was smaller and not as well known. “The company was seen as an engineer’s playground, with a highly ambitious vision. It gave me the flexibility to help define the future of sustainable transportation and energy storage,” he says. “By the time I left, Tesla had grown multifold and had established itself on the world stage as an industry leader.”

More than a few people would love such an opportunity. What gave Vaibhav an edge?

“Thanks to my background in aerospace engineering, I had developed multidisciplinary engineering skills, along with the ability to look at the larger picture to put different subsystems together,” he maintains. “Although my academic background was a little different to the relating industry, I was passionate about the field and could learn quickly.”

Nevertheless, Vaibhav credits Monash with preparing him well for his career. “My double degree allowed me to pursue multiple interests at the same time. And the University’s global outlook set me up for a smooth transition overseas,” he remarks. “I did a semester exchange at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden, where I had a chance to take a few space-focused subjects not then available at Monash. Also, I found it fascinating living above the Arctic Circle and observing the full spectrum of 24 hours darkness to 24 hours sunlight.”

As a committee member and later Vice President of the Monash chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society, Vaibhav organised large-scale, multidisciplinary events on campus, sometimes collaborating with chapters from other universities. “I also presented at a Golden Key international conference in the United States,” he adds. “This ultimately led me to pursue graduate studies there.”

Additionally, Vaibhav has served as a committee member of Code for India, a non-profit organisation established to tackle social and developmental challenges in India with technology. “I’d arrange weekly meetups where volunteers from leading Silicon Valley companies would offer their skills and time on various projects,” he relays. “I also helped organise hackathons across Silicon Valley and India where keynote speakers included the Prime Minister of India, President of India and the Google CEO.”

Looking back on his life, Vaibhav reflects, “One of the challenges I faced growing up was that my family would move from one place to the next every few years. Since I rarely knew where I would be in five to ten years, I learned to consciously make choices that allowed me maximum flexibility in the future.”

Rather than having a single mentor, Vaibhav has engaged with a wide range of individuals during the different phases of his life, in seven countries across four continents. “I’ve gathered advice from people with diverse and often conflicting outlooks,” he shares. “This has allowed me to think critically and reach my own conclusions.”

What advice does Vaibhav pass on to others? “Keep the bigger, longer-term picture in mind, and ask yourself what you’ll add to society. Whether big, small, well-defined or more personal, this thought process will help guide the shorter-term actions you take.”