From Financial Forecasting to Covid Forecasting

Posted by Flatiron School Students  /  July 13, 2020

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“Instead of looking at the current uncertainties as a setback, I would look at it as an opportunity for us to further improve ourselves with additional skills.”


Meet Flatiron School Data Science Alum and volunteer at Young Digital Leaders, Khairul Omar! After spending years in Business Performance Analysis, Khairul decided to skill up with data science to expand his tech acumen.  During his job search, he decided to be part of the Covid-19 solution and join a data analytics team to gain insights that can be used to support government strategies. Khairul tells his story, here:

You have a background in electrical engineering and business analytics, and a few degrees already under your belt! What led you to add Data Science training to your arsenal?

I started my career as a telecommunication engineer to put my first degree into practice but somehow I didn't feel that I had it in me to be an engineer in the traditional sense of the role. Instead, I enjoyed the mathematical side of the technical design and the analysis of network traffic data. Later, I moved to France to pursue an MBA. Over the following ten years, I served as a management controller and business analyst in Luxembourg and Australia where I developed my skills in business performance analysis and reporting. Data Science seemed to be the most logical step in my journey in order to take my career to the next level.

What other factors played a role in deciding to pivot into Data Science? 

I enrolled in a CPA part-time program in Australia as a path towards being a certified practicing accountant. Two years into the program, I sensed that my heart wasn't really in it as I was more interested in the data and IT side of my financial and business role. Given the nature of the business intelligence role that I had at the time, it was a no-brainer that data science was the way forward. From my data science training, I am hoping to convince prospective employers that my expertise could equally be applied to various other data roles in any industry.

You graduated and are looking for a job in the height of the COVID-19 crisis. This is a complicated time for so many, especially to be looking for work. Tell us how you are approaching your job search process, and what tips you have for other Flatiron School grads in a similar position?

Given the current circumstances, so far I have been focusing on developing new skills via online courses and strengthening my knowledge by putting into practice the materials learned during the course at Flatiron School into personal projects. Apart from applying for jobs via the usual channels, I have also been working on building relationships via personal contacts through LinkedIn, researching about prospective companies and strengthening my project portfolio so that I would be well equipped when things start to return to normal. My advice to other grads is that instead of looking at the current uncertainties as a setback, I would look at it as an opportunity for us to further improve ourselves with additional skills, be it technology-related or interpersonal, which would help to make us all truly job-ready when the time comes for that dream job interview.

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You built out a forecast of the COVID-19 pandemic that caught the attention of the Malaysian Ministry of Health. Can you tell us about that project? Why you built it and where did it lead?

My inspiration to research on the mathematics behind the epidemic grew out of frustration that governments and media around the world were only reporting on how the outbreak was panning out, but little on how long and how bad it would result. After weighing a few options, I set out to build a prediction model by fitting the latest available data into Richard's logistic curve to represent the exponential growth and the eventual plateauing of the outbreak in order to estimate the timeline of the outbreak and the final number of cases for key countries. My model caught the attention of an official from the Ministry of Health in Malaysia who was looking to set up a team of volunteers in data science and analytics to gain insights from available data and how this can be used to support or question government strategies. Over the past month, I ran four studies for the team, namely in determining the criteria that must be met before a lockdown can be eased, benchmarking government strategies between countries for best practices, and running a study to gauge if countries are under-estimating their number of cases. For details on my model and these studies, please refer to my Github page

If you had to go back to the first week and give yourself advice, what would you say? What have you learned along the way with your journey?

Looking back at my first week at Flatiron School, I would advise myself not to forget to have fun instead of letting my stress escalate. I used the opportunity at Flatiron School to make full use of my strengths to focus on the areas that I was most interested in, and how those new skills could be applied to enhance my current portfolio as a Business Analyst. I might have started the course by thinking that I would come out as a Data Scientist, but I am now seeing myself as a Data Science-enhanced Business Analyst. I think I quite like the sound of that!

Career coach Charis Wanken reflects on how Khairul job search was so successful:

"Khairul has done an excellent job customizing the job search process to his personal priorities and timeline. Khairul's willingness to share his work with his online community ultimately led him to some incredible opportunities. His time spent volunteering will be a strong asset and differentiator as he seeks a permanent role."