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Open Sesame: One-on-One with Alibaba’s Shanxing Gao MSBA 18
Advice, lessons for success after graduation

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Shanxing Gao, a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) alumnus of the charter class in 2018. He spoke about his work experiences, his takeaways from the MSBA program and job and interview tips.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at Purdue University in 2017, Shanxing joined the MSBA program at UC Davis, which eventually led to his role as a business analyst at China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Shanxing Gao at Alibaba

After earning his MSBA degree, Shanxing moved from the Bay Area to East China to work for the Information Technology and Services division of the Alibaba Group in Hangzhou.

How did the MSBA courses you took relate to your role at Alibaba?

An analyst should have a good statistical background when going into their field, otherwise it would be hard to design, conduct and evaluate A/B experiments. I’m thankful to have advanced SQL expertise to pull, join and explore data generated by many disparate sources—that’s the prerequisite to finish most of my tasks here. Also, having experience of leveraging common visualization tools is essential in order to tell a story with data.

Quality analysts need strong machine learning skills. You need to be able to understand business questions at a macro scale and turn your analysis into valuable insights and actionable recommendations to help the decision-making process.

What were your key takeaways from the UC Davis MSBA program?

  1. The MSBA program provides a strong technical foundation.
  2. Secondly, the practicum project is of great importance, especially for new grads who do not have much work experience. If you did a good job at your practicum project, you could greatly enrich your resume and better prepare yourself for job interviews.
  3. I would follow these tips for the success on your practicum project:
  • Lead the practicum approach and not totally rely on your client.
  • Deliver outputs to your client periodically to earn their trust.

In terms of my practicum project, in the early stages, we had limited data and our project objective was vague. So, our team decided to set our own goals. We decided to integrate the available data and extract values from it.

Shanxing Gao

After we delivered our findings to our client, they were delighted and we established that initial trust. After that, our team received more resources and authority, which helped us successfully complete the project.

What recommendations would you give to students in their career search and the interview process?

Students looking for opportunities in business analytics should have a resume and cover letter ready. It should be detailed, concise and error-free.

Also, spend some time looking at job descriptions of positions you are interested in. That way, you can figure out what kind of candidate companies are looking for (e.g., what skills or tools do you need to be familiar with and have basic knowledge of).

Referrals are the key to getting interviews. Never be afraid to network and ask for a referral. You need to learn how to “sell” yourself to others. LinkedIn is a good platform to build your connections with alumnus and professionals in different areas and companies.

If you’re not getting referrals quickly enough, you need to be actively applying for jobs through platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed and others.

Keep in mind, some large companies like Facebook have “cool-off periods,” where employees are disqualified (recused) from participation in all official matters involving an entity because of a particular situation, for example, a prior employer. Various scenarios have different cooling off period requirements. You could apply for positions at small companies first to get prepared for those large organizational interviews.

Information Services Division - Alibaba Group

For international students who want to work in the U.S., applying for technical roles might give you better odds of landing a role. Nevertheless, from my experience, there are lots of good opportunities in China, too. Students interested in working in China could keep an eye on jobs there and apply when the timing is right, while also going to school in California or applying for jobs in the U.S. It simply gives you more options.

What would you focus more on if you could go back to the beginning of your UC Davis MSBA journey?

I would think more from a professional’s rather than a student’s perspective, considering how the courses have helped in my career path. Earning a high GPA is definitely not the only objective of the MSBA program. Leaving with the right skills is vitally important. Also, I think I would benefit more from the practicum project if I could have been more proactive on it.