As a college graduate in India, Phani Kidambi decided to break out of a traditional family-centered role to forge his own path. Emigrating to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Wright University, he faced a choice of either returning home or mastering unfamiliar life skills.
In Kidambi’s eyes the only viable option was to conquer the new challenges and earn a full scholarship from the university. Upon completion of a master’s degree, he accepted a full-time research job while continuing his studies at Wright University to earn a PhD in Engineering.
Venturing into uncharted territory is a frequent pattern throughout Kidambi’s career, using data science to find new ways of solving old problems. Tackling a quantitative question, he pushes beyond data collection and analysis, taking time to speak directly with executional personnel to learn from their hands-on experience.
Kidambi recognizes that the most satisfying results are born from the freedom to move up and down the chain of command, digging deeply to explore all aspects of a problem. This triad of data collection, human interaction, and problem-solving expertise fuels a research and predictive outcome model that can help lead an organization to positive change.
“I capture the human aspect of a problem by talking with the stakeholders. Quite often the staff provides the best insights because their work is directly involved with the question to be answered.”
Currently teaching with the UNH Online Data Science Program, Kidambi also works for Wells Fargo as a Senior Data Scientist. His work history maps frequent employment shifts between business and higher education, but he is quick to point out that the use of explorative data and predictive analytics applies to any field. “I am a problem solver.”
His data science teaching assignments involve real-time issues in the students’ workplace, thereby adding a “significant bullet point on their resume”. He supports the concept of post degree certificates that allow students to expand skills directly applicable to their professional needs within a manageable time frame.
Kidambi speaks with warm and respect about the two-way educational exchange between teacher and student, evident in his classroom approach that blends motivational instruction and creativity with humor and compassion. The first in his department at Wright University to receive the “Excellence in Teaching Award for Teaching Assistants” (2005-2006) and the “Excellence in Teaching Award for Faculty” (2012-2013), both were awarded after his first year in each role.
“I love talking to my students and I have all the time in the world for them.”
In higher education, Kidambi empowers students to achieve a better performance. In banking and business, he aims for a superior customer experience. In many ways the goal is the same – to personalize and enhance communications between the institution and the individual to the benefit of both.
A broad span of professional activities reflects the determination and energy that drives Kidambi to work up to 15 hours a day, whether he is working through a new problem, responding to a student, or polishing his own professional skills. Eyes snap with excitement as he details “lots of fun projects”, ranging from artificial intelligence and digital banking to multimedia storyboarding and medical imaging retrieval.
Author and co-author of multiple publications, among his many areas of interest is “interactive visualization”. Behind-the-scenes algorithms synthesize and funnel massive amounts of data into real-time dashboards using preset category buckets that allow the viewer to quickly grasp the key elements. Given the increasing volume of data across all facets of life, the ability to quickly gather and interpret information provides an incredibly useful tool for marketing and planning purposes.
The ups and downs of life have taught Phani to focus his energy on things he can influence, such as professional skills and job performance, wisely accepting events outside of his control with flexibility and open-ended optimism. “I reset my goals every two years because I never know how the future will unfold.”
Philosophizing about his life experiences, Kidambi has come to believe that, while tough times are unavoidable, they also carry lessons that we can only understand after overcoming them.
He defers to the words of Steve Jobs: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
A complement to his professional life, Kidambi loves to explore food and spends hours in the kitchen testing and tasting, seamlessly switching from the excitement of a research project to the delight of new dish.
Kidambi firmly believes that all his work should be approached with an eye to “the greater good”. Pondering the future, he thinks quietly for a moment, then smiles and unfolds a dream of returning to India one day to pass on employable skills to needy children.
A stirring research project, a thought-provoking student assignment, or an exciting new recipe all inspire the same energy and curiosity that mark the cornerstones of Kidambi’s career.