Arts 2021 Young Alumni Award

Susan Shu Chang (BA ’17) translated her undergraduate knack for econometrics to an impresseive career and range of expertise in machine learning and game development 

While she excelled in econometrics during her undergraduate studies at Waterloo, Susan Shu Chang soon established her expertise in applied machine learning and game development - the two main strands of her astonishing range of expertise in the tech space. Today, just four years since she graduated with her BA Hons, she is a Principal Data Scientist at Clearco, a finance-tech company that provides growth capital for online businesses. But that’s certainly not all: Susan is also the founder of Quill Game Studios , which creates narrative-focused games, selling 10-thousand copies of her debut game within six months of its release. Already sharing her deep knowledge and expertise, you can find Susan speaking internationally at conferences such as PyCon US , Red Hat Developer Day , Toronto Machine Learning Summit, and more.

Q and A with Susan Shu Chang, BA ’17

How do you connect the dots between your BA major in Economics and everything you do today? 

While studying Economics at UWaterloo, I did very well in Econometrics (basically applied statistics for economics), especially in fourth year. It turns out that the skills I learned in mathematical and statistical foundations were highly applicable to machine learning theory. In my latter years at Waterloo, I was part of the Velocity entrepreneurship residence, where I self-learned programming for the idea I had to start a video game studio. It turns out the skills I learned at Economics, plus the programming skills I picked up, were a perfect combination for the data science and machine learning field, which I joined after I completed my master’s degree.

Tell us about the hats you wear as Principal Data Scientist at Clearco as well as game developer and founder of Quill Game Studio - not to mention public speaking and career mentoring.

There are common threads with my many hats - both data science and game development are industries with no straightforward path to entry, but I’ve been able to figure things out as I go, despite not having the "traditionally expected" background. Time and energy management are essential to helping me succeed in all of these endeavors. To help people who are passionate about data science, game development, and career development, I write on my site Susanshu.com , and speak at various tech conferences to share my experiences.

Alongside game development, what fascinates you about machine learning?

I think it’s a fantastic field to be in since it touches so much of our day to day (who doesn’t use YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, Google, social media, etc., - which are all powered by machine learning). I really love how fast paced the machine learning field is, and all of the really driven folks I’ve had the honour to learn from. One thing I’d like to emphasize is that I fully believe that machine learning enables humans to do what we are uniquely equipped to do, but better. It frees up our attention from mundane tasks to tasks that make the most use of our creativity and imagination.


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