Eight Questions w/ Dat Tran

Dat Tran is Head of Artificial Intelligence at Axel Springer Ideas Engineering, the innovation unit of Axel Springer SE, which is the largest digital publishing house in Europe. He established and leads Axel Springer AI to make AI more accessible within Axel Springer and drive innovations within the group. The AI unit also delivers end-to-end machine learning projects and conducts state-of-the-art AI research.

Prior Dat worked at idealo.de, Pivotal Labs and Accenture. His expertise spans traditional machine learning, deep learning, AI in general to computer vision with experiences from devising realistic data-driven use cases to the actual implementation into a real product. He regularly blogs about his work and speaks at conferences such as PyData.

Dat studied at Business Administration at Humboldt University of Berlin and the Berlin School of Economics and Law.

> What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself that work is important but not everything. When I was younger, a career meant the world to me. I didn’t care much about family and friends. Unfortunately, at that time my grandma and grandpa died. Looking back, I really regretted it that I didn’t spend much time with them.

> What experience shaped who you are?

There are three stations in my life that kind of shaped me. First, I started to work very early in my family’s business. Early on, I had to take responsibility and also learnt how to carry my point. This was not always easy especially when you were the youngest in the room against older Vietnamese people with a quite old-fashioned mindset. My second station were my internships in Investment Banking. Through my brother-in-law’s friend, I got interested in that area after high school. During my undergraduate, I was able to intern at major banks like Deutsche Bank and Jefferies. Although I learnt a lot, I realized that banking was something I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. My last station was my postgraduate studies. After realizing that banking wasn’t for me, I was really clueless what to do. Luckily, I went back to school and did an Operations Research (OR) course under Prof. Dr. Kurt Helmes and Prof. Dr. Andreas Brandt. Through this, I also kind of got interested in Machine Learning (ML) because ML shares a lot of similar topics with OR.

> What is your favourite book?

I don’t have a particular favorite book. I have so many. If I had to choose it would be Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They use economic theory on really interesting real-life topics.

> What small changes have made a difference in your life?

There are a couple of small changes that have made a difference in my life. Here are some examples of my little changes:

Eat healthier and exercise more

These days, I try to eat healthier and exercise more which means less to no sugar or even no alcohol. To be honest, I was never chubby but always felt that I ate too much trashy food. In fact, due to my past job as a consultant and also now I’m travelling a lot and it can happen that you sometimes eat a burger or have a drink too much.

Become calmer and less hot-headed about small things

When I was working in my family’s restaurant, I was really hot-headed and got upset about small things. I even got angry at my parents for not doing things properly. Over time, I realized that this is not a nice behavior and making the people around me uncomfortable. I decided to change this step-by-step. One thing that helped me a lot was to do more sports. This really helped to reduce my hot temper.

Listen even when you want to talk

I love to talk and in fact, I love to talk about myself a lot instead of listening. The problem though is that this is not a good thing. For example, in my past relationships, my partner didn’t feel appreciated enough or also at work, my colleagues and my employees didn’t feel that either. Listening is, however, one of the most powerful skills to build proper relationships and gaining trust. These days I try to give my full attention to the person I’m talking to instead of thinking what I want to say next. People really appreciate it.

Spend more money and think less about this

I’m usually very thrifty about money. In fact, my life motto is always to earn more than what you spend. Sometimes this can cause quite a big headache especially when you compare different products too much until you’re comfortable with the price and also quality. These days I tend to do this much less. I still do price comparisons but only for large expenditures.

> What invention do you hope to see in your lifetime?

Teleportation would be nice then we can travel instantaneously but seriously I hope that we can find a better alternative to nuclear power so that we can solve our energy problem in the near future. This is what I would wish to see within my lifetime.

> What is a lesson you learned the hard way?

When I grew up, my parents always told me that in order to be successful you need to be hard-working and also smart. Over the course of my career, I realized that these qualities are not just enough but in order to progress in the corporate world, you need to be likeable. I learned this during my first job because people who worked hard and were smart didn't get promoted very quickly compared to those that management liked more as a person. Rather, sympathy plays an important role in this.

> What changes do you hope to see for Vietnam?

Vietnam is a young country with a lot of potential. It’s still poor overall so I hope that Vietnam will invest a lot in technology because this can help them to spur growth and also increase GDP. China is the best example for such a case. They managed to transform from a third-world country into one of the richest countries in the world in a short amount of time due to their focus on technology.

Bonus > What is your favorite Vietnamese dish?

Growing up with a Vietnamese mum, I was lucky to enjoy Vietnamese food every day so it’s really hard for me to have only one favorite Vietnamese dish. If I had to choose one though, it would be Bun Cha. Although I’m not a big fan of pork, I really love the combination of the grilled pork over the rice noodles with fresh herbs, pickled vegetables and the fish sauce.


> Website: https://dat-tran.com

> LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/dat-tran-a1602320/