Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
5–7 May, 2015 • London, UK

The curiosity advantage: the most important skill for data science

Oana Calugar (AliveShoes )
11:45–12:25 Thursday, 7/05/2015
Business & Industry
Location: Blenheim Room - Palace Suite
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 3 ratings)
Slides:   1-PDF 

Prerequisite Knowledge

The audience should be open minded, non-judgemental and willing to develop their soft skills.


When you search online for ‘What makes a good data scientist’, you’ll find articles like: “Six qualities of a great data scientist” (Datascope Analytics, 2014), “Most Important Trait For a Data Scientist? Curiosity” (Advertising Age, 2013), “Get the Right Data Scientists Asking the ‘Wrong’ Questions” (Harvard Business Review, 2014).

What all these articles emphasize is one of the most important skills for people working with data, curiosity. “Fundamentally, what sets a great data scientist apart is fierce curiosity – it’s the X factor. You can teach the math and the analytical tools, but not the tenacity to experiment and keep working to arrive at the best question – which is virtually never the one you started out with.” (Harvard Business Review, 2014).

Yet you find courses for math, analytics, and programming, but hardly any training for curiosity. Let’s develop our curiosity with three short exercises in the session, and take them home and to our work:

Find pleasure in uncertainty: New and uncertain activities make people happier and create more meaning than familiar routines. We’ll re-train our brain to benefit from the pleasures of surprise and uncertainty. Living a life of curiosity is not about ignoring risk and anxiety. It’s about being willing to do what we value, even in the face of risk and anxiety.

To question the question we’re asking, we will:

  • Step back
  • Notice what others miss
  • Challenge assumptions (including our own)
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the situation or problem at hand, through contextual inquiry
  • Take ownership of a particular question

Beginner’s mind: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

We’ll do a 4 minute mindfulness exercise to rediscover our beginner’s mind.

Growing our curiosity will not only help us in our work, but also in our personal life. Being curious is about recognizing novelty and seizing the pleasures and meaning they offer us. With our new curiosity, we will explore, discover, and grow.

Photo of Oana Calugar

Oana Calugar


Oana Calugar is the head of Customer Support for AliveShoes, focused on extracting and using customer support insights to create better products. AliveShoes is the world’s first independent shoemaking community that helps people design and sell their own shoes. In this role Oana leads the company’s customer support and designer community efforts, overseeing a team of three junior customer support and community support managers. Oana built AliveShoes’ first world-class customer support team from the ground up. AliveShoes empowers 1200+ shoemakers worldwide from 120+ different countries. Oana always finds it rewarding to connect to and open the doors of Italian shoe design to people from all continents.

Before joining AliveShoes, Oana worked with and built customer support teams for startups from the US and Romania – Weebly and Trip Journal – and was lucky enough to support clients from all over the world, from such fascinating fields as mobile applications and online web-hosting services.

Oana has worn many hats in her life – marketer, sales manager, communicator, mentor, advisor, entrepreneur, and mother. As a result, she has the ability to manage multi-disciplinary projects and is passionate about solving complex challenges.

In the past year Oana rediscovered her passion for data-driven decisions and curiosity for analytics and data storytelling. Her science mind is often creating experiments to test and validate this data. Oana’s mission is to help people understand how beautiful data is and how people can harness data for social good.


Customer Support and Community Management
Data Storytelling and Data Analytics
Experiment Design
Presenting and Selling Ideas and Pitching
Lean Startup and Customer Development
Meditation and Mindfulness