Humans of Fung: Miguel Fernández-Montes Cuberta, MEng ’20 (IEOR)

On his capstone experience and how it influenced his data science career at PayPal.

Miguel Fernández-Montes Cuberta is a recent Berkeley MEng graduate who studied Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. Here, Miguel speaks about his capstone experience and how teamwork and leadership helped him become a better communicator within academics, the job search, and his Data Scientist role at PayPal.

Can you share what your capstone project was about? What was your role within your capstone team?

My capstone project, which was titled AI for Urbanism: Description and analysis of outdoor spaces in urban areas, was about the application of data science to urban planning and design, which I found fascinating. Our team focused on feature extraction and unsupervised learning on outdoor spaces in mid-size urban projects. This was an industry-partner capstone, done in collaboration with Spacemaker AI, a real estate tech start-up. The inspiration for our work was tightly connected to Spacemaker’s AI-powered software.

As for my role, officially I was Team Lead, although my team had a very flexible organization and we all wore many hats. On the technical side of things, I mainly worked on data engineering (basically configuring all the bits and pieces to get the data we needed), as well as data analysis.

How did your capstone experience prepare you for your current role?

The capstone gave me exposure to some of the tools that are widely used in the industry, some of which I am currently working with in my Data Scientist role at PayPal. Given that we had an industry partner, the project also gave me the chance to see how a tech company organizes its code and data.

On the leadership front, this project was a great opportunity to learn how to interact with various stakeholders in a data science project. I think this capstone was particularly interesting from that perspective since we had to deliver results for very different audiencesnamely, the Fung Institute, our industry advisors, and the broader Spacemaker team. In my current role, I experience this interaction with a variety of stakeholders nearly every day.

How has your capstone experience inspired or influenced your future career goals and aspirations?

I chose my capstone project based on my already defined career interest in data science so, more than anything, the capstone was a chance to get a feel for what data science in the industry feels like before actually entering the field after graduation.

That said, even within data science there are several roles that are actually quite different from each other. The capstone gave me some idea of how some of those roles differ, helping me polish my career aspirations. Beyond that, thanks to the capstone experience, I learned more about how I work within a team and the type of team dynamic that I felt most productive in. During my job search, this helped me a lot to have more fruitful conversations with hiring managers regarding company culture and team fit.

“The intensity of the MEng in all of its dimensions: leadership curriculum, technical electives, capstone project and career development, really put my time management abilities to the test and taught me the importance of prioritizing consciously and responsibly.”

How has MEng prepared you for leadership?

The MEng has prepared me for leadership in the professional world in several ways. If I had to highlight one of them it would be learning to manage priorities and expectations.

In many situations, whether it is the capstone project, a class assignment or some of my work at my current role, there will likely be more to-do’s than resources available. I have learned that it is essential to, first, have an understanding of the value that each task will bring, second, be willing to prioritize based on it, and third, communicate to your team accordingly.

Before the MEng, I found myself over-committing to certain project results and investing disproportionate amounts of effort on tasks with relatively low impact. The intensity of the MEng in all of its dimensions: leadership curriculum, technical electives, capstone project and career development, really put my time management abilities to the test and taught me the importance of prioritizing consciously and responsibly. Later on, in my professional journey, I have found that this is a key leadership skill.

How did working with a capstone team help prepare you for professional engineering environments?

Working as part of a team for almost nine months helped me hone my communication and team management skills, which are obviously essential in any professional environment. I also saw first-hand that not everyone has the same priorities and that it is key to be aware of that when undertaking any project.

Finally, one really valuable thing that I learned is how fruitful “working” meetings are, as opposed to just “update” meetings. My team and I used to allot some time during which we would get together and work on the capstone. Sometimes the work would be more individual and some other times more collaborative, but the main point was that we committed to put certain hours into the project. This approach made all of us more productive and also served as a team-building activity. I can see clear connections between this and the benefits from working in the same space as some of my colleagues, something which hopefully will happen soon once we return to office.

Did connections made within the MEng program help you launch or accelerate in your current career?

Yes, definitely. First and foremost, some of the connections made in the MEng and in the broader Berkeley community helped me find job opportunities directly. For someone new to the US job market, this was very valuable and it allowed me to learn more about career development and the job hunt process.

Beyond that, however, just sharing my day-to-day with a cohort of really smart people who are advancing their career inspired me to do the same and to, in a way, imitate what my peers were doing in terms of networking and career development. In many ways, I arrived at my current role thanks to the career acceleration that started the moment I set foot in Berkeley.

How did your industry partner influence your career goals?

Our capstone industry partner, Spacemaker AI, is a deeply data-driven and scientifically-minded company. Seeing some of the data science concepts I learned in school (including during the MEng) in action reaffirmed my intentions to pursue a data science career in tech.

On top of that, the conversations my team and I had with the experienced professionals from our partner also made me realize that mentorship is key for professional development and that after graduating from Berkeley I would like to find a job in which I can learn from my peers and seniors.

Connect with Miguel Fernández-Montes Cuberta.

Edited by Ella Rochelle-Lawton.

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Berkeley Master of Engineering

Berkeley Master of Engineering

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.