The Dual Life Of A Data Scientist And A Full-Time Student
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The Dual Life Of A Data Scientist And A Full-Time Student

A snapshot of my life in Giftpack & Chicago

Michael Setyawan

Michael Setyawan

May 18th 20227 min read

Daily Life As A Giftern -

A little bit about me 🇮🇩 🇺🇸

I’m Michael, I’m a graduate student (but graduating in a week from now 🤞🏼) at the University of Chicago pursuing Masters of Science in Analytics. I’m from Indonesia and I have been in the US for about 6 years now. I moved here right after finishing high school in Indonesia. I did my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. A whole different subject in a different industry space. It was quite a fun yet tedious process. I had to unlearn and learn new skills at the same time, which is also a skill itself. I utilized numerous online courses, books, and resources from friends in exploring this booming space of data science.

Finding Giftpack

At the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, I prepped as much as I could and do all the steps as advised in my search for an internship. I succeed in securing 2 offers for the summer of 2020. However, COVID-19 happened, and all my internship offers were canceled. This gave me anxiety at the beginning as I had to redo all the efforts again of seeking internships and start from 0. Nevertheless, I had to get back up on my feet. This time, I decided to expand my search, not only to look for internships within the traditional corporate companies but also with startups. This was the starting point of my journey with Giftpack.

How did I get into Giftpack?

I first found out about Giftpack in early May of 2020 through AngelList. I got lucky and Archer (our CEO) invited me for the first round of interviews. I’m going to skip the details here, but the process is similar for every Giftern position, a 4-stage interview with Archer, the department members, and the whole Giftpack team.

Fast forward, I clicked so much with Archer and the rest of Giftpack’s members so here I am currently. If you want to check the details, you can read the article written by one of my good partners in Giftpack, David Chen. One thing to note, Giftpack’s on-boarding process was personalized, easy to follow, and lets you catch up easily with all the information within the team.

One misconception I used to have about coders in a tech company, is that I thought they just code all the time and not work with that many people. It proved to be wrong as I need to coordinate and communicate with people inside and outside of my department at Giftpack.

How is Giftpack structured?

At Giftpack, I have 3 big meetings in a week in a fixed time slot.

  • Weekly Reunion: each department gives updates about their progress and everyone gets to share 1.5 minutes of what interesting things happened in their life the past week.

  • 30-minute daily department standup: each member reports their current progress.

  • Product meeting: where the designers and coders discuss the upcoming releases/updates for that week. As we’re still a startup, Archer tries his best to join every department meeting every day in order to be involved in the decision-making process and give feedback. If you’re curious about the structure or who else is in Giftpack, feel free to check our page at the Org!

Life in Chicago before and after Covid-19

Chicago is located in the heart of the Midwest, USA. In 3 words, I would describe it as genuine, radiating, and delicious! I’ve been living in this place for about 2 years now and I’m not tired of it at all.

Pre-COVID, Chicago was full of life. You can find every single kind of attraction in every corner of the city. From sightseeing, shopping, eating, working out, and even just relaxing, all options are available. Post-COVID, Chicago was still full of life but in a different way. You still see people in dog parks, running in the lakeshore, shopping at IKEA, etc. Things are still happening, just at a different pace and scale.

Those changes I’ve mentioned hit me hard at first. Adaptations require time. From working at a cafe every afternoon to set up the proper work-from-home (WFH) setup, workout independently instead of in groups/classes, and meeting my friends only once a week instead of 4–5 days a week. However, there is one good thing about this new “normal.” I became more grateful for my conditions and surroundings, bringing more internal happiness.

Daily Routine

Now let’s transition to what I actually do during a typical day. My daily routine changes depending on the season. I’ll share my routine during the winter and spring as it doesn’t change too much.

6 AM! 🌔💻

I normally wake up around 6 AM and then cook breakfast while listening to Clubhouse or Daily Snacks podcast. Afterward, I dress up a bit, plan my day using Notion, and be prepared by 8.

Pro tip: If you’re like me, dressing up during WFH, will increase your productivity by 10x. You don’t have to be fully dressed, but don’t dress as if you’re going to sleep or watch TV.

Then, I will have my meetings in Giftpack until around 10 AM. Meeting times vary depending on the need and day itself but I typically finish talking to everyone in Asia around that time as it will be midnight for them. Afterward, I will start doing the actual work and code until lunchtime.

Noon! 🍜🍱☕️

As a sports enthusiast, I try my best to do meal preps, as it’s easier to control my macros (Carbs, Proteins & Fats) intake when I cook the food myself. However, in reality, sometimes I need to keep the work momentum going and just order takeout. Post-lunch, I often go to coffee shops as it is the hardest time slot for me to stay awake with a belly full of food. In there, I spend 2–3 hours catching up on assignments for school and zoom discussions with my classmates for projects. Then, I used the remainder of my free time for self-development, such as side-projects, coding practice, and learning new topics/skills in the field of AI.

5 PM-😴)! 🏃🏻🥋 ⌛

To finish my day, I will do what I love the most, martial arts. I’ve been doing martial arts for about 15 years of my life now, starting from Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and now Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, if my schedule doesn’t allow it, I’ll substitute with running, preferably with my friends. Finally, after dinner and before ending the day, I check Slack for upcoming schedules and updates as Giftpack’s members work remotely in different timezones.

Why the last check? There might need to be a meeting to discuss work/code as it will be daytime in Asia. Also, sometimes bonding activities work better during this time, due to the timezone of the other members. Don’t underestimate the effect of team bonding even if it’s remote! The closer and better you know your teammates, the easier communication will be hence increasing productivity. Last but not least, I often utilize the last hour before sleep (when I’m not that tired 😅) to read books about personal development or finance.

How do I keep up with social life both in Giftpack and outside of it?

In Giftpack, we use Slack, and in it, we have an add-on called Donut 🍩. It will basically match you up with someone random at Giftpack every week to have a 30-minute coffee chat session. 3 reasons why I love it:

  1. It checks your calendar for you so doesn’t require extra effort from your end.

  2. You can easily opt-out of it if you don’t feel like talking to anyone that week.

  3. You’ll get a chance to meet everyone in the company without having to think of an ice breaker to start the chat.

Outside of Giftpack, I do my best to have a catch-up session (virtual & in-person) with both my friends here in the US and in Indonesia. As COVID-19 proved to be a limiting factor, I still find ways to entertain our sessions such as riding bikes together, game nights using Zoom, and the latest one, hosting a talk on Clubhouse! 🙉

Lessons learned from Giftpack

At Giftpack, I work mostly on the AI side for our business-to-business service. Supporting the development of our recommendation algorithm is currently my task. Throughout my time at Giftpack, not only I picked up new topics in data science, but also some good habits of software engineering, how to utilize GCP (Google Cloud Platform), and handle data pipelines. However, in a startup setting, even though your roles are already set, it’s often the case that there will be other opportunities to learn and volunteer in other departments. So I also got a chance to interview people (which will not happen if you just started working in traditional companies), pitch ideas for Giftpack’s development, and write articles like this!

I know my path to Giftpack was unplanned at first, but I don’t regret this decision as I met wonderful people, learned new topics that I will never learn in class, and helped build new products. I believe every young person should experience working in a startup environment. It teaches you perseverance, humility, and most importantly, how to learn.

Whether this article enticed you to work in a startup or not, I want to recommend to you a very good book that has kept me disciplined through this pandemic: Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Not only it has helped me in breaking the bad habits I accumulated in the past, but also changed my view on work, life, and networking. If you’re still reading up until this point, you should probably learn more about Giftpack and apply to work with us!

Final remarks

Fun colleagues, endless learning, a fast-paced environment, and dynamic meetings are the factors that serve as my driving force for my work in Giftpack. Becoming a Giftern was one of the best decisions I have made. I am excited to see more people applying and become members of our team to grow Giftpack together!

Michael Setyawan

Michael Setyawan

May 18th 20227 min read

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