Our new “Lab Chat” guest is Panagiotis Samartzis. Panos is Greek. He is one of the company’s longest serving employees and has been involved in a very diverse range of work from developing an asset management tool for Northern Powergrid to more recently figuring out what are the best machine learning algorithms to apply to understand UK household Water Consumption better.
Panos is a type that combines an Engineering brain (coming from a Mechanical Engineering and Computational Fluid Dynamics education) with an artistic heart. In our chat Panos talks about his passion for learning, including taking up unusual hobbies during the lock down, such as creating flowerpots from concrete.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
There are a lot of things that I enjoy, such as problem solving and continuous learning and development aspect of our work, the flexibility it provides as well as the client facing part of it. I would say though that the great working environment that we have is what I enjoy most. Collaborating with my very talented colleagues, being able to experiment and learn from them is a very rewarding experience. Sometimes it resembles working on a Uni project with classmates a bit, sharing accountability and trying to help and learn from each other, something that I find very fulfilling.
What would be your dream project to work on?
There are several projects I would really love to work on, and they would be in fields I enjoy learning about. My first degree is in Mechanical Engineering with a dissertation in Computational Fluid Dynamics, so working on engineering related projects is always nice. However, I would be very interested in working on a project that has an artistic element to it, such as music or maybe art. While I suppose these industries do not really use operational research and machine learning techniques that much, I would love to be involved in such a project.
What is the best advice you’ve been given in your career?
“Try and find a role that you love and a team you enjoy being a part of.” It probably sounds a bit of a cliché, and for this reason I did not realise how important it was when I first heard it. My experience has shown that this is very sound advice that everyone needs to follow. Working for about 40 hours a week for many years to come is too long to spend in a job you do not get fulfilment from. On top of that, working as part of a team that shares the same mindset and a company that enables a relaxed yet hard-working environment will make the working days much more enjoyable and frictionless.
What industry or technical challenges intrigue you the most?
All new technical challenges are intriguing and modelling a real-life situation is always interesting. I would say I enjoy working in data science projects most as I really like the iterative process of going through the Machine Learning cycle repeatedly until the desired performance is achieved. Depending on the task at hand, this is often accompanied with some literature review of recent research papers and followed by the deployment and maintenance of a live model. It makes the whole project lifecycle very interesting and all-encompassing.
What is the biggest and proudest moment you had at Decision Lab?
There are a few, but I would select the latest one, where we received feedback from a client [South East Water Household], expressing their satisfaction with a model we built for them about a year and a half ago, as it proved to be very helpful in providing them valuable insights to guarantee uninterrupted operations during the pandemic. They were happy that the model was able to ‘pass the test’ in an unforeseen and extreme real-life scenario. For this reason, they requested to go ahead with a future phase to expand and productise it – that news was very pleasing.
You’re one of the longest serving employees. How have you seen the company changed?
Decision Lab has changed massively since the first days I worked in the company. Back then there was a core of 5-6 people, doing optimisation and simulation work for a limited number of industries – water, utilities and aerospace. Over the last few years, the team has expanded to include about 15 very talented people, having a varied set of skills.
We have expanded into data science, deep reinforcement learning as well as software development in addition to the core optimisation and simulation fields, often combining them. We now provide services in a much more diverse number of industries, such as infrastructure, defence, and security among others. Furthermore, the company’s reputation has increased along with its experience and size, by winning awards and being named in the Financial Times list of top UK tech consultancies for the second year in a row.
How has your work changed over the years?
Over the past few years, I have been able to extent my knowledge in a variety of different fields, such as data science, deep learning as well as things like GIS, time series analysis and software development.
Along with that, the experience of working with clients since the first couple of months of my employment, has helped expand my interpersonal, organisational and communication skill sets considerably as well.
What are the key work and life insights did you are take into the 2021?
It is true that 2020 was a very strange year, due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and this has resulted in massive changes in our personal and professional lives. On the other hand, the lockdown has increased our free time somewhat and so I realised I had the opportunity to find time to do things I always wanted to, such as playing music, doing some online courses and taking up DIY. I recently created a couple of flowerpots made of concrete, which was an interesting thing to learn! This reinforced to me the idea of the importance of having a good work/life balance to be able to be happy and motivated.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I cannot wait for the lockdown to finish and be able to do all the things I enjoy, such as meeting up with friends, travelling and going out in general. Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet up with my colleagues in person as well soon. At the same time, I am trying to add the hobbies I started in my weekly routines, so I can still find the time to work on them when things go back to normal.