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University of Michigan School of Information


Faces of UMSI: David Hernandez

MADS student David Hernandez poses standing next to a bicycle in a city center during daytime.

“It is fascinating, the power of data science and the things you can build with it,” says MADS student David Hernandez. The algorithm development engineer knows a thing or two about building powerful things. In his work with ZF Group, an automotive supplier specializing in chassis and vehicle dynamics, he has contributed to the design of the F150 and the long-awaited comeback of the Bronco. 

“I am a mechatronics engineer,” David says, “and most of my professional career has been in the auto industry. About two years ago, I realized that I needed to learn how to program and decided to enroll in different programming courses until I found Dr. Chuck’s Python for Everybody. Then the MADS program was advertised to me and I decided to give it a try.” 

David says after he first encountered data science through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Python for Everybody, he saw the field clearly overlapped with what he was doing at work. 

“There are problems that cannot be solved through traditional methods,” David says, “and they require the help of data science, where a different approach can be applied while improving results.” 

For example, as the numbers of autonomous vehicles on the road increase, David says, data scientists will inevitably have to help make sense of the massive amounts of information they generate. 

“Where a single vehicle can generate over 40TB of data in just a couple of hours, data science can help here by analyzing and making decisions where manual processing and traditional solutions are not going to be able to keep up,” David says. 

Coming from an engineering background, David says he expected other students in the MADS program to be computer science types. Instead, he was pleased to discover his peers had diverse backgrounds in areas like art, finance and law. 

“It was a nice surprise to see people from all backgrounds and from everywhere in the world,” says David, who comes from Mexico City and is now established in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “That gives the program a good perspective to learn from others how they are planning to use data science.”

If the MADS program’s student body is a departure from David’s expectations, its interactive model is a far cry from what he’s become accustomed to through more impersonal MOOCs. 

“I was a part of Coursera in the early years,” David says. “My first MOOC was probably 2013. I really enjoyed those courses, but I always thought they lacked interaction with the professor or with other students.” 

That’s one of the great benefits of the MADS program, he says: “We have the professors available to us one Slack message away. Also, the interaction with other students is great.” 

David says his biggest chance to collaborate with other MADS students so far has been the Milestone I course. Now that he’s on his way toward Milestone II and his capstone, David says he’s excited to develop a project where he and his team can implement more advanced tools. 

He’s already implementing some of those tools on his own to make his life “ten times easier” at work. 

“At work we were able to incorporate a neural network to predict fluid displacement, and our accuracy improved considerably,” David says. “We are able to deliver a better product with great performance.” 

So the MADS program has already benefited David at work, but how does he balance school with his career and home life? 

At two classes a month, David says every day is a “good mix” of work plus both classes. 

“I try to work as much as possible during weekdays to have the weekends off,” he says. “Working from home has been a blessing because I can study instead of commuting, and also doing the master’s during the pandemic has kept me busy during lockdown.” 

David plans to graduate from the MADS program in December 2021.