Name: Arshia Sharma
Major: Computer Science
Chapman Undergraduate Involvement: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at Chapman, Fowler School of Engineering (FSE) Student Outreach & Recruiting Liaison, Student Tutor, and FSE 2022 Commencement Speaker
The Walt Disney Company—as one of Chapman University’s Top Employers of 2023—attracts Chapman students who dream big and hope to create magic within their communities and career spaces, whether it be just five miles from campus at Disneyland Park or at one of their many workplaces all around the United States. For Fowler alumnus Arshia Sharma, this meant transforming her undergraduate summer internship as a Data Scientist at Disney into a fully-realized career path following her graduation in 2022.
As part of our Alumni April series, we met with Sharma to learn more about how her previous skills and experiences—both at Disney and Chapman—have helped her bring Disney magic to life, shaping the future of entertainment and audience experience through data science.
Q&A With Arshia Sharma
Q: What do your day-to-day operations look like as a Data Scientist for the Walt Disney Company?
Sharma: It all depends! On Mondays, we always have our team weekly meeting where we touch base and discuss what’s going on. My team is very individualistic—most of us are working on projects that are not interrelated—so Monday mornings and some other team meetings are there for us to help other people with any roadblocks that they’re facing.
Other than that, if our stakeholders have Quality Assurance (QA) questions or are running into any Structured Query Language (SQL) or Python issues, I’m there to help. We have a lot of entertainment and ESPN forecasts, so if they have any questions such as, “what do we think, would this movie perform highly on this network?” we would run that forecast. If I don’t get any QA questions from a meeting, I’m working on an app. Every day is different and depends on what requests are coming in.
Q: What are some experiences during your undergrad years that you believe have helped you attain and thrive in your current role, such as past internships or classes?
Sharma: All of the above! I started working at Disney as an intern in the summer between my junior and senior years and carried on that internship for the whole year. Then, I converted to full-time in the same position.
CPSC 230: Computer Science I was a vital class because my job is about 95% Python, I use it almost every day. Knowing how to use Excel and PivotTables from my business analytics classes has become useful too. CPSC 480: Database Management was definitely the most important for me at the time because I was taking that class while I was interviewing for Disney. CPSC 350: Data Structures and Algorithms was, of course, also huge!
These classes were super important during the application period because I was a Computer Science major applying for a data science job. The first question the recruiter asked me was “Why are you doing this considering that your internship experiences are more software engineering-related?” Focusing on my data science classes and emphasizing how you can’t do data science anymore without having a very strong computer science background got my foot in the door.
Q: What advice would you give to Fowler students currently searching for similar job opportunities?
Sharma: Prep for your interview and come up with creative questions to ask both your recruiter and the person who conducts your second round of interviews. For Disney, they look out for those questions you’re asking them; if you make your questions really creative, your interviewers will catch onto that. I’ve conducted an interview for my team already and the main thing I was looking for was what questions the applicant was asking us to see how well they would merge with the team. What does the team do? How big is the team? How does the team culture work? All of those questions are very important.
Q: What are the top three most important technical or people skills you would recommend students work on as they prepare for life after college?
Sharma: Stay up to date with recent trends, communicate well, and try something new. First, keep up to date with all of the skills you’ve learned. With Python, for example, the packages are always updating and the methodologies continue changing; what I learned five years ago has definitely changed. Being able to keep up with recent trends is probably the most important skill.
Communication is also very important to your stakeholders! When I explain the app I’m working on within my stakeholder group, there’s a fine line you have to walk between simply explaining ideas and conveying the importance of what you’re working on. Knowing how to communicate effectively is key.
You also never know which resources and skills you will randomly need, so do as much as you can and try new things—make a website, that was really helpful for me. I’m a data scientist making an app, that’s not usually supposed to happen, but I worked on a website for a school project and now I’m here. Websites are the most user-friendly and when you get people to use them, you can see the work that you put in in real time.
Q: What have you found most enjoyable about your position?
Sharma: I like the flexibility I have within my job and my boss is a person who allows us to work on creative tasks. When you talk to someone in data science, you expect them to just build models, but that’s not what I do. I appreciate the flexibility, balance, and different creative projects that I have in my job. It’s always interesting and I never get bored!
Sharma would also like to offer special thanks to Adena Hamlin, Kate Corcoran, Lauren Henderson, and Andrew Lyon, a stellar team that made her Chapman experience magical. Those looking to take advantage of career resources are recommended to check out the official FSE career page or reach out to FSE’s Career Specialist, Samuel Lee.