Mendoza School of Business

From Numbers to Narratives

Explore the transformative path of a mathematics enthusiast finding his niche in data analytics

Author: Angela Sienko

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Ashwin Bala (MSBA ’22) has always been fascinated by numbers. When he enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) in 2014, he majored in mathematics with a concentration in statistics and a minor in business finance. When he graduated in 2018, he accepted a position as a financial analyst. However, it didn’t take long for him to realize he wasn’t fully invested in the world of finance.

Ashwin Bala (MSBA ’22)

“I found myself at a crossroads,” Ashwin said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career, so I returned home to India for a little soul-searching.”

While in India, Ashwin made a pivotal decision to focus on the data analytics space, where he first worked as a data analyst at a behavior lab and then as a data consultant at a startup. These roles allowed him to leverage his mathematical background to derive meaningful insights from complex datasets, ultimately driving impactful decisions for the companies he worked with.

“That’s when I realized my passion wasn’t just about numbers; it was about using those numbers to tell stories,” Ashwin said. “I really enjoyed using different tools to provide visualizations, connecting results to the numbers, and trying to paint a story with numbers.”

Being involved with data analytics was a thrill for Ashwin. He felt he was able to impact the companies for which he worked. Still, a large part of Ashwin wanted to move back to the United States. He also wanted to get formal training in business analytics.

“I already have a background in analytics, but I needed to strengthen my business acumen to be more effective and impactful,” Ashwin said. That’s when he discovered the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program at Notre Dame.

“There were two things that really stood out to me when I applied to Notre Dame’s MSBA program,” Ashwin said. “Notre Dame was the only school that asked me for a presentation about myself as part of the application process, and I thought that was really cool. It made my experience personal; it gave me a chance to demonstrate that I’m more than just my test scores and résumé.”

The second thing that stood out for Ashwin was the different options available in the program – more specifically, the sports analytics elective. “I’m a big sports fan, so sports analytics is something I’ve always been interested in,” he said. “Learning sports analytics at Notre Dame, which has a long tradition of athletic excellence in college sports, was a big selling point for me. Plus, I knew Notre Dame would provide a lot of value for me in my career in the long run.”

Before enrolling at Notre Dame, Ashwin had never been a part of cohort-based education, “Students were pretty much on their own,” he explained. “You’re just one in a sea of many individuals.” As part of the MSBA program, however, he enjoyed bonding with his classmates over shared experiences, like issues with a particular class or studying together for exams.

“My cohort was like a huge family that I got to be a part of for 10 months,” Ashwin said. “And that doesn’t stop at graduation; I have developed some extremely close, long-lasting friendships because of that experience.”

Ashwin entered the MSBA program expecting to learn a lot from his professors and wasn’t disappointed. He especially appreciated the connections he formed with the MSBA program’s academic directors, Associate Teaching Professor Seth Berry and Associate Teaching Professor Sharif Nijim.

“I gained as much insight from their personalities as from their lectures,” Ashwin said. “Whether it was during office hours or casual conversations, there was always an open exchange. I leaned on their guidance extensively, especially when it came to shaping my career path. They provided invaluable clarity of thought, one of the most significant lessons I took away from the program.”

Of all the courses Ashwin took during the 10-month program, there were two that stood out the most: Machine Learning and Data Management in SQL. Machine learning introduces students to the process of performing high-valued analytics with unstructured and semi-structured data to support business decisions – something they will use to solve real-world problems. Data Management in SQL, teaches students how to understand, create, and change relational databases – an essential part of business analytics – using a programming language called Structured Query Language (SQL).

“I absolutely loved my machine learning course with Assistant Teaching Professor Martin Barron,” Ashwin said. “And it wasn’t just the topic that made it so interesting; it was him. I enjoyed my conversations with him, especially when he talked about his experiences. He came from the corporate world before teaching, and he gave me a lot of perspective on the different career paths out there. He was very inspirational, and I still reach out to him occasionally for help or advice.”

Professor Nijim taught the SQL course: “Professor Nijim made a point to talk about this constantly, always asking ‘how can this be applied?’” Ashwin said. “He always spoke about the broader data management issues and the data integrity. He even dedicated an entire week to teaching us why this is important. He wasn’t just teaching this as theory; he was preparing us to be successful in our careers.”

In addition to the classes and faculty, Ashwin said one of his biggest highlights of the program was participating in the Pro Basketball Negotiation Competition held at Tulane Law School. The annual competition predominantly attracts law students and focuses on negotiating player contracts. Participating teams are given certain objectives and scored based on many factors, including negotiation strategy, knowledge of the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the quality of the agreed-upon deal.

“My team had a slightly different makeup than most teams,” Ashwin said. “An MSBA classmate and I joined forces with a Notre Dame Law student to enter. We combined our skill sets and came up with a pretty unique strategy.”

That strategy involved taking an analytical approach to the contract values of the players in the NBA and the team’s cap space – the total amount of money an NBA team can spend on their players.

“Our teammate from the Law School gave us the law background and led the negotiation portion of the competition,” Ashwin said. “Our initial round consisted of an online negotiation where we provided graphs and analysis to support a negotiation, using the lessons we learned in our Data Visualization and Data Storytelling courses.”

The approach impressed the judges, and Ashwin’s team took second place out of 30 competitors.

Equipped with a robust skill set and a newfound sense of purpose, Ashwin joined Deloitte in Chicago as a consultant, utilizing his data management expertise to drive financial transformations for billion-dollar companies. He attributes much of his success to the practical training and real-world simulations he experienced during his time at Notre Dame, both of which prepared him for the challenges of the corporate world.

Looking back, Ashwin acknowledges the pivotal role that Notre Dame played in shaping his career trajectory. From honing his technical skills to fostering a collaborative learning environment, the MSBA program provided him with the tools and confidence to excel in the competitive field of business analytics.

Learn more about how the Notre Dame MSBA can propel your career forward.

Mendoza School of Business