Emi grounds her life and future in data science
Director of Data Science
Jawbone is a fun place to be a data scientist. I love that I never exactly know what I’ll be doing on any given day. I come to work excited to find out what new problem needs to be solved.
“I’m really compelled by intellectual challenges, and I love learning new ways to explore data,” says Emi Nomura, Director of Data Science at Jawbone. “Smart Coach has evolved over the years, from generic pieces of health education to a very personalized experience grounded in data. Now it even notices if you’ve been traveling recently and helps get you back on schedule. It’s rewarding to me to be part of that effort.”
Long before she had career aspirations to be a data scientist, Emi spent a productive decade and a half learning skills that would ultimately prepare her in her future role at Jawbone. After receiving her PhD in Neuroscience at Northwestern University in Chicago, Emi went on to University of California, Berkeley. There she had the invaluable and sobering opportunity to perform post-doctoral research with patients who suffered traumatic brain injuries. “It was a very tragic population I was working with, but it’s very valuable to science to see what happens to the brain in the recovery phase after sustaining an injury,” Emi explains. “Consider the brain like a network. You have lots of individual nodes connected together in configurations in a healthy brain, but when you remove some of those nodes in a damaged brain it creates different patterns. This results in a variety of different deficits for the patient. I was very interested in modeling those deficits and predicting them ahead of time in a healthy individual. This research involved a whole lot of programing, statistics and data analysis—which I realized, ultimately drives me.”
After some soul searching, Emi decided to change her trajectory toward a career in data science. “After four years of working in an academic environment, I realized what I actually wanted to pursue wasn’t teaching and researching in an academic setting, but rather, I wanted the opportunity to apply my data skills in a totally different way that helps people. That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and my chapter with Jawbone.”
Passionate about data and athleticism, Emi was drawn to Jawbone as a customer first. She purchased her first UP® band six months before joining the company. “I’ve always been an athlete, a runner, a gymnast,” explains Emi happily. “As a data person, I saw things in my own UP feed that I wanted to understand more, like the relationship between my sleep and my steps the next day. The App at the time didn’t have all the insights I wanted out of it, but I could see how much potential there was, and I wanted to get in there and contribute from the other side,” she explains.
Emi joined Jawbone in 2013, harnessing the opportunity to turn her vision of what the UP® app could be into reality. There Emi met Brian Wilt (pictured above), a fellow data scientist who would soon become a colleague and close friend to Emi.
Brian recalls his first meeting with Emi fondly: “I just remember Emi being so different from all the people I ever worked with,” says Brian with a big smile. “From a technical perspective, watching Emi operate and drive a product through based on her vision was really inspiring—especially her ability to get the product out while bringing people together. When I joined the company, we didn’t even have a database. Emi and I built that together, and during the time I was with the company, we made the data science team at Jawbone world-class. That’s something we can be proud of.”
Emi agrees wholeheartedly. “From the time we started to now, the App is completely refreshed. The insight system in particular has expanded and is so much more personalized,” says Emi with a big smile. “New signals and features have made the data much more rich. UP, to me, is the ultimate data scientist. It’s seeing everything you’re doing—how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating. It’s looking at that behavior over time, telling you when you’re falling off your good habits or pushing you even further when you’re on a roll. It celebrates with you, and on tough days, it has a lot of empathy. It’s really inspiring to be a part of that.”
Emi now leads the data team at Jawbone, a job she finds uniquely rewarding. “Jawbone is a fun place to be a data scientist. I come to work excited to find out what new problem needs to be solved, “ she explains. “Our main mission on the data team is to bring some of these interesting insights we see in the data back to the UP community, whether it’s through Smart Coach, or on our Jawbone blog as a data story. On a day by-day basis, I spend most of my time communicating with different teams across the company, bringing together all of the different ideas, and ensuring those ideas are grounded in data.”
At times, managing all of the ins and the outs of a dynamic team with a vital mission can be challenging, but Emi tries to take it in stride. “I’ve always been a high achieving person, and I love having goals and achieving them,” she admits candidly. “In recent years, I’ve tried to take on things that are more challenging for me, and I’ve had to accept I won’t succeed in everything I try. I’ve had to learn it’s OK to fail, and it’s more important to have balance.”
Emi has found the balance through a long-time passion of hers—running. “Running for me has always been a stress management tool,” she explains. “It’s a time when I can go outside and forget about what’s going on in my life. I can either think about things, or not, and it’s a nice escape. Sometimes at work, I get the chance to go on a run and I end up solving a problem I’d been struggling with. It’s funny, but sometimes it’s the thing I’m doing to escape the work that can benefit the work the most.”
Emi also finds great happiness and support in her parents and siblings, plus her husband, with whom she recently bought a home. Emi’s younger sister, upon starting her residency at a hospital in Oakland, recently moved in with the married couple. “Living with her and watching her go through this grueling schedule has really has changed my perspective of what I thought was stress in my own life,” Emi explains. “It’ll be 10pm, and even though she’ll have been up since 3am, she’s always still happy to chat and tell me stories. Seeing her go through that with so much grace and happiness—I’m so proud of her it makes me want to cry.”
Emi says the UP® community has been a daily influence and inspiration for her as well. “Working on the data side, you sometimes see interesting things coming through the data, and you often wonder who that person is on the other end,” she explains. “Seeing it visually and then reading the Get UP Together stories was such a strong confirmation of our work. It’s amazing to discover the variety of challenges people have been able to overcome with the help of UP,” she says with a big smile.
For others considering a career change, Emi has some advice: “Don’t be afraid to do things you’ve never done before in work or in life. Don’t be afraid to try things you’re not qualified for, or things other people are telling you aren’t right,” she advises. “I spent over a decade working toward an academic life, and I made this decision to turn in another direction. I had a lot of anxiety about my decision, and I was worried people would be disappointed in me. Looking back, jumping into the unknown world of data science was one of the best career decisions I made. I’m so grateful I made that choice, so listen to yourself and go in that direction if you feel it.”