HEC Alumni West Coast Stories — Stephanie Gabaix, Data Science Manager Payments at Airbnb
“The Bay Area is the best playground for data scientists!”
What brought you to San Francisco and the Bay Area?
My husband and I moved to San Francisco in 2009. We both had experienced working abroad: as an HEC Grande Ecole student, I did an internship in London and another one in China. We loved discovering and living in new places. After graduation, we did not want to start our career in Paris. We thought we may settle in, start a family and not travel anymore. So we decided to start our career abroad from the very start.
To make it simpler, we focused on English-speaking countries to avoid the language barrier. We also happened to have friends who were studying at Stanford. And I had some experience working in tech at PayPal. That’s how we settled on finding our first jobs in the Bay Area.
Now, it has been 11 years, our 3 children were born here and we have just become American citizens!
How was it here back then?
It was very different! The economy was going through the 2008 recession. There were lots of visas but very few jobs.
Everything, from rent to kids daycare, was twice cheaper than today.
There were not that many French people. Some Polytechnic and Central engineers but very few HEC Alumni.
How did you navigate your professional career in this context?
I had to start humble as an assistant. The French community was supportive and helped me find a sales operations role in a very exciting start-up, Zong. Zong was offering mobile payments, which was pretty revolutionary back then. The business was growing fast, so fast that the company got acquired by Paypal in October 2011.
I stayed with Paypal working on mobile strategy and analytics. Paypal gave me an awesome environment to learn new technical skills. Quickly reaching the limits of Excel, I educated myself to SQL, Python then Machine Learning. It was a pivotal moment for my personal growth.
I then moved to another quite revolutionary startup: Upwork. There, I’ve built a team of analysts, then switched to a more operational role in the Payments team. That was a great management experience in another fast-growing company. And I got hooked again with payments.
My current job at Airbnb ties it all together: I am managing a team of data scientists in the payment team!
Tell us more about your current job!
Airbnb users don’t really think about what it takes to process their payment because my team works at making the experience seamless. But behind the scenes, it is quite complex: Airbnb operates in 190 countries, which means we need to be able to accept payments from guests and pay hosts in these 190 countries. They all have different currencies, regulations, and banking systems. That actually makes Airbnb a financial institution that has to abide by laws, including preventing fraud and money laundering.
The management part of my role is very exciting. The team is composed of world-class data scientists with wide competencies. We ensure we collect the right data, analyze it and make actionable recommendations to make our products better. We also have tracks for specific expertise in statistics and machine learning.
The icing on the cake: I love traveling and it is great to work for a company that revolutionized the way we travel!
What makes the Bay Area special for data science?
The Bay Area is the best playground for data scientists!
It is a place where investments on AI are high, and there is a culture of innovation and risk-taking.
It is also a place with companies, like Airbnb, that have a lot of data for data scientists to push the boundaries of the job.
As a result, it attracts the best talents!
What is your advice to HEC Alumni in the region?
Get technical! If you add technical skills to the business skills you have from HEC, you will go places!
Also, in the US, time is money. Products that enable their customers to save time are very successful. In the workplace, think about how you can make your co-workers more efficient and save time.
Finally, reach out to the HEC Alumni community!