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Rising Stars: Meet Vaisakhi Mishra

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vaisakhi Mishra.  

Hi Vaisakhi, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today.
I hail from a city called Cuttack in Odisha, India, but lived in a lot of different places in India before moving to Seattle USA for my Master’s and am now settled in New York, working as a Data Scientist with IBM. I love discovering new places, finding stories, understanding origins of things, and in general, I am a very curious about our world – things, systems, history, nature, and so many other things. I am really just a curious soul. I don’t have a crazy interesting story, I think, but I do like my story so far with its ups and downs. 

Growing up I had two dreams, traveling, and exploring the world and doing something (a job) that would keep me excited. I always saw my parents talk about their jobs as the necessary evil. They worked but never enjoyed their work. My mom left her teaching career when I was in 5th grade, and my dad desperately tried to switch his job line multiple times before giving in and just waiting it out till his retirement. I had seen them struggle and be unhappy and downcast because of their jobs as a kid. So, when we had to write an essay about ‘My future dreams’ in 5th grade, I remember writing I want to find a job that excites me and makes me happy – just that. I didn’t know what I wanted to be until I decided to leave a stable job in India and started my Master’s in Information Management the US. Data science tickled my OCD for organization, interest in seeing new things, discovering stories and patterns, and sharing. I think, at least right now, I have a job that keeps me excited! 

But there is something that excites me even more. Travel! When I was young, my dad got transferred to a new place every 1-2 years due to his job, and I absolutely hated it. To help me cope with that anger and disappointment of switching schools, getting new classmates, adjusting, etc., my mom often told me about interesting places around the cities we would be shifting to. Though we never really went anywhere other than to our native state of Odisha during summer vacations, the stories did help. And since Odisha is famous for its temples and beaches, our summer vacations were not typical family time trips. I did get to see the historical site of Odisha – the remnants of the ancient Kalinga kingdom during these trips, so I really looked forward to them. That was probably where my initial interest to travel came from. I wanted to visit Switzerland after reading Heidi, Egypt after watching the Great Egyptians show on Discovery, and New Zealand after watching and reading the Lord of the ring books. When I finally started earning, I saved up my salary to take my family to Kashmir and visit some of the places in Gujarat that my mom had told me about when my dad was transferred there, but we didn’t visit back then, and I loved the excitement of seeing these places, planning the trips, meeting people at some of these sites and learning more about these places! That is when I realized travel excited me, and I definitely wanted to explore the world. 

And so, in today’s date, I am a happy techie with a full-time job but a nomad at heart who uses all her vacation days and long weekends to explore someplace new. (Most recent addition to my places explored were the Mighty 5 parks and 5 other states parks of UTAH!) 

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Convincing my parents to let me leave my job and come to the US for higher studies was probably one of the toughest jobs I have had to do. Money was always an issue for us for a lot of reasons; I really don’t want to get into that. But because of that, when I decided to leave my job and come to US for a Master’s course that we really didn’t have the capital for, my parents were just against it. It took me almost one year to convince them that this was the right move for my career, my dreams, and would actually our family in the long run. They reluctantly agreed to my plan, mortgaging the only property we owned – our house, with literally no other steady income in the house. And I am just glad everything worked out here, I was genuinely happy during my coursework and at my new job, and I was able to do everything I set out to do and more, not just for myself but also my family. Looking back, I am glad I stood my ground else I would have always wallowed in self-pity while riding the ‘what if’ thought train. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a Data Scientist by profession and a travel blogger, storyteller, and poet by passion. 

I did my Bachelors of Technology in Electronics and Telecommunication in India and my Master’s in Information Management, specializing in Data Science and Business intelligence, from University of Washington in Seattle and am currently working as a Data Scientist with IBM. I work for a team called the Data Science Elite Team with IBM, wherein I get to work for different clients of IBM to help them adopt IBM’s Data and AI products while solving their business problems or discovering actionable insights for them, leveraging their data. It is a very R&D-oriented work and is never restricted to one kind of problem which keeps me very excited. I have led projects to help identify gentrifying and declining neighborhoods in US for impactful policy making, to being part of projects to preemptively detect satellite failures and reducing space waste. It is all so interesting. And recently, I got the opportunity to club the knowledge from both my professional degrees and got a patent for it, which is very close to my heart. 

And on the side, I am continuing my life-long dream of exploring new places! Nature is my happy place, and history intrigues me. I love sharing stories and anecdotes from my travels and am a crazy planner (this is probably what most of my friends and people know me for). I have not traveled to a lot of countries, but I have been lucky so have been to be part of a media team to Malaysia to cover their Independence Day, aka Merdeka Day, and worked closely with various Indian tourism boards to promote forgotten historical places and offbeat travel destinations. I used to have a fairly successful travel blog back in India, but during COVID, I didn’t really feel like writing and sharing about travel a lot so took a break from it, and the break is still on. But I am hoping to get back to it one of these days; till then, I still share all my experiences and travel tips on my Instagram. 

Apart from travel and my work, I also love writing poems and stories and have been published in a couple of anthologies. My new dream is to come up with a novel someday. Fingers crossed till that happens! 

We’d love to hear what you think about risk-taking.
I think at some point in our life; it is essential for everyone to take a step or two out of their comfort zone and take risks to grow or see what is out there. You need to take a bet on something that might or might not pay off because risks are risky, but if you do not take that chance, you will be marred by ‘what-ifs’ in the future. But I do not believe in taking risks flippantly. 

I am a risk taker, but I am cautious all the way. My Scorpio sun and Leo moon make me extremely impulsive. But the impulsive decisions in the and their aftermaths of a lot of people I personally know always serve as a cautionary tale for me, which I do not take lightly. So, I do let my impulsive self-take decisions, but I mostly do not act on them until I go through multiple versions of pros and cons list and fail-safe plans B and C. Like I had mentioned before, I had a plan for when I decided to come to US for higher studies, which convinced my parents eventually. MS in Information Management was actually my plan B; I originally wanted to do an MBA in Strategy (told you, I didn’t know what I wanted to be till I started my Master’s coursework). I took a risk, but I had multiple plans if one failed. 

But if I am frank, the impulsive Vaisakhi often takes over completely. For instance, I turned down an internship offer once with literally no other job offers, and during a bad market – just because I knew what I didn’t want to do. And I have invested in stocks just based on someone’s suggestions and with zero research from my end. I would say, taking such risks is stupid, and in hindsight, I sometimes question where my logical self had escaped during those moments. Luckily my husband is a very pragmatic person and is a logical anchor for my decisions. So now, I am consistently a 7 when it comes to taking a risk, with 10 being always take risks and acts on impulses and 1 being stay safe always. And I think 5-7 is the optimal way to live life. 

If you don’t take risks, you won’t know if the future could have been better, but never take risks just for the sake of it. You should always know your threshold for risk and never cross that without any fail-safe. 

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