Songha Ban - Global Data Engineer - Interfood Global

Passion for Data and Dancing: A Conversation with Songha Ban, Global Data Engineer at Interfood Group

Hi Songha, can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Songha Ban. I am 26 years old, and I am a Global Data Engineer working for Interfood Group. I was born and raised in South Korea, and in my 20s, I studied abroad, traveled, and immersed myself in diverse experiences.

As a data engineer, my role involves extracting data, loading it onto our platform, transforming it into usable formats, and delivering it to data scientists, analysts, and other data users. This enables them to analyze the data and derive valuable insights. To streamline this process, I implement pipelines to ensure that fresh data is automatically delivered once a day, multiple times a day, or even in near real-time. Additionally, I take responsibility for developing and maintaining the infrastructure, monitoring its performance, and ensuring the expected quality of the data.

Beyond my professional life, I have a passion for dancing. Currently, I am an active member of a street dance team, participating in thrilling competitions at regional, national, and global levels. To counterbalance the sedentary nature of my job, I also practice Pilates.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up at Interfood?

My background is rooted in the field of data and technology. I studied Computer Science at New York University Shanghai and VU Amsterdam and completed my Bachelor of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence at Tilburg University. During my studies, I had opportunities to work for AI-based startups in South Korea, where I contributed to the development of a natural language processing engine and built cybersecurity software utilizing big data and AI (Artificial Intelligence).

After completing my studies and gaining experience as a software engineer, my career aspirations shifted from AI and deep learning research to making tangible impacts through technology applications. Recognizing that data engineering serves as the foundation for big data and AI solutions, I joined a training program tailored to transform software engineers into data engineers. This program provided me with the necessary skills and knowledge in data engineering, ultimately leading me to join the global analytics team at Interfood. Following the successful completion of the year-long program, I officially became a part of Interfood Global in September 2021.

What motivates you to come to work every day at Interfood, and how does your role contribute to the company's success?

What motivates me is the joy of problem-solving. Each challenge is like a puzzle waiting to be solved, and overcoming obstacles and achieving successful outcomes brings me great satisfaction. For example, while upgrading or improving data pipelines, I often encounter unexpected issues and spend hours troubleshooting. Although it can be challenging at times, the sense of fulfillment when the issues are resolved, and the data is successfully served with improved performance or logic is immensely rewarding.

Furthermore, witnessing the practical impact of my work is a constant source of motivation. Whether it is implementing new data connections or automating processes, seeing the tangible results of my efforts fuels my drive for continuous improvement. Additionally, by actively listening to user needs and experiences, I gain valuable insights that inspire me to develop better processes, pipelines, and overall architecture.

In addition to implementing pipelines and delivering the right data, I always consider optimization and efficient maintenance as our data platform and pipelines expand over time. Keeping our infrastructure up to date and scalable is crucial in effectively supporting a growing number of use cases. By proactively addressing these aspects, I keep our platform sustainable and contribute to the company's success by enabling seamless data operations, supporting self-service analytics, and empowering data-driven decision-making.

How do you approach challenges and setbacks in your work, and what drives you to persist through tough times?

I categorize the challenges I face in my work into two types: technical challenges and softer challenges like communication and management. I approach these challenges with an adaptive mindset, enjoying the process and seeking help and collaboration. The drive for progress and continuous learning is what propels me to persist through tough times.

For technical challenges, I genuinely enjoy the process of troubleshooting, as mentioned above. However, I am also not hesitant to seek help from external partners or developer communities like online forums. This approach not only helps me find solutions quickly but also benefits others who may encounter similar issues, as my bug reports contribute to the collective knowledge and improvement of the tool.

In communication or management challenges, especially those involving aligning with business objectives and expectations, I believe in seeking support and collaboration. I actively engage with my team, relying on their assistance for translation, knowledge sharing, and aligning our work with long-term goals. By leveraging collective expertise, we bridge the gap between technical intricacies and business requirements. I am grateful that my team is always willing to help and support, and this collaborative approach helps ensure that our efforts are aligned with the overall objectives of the organization.

Can you talk about a project or initiative that you are particularly passionate about, and what resonated with you about it?

I take pride in the development of the data entry app, a web application that enables my colleagues to manually enter data into our data platform or use it directly in Tableau for reporting and visualization. This app has proven versatile, accommodating various data inputs such as price entry, data corrections, and business logic definition for different projects. It has also facilitated real-time visualization of trader estimates during the position call with the new Wisdom of the Crowd. A similar setup has been used for sustainability to improve the data collection process with farms and establish full control over the data. The data entry app has brought increased possibilities and flexibility in terms of data flow and utilization.

Another project I am currently passionate about is setting up a new data connection from Kingdee, an ERP system used in our Beijing office. Adding a new data connection is always exciting from a technical perspective. Moreover, once we have this connection, we will have Tableau integration for our colleagues in China, opening new avenues for analysis and insights.

The opportunity to contribute to these projects perfectly aligns with my passion for leveraging data and technology to drive operational efficiency and strategic decision-making. Seeing the impact of these initiatives on data management, reporting, and overall business operations resonates deeply with me. It fuels my motivation to continue exploring further opportunities to enhance our data capabilities.

How does Interfood support your personal and professional goals, and how have you grown since joining the team?

The Global Analytics team is a compact team that fosters a sense of independence and innovation. Along with Interfood's value of continuous improvement, we have been able to adopt modern technology and setups and stay updated with industry trends. I appreciate the freedom and autonomy to explore projects aligned with my interests, enabling me to take ownership and make a meaningful impact.

Interfood also prioritizes personal development, providing resources and guidance to help me achieve my goals. Besides project-level assistance, I can seek coaching or discuss other aspects of my work with external experts. It is encouraged to join conferences or meetups, and having knowledge-sharing sessions within the team afterward has also been highly valuable.

What kind of work-life balance do you maintain while working at Interfood, and how does the company support your well-being?

Interfood supports and values the well-being of its employees. We have flexible working options with the ability to work from home but as a team we have agreed to be in the office together at least twice a week. This allows our team to manage our time effectively without missing connections and togetherness. Our office in Eindhoven is conveniently located next to the station, providing ease of access for commuting. We also have delicious and healthy lunches every day and various sports possibilities, such as boxing sessions every Wednesday in Eindhoven and a gym and classes in the Bladel office. These collectively contribute to creating a work-life balance that supports overall well-being.

How does Interfood foster a sense of community and teamwork among its employees, and what role do you play in this?

Interfood places great emphasis on building teamwork. The company's powerful slogan, "Together for better," resonates with us and serves as a constant reminder of our collective mission and achievements in real life.

From an analytics perspective, several initiatives are in place to connect data champions worldwide and facilitate collaboration among everyone utilizing data. These include analytics hackathons, an active monthly newsletter, self-service channels, and more. These initiatives enable us to exchange ideas, share knowledge, and work together towards common goals. Additionally, we have a monthly IT team meeting where we share ideas and knowledge, celebrate accomplishments, and showcase interesting projects.

Beyond our team, several fun events are organized every year, such as a Christmas market and dinner, and a memorable summer event where colleagues from different offices come together. Recently, we also enjoyed a huge 4-day event to celebrate Interfood's 50th anniversary. These events promote team building and create a positive and collaborative work culture at Interfood.

What sets Interfood apart from other companies you have worked for, and how has this impacted your career development?

Interfood stands out from other companies I have worked for in a couple of ways. Firstly, despite having a 50+ year history, Interfood maintains a youthful and innovative mindset. In my team, we actively question and challenge what we are doing and explore innovative ideas that bring value. I appreciate that I get to evaluate our current stack and research better technologies. Additionally, the small size of our team allows us to take on diverse responsibilities and contribute to various projects. There are numerous opportunities, and I find great enjoyment in being able to contribute and see the results of my efforts. Moreover, Interfood's global presence and the international team foster connections with colleagues from all over the world. This international exposure provides invaluable insights and perspectives.

Overall, the exposure to various aspects of the business at Interfood has not only propelled my growth as an engineer but has also nurtured my development as a professional capable of collaboration and communication.

What would you say to potential Interfood team members?

Working at Interfood has been a hugely enjoyable experience for me, thanks to the ambitious and collaborative team. Join us if you share our passion for innovation in a dynamic environment. At Interfood, you will have the opportunity to contribute to the core strategy of an industry-leading company and experience the personal growth and development that comes with it. Together, we can make a meaningful impact and propel our careers forward.

Songha Ban 3

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