“What I enjoy most about analytics is the opportunities it offers for creative problem solving: very often, a challenge can be approached from one (or a combination) of several angles." – Dr Gys van der Westhuizen, MSc-graduate in physics (2007)
Dr Gys van der Westhuizen graduated from Stellenbosch University with a BSc in Physics in 2004, as well as a BScHons in Physics in 2005 and a MSc in Physics in 2007. He then moved to England, where he completed his PhD in Applied Physics (Optoelectronics) in 2013 at the University of Southhampton. For the past seven years, he has been working for FNB as a Quantitative Analyst. His current job title is Head of Analytics.
“My team and I are tasked with the enablement of data-driven decision-making," says Gys. “We analyze vast amounts of internal and external data to provide insights, or construct statistical or machine learning models that inform how business can better serve customers."
His typical day would involve meeting with his team to discuss project priorities and potential stumbling blocks and meeting with stakeholders to gather requirements and provide analytical input. He also has to evaluate and revise project solutions and recommendations, translate analytical output for presentation to business stakeholders and meet with peers to align on shared data assets and related projects.
Gys adds: “Computers are the tools of our trade and we spend a great deal of time writing code in, amongst others, the following languages: SAS, SQL, R, Python and MS Excel. What I enjoy most about Analytics is the opportunities it offers for creative problem solving: very often, a challenge can be approached from one (or a combination) of several angles. Furthermore, the core skills are relatively transferable from one domain to another – in other words, from Physical Sciences to Banking."
Dr van der Westhuizen stated that he learnt two important things during his time at Stellenbosch University that have helped him in his career. The first was a solid grounding in pure and applied mathematics and programming. The second was how to effectively communicate your findings – this is especially important in a highly multi-disciplinary working environment like banking.
For those thinking of a career in his field, Gys says that a good understanding of mathematical and statistical concepts is key. It is also very helpful to get familiar with programming and algorithms as soon as possible. For these reasons, an education in the Physical Sciences or Engineering is a good start!
On the photo: Dr Gys van der Westhuizen. Photo supplied
This BSc-alumnus profile is part of the Faculty of Science's #100CareersinScience project. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share your career journey with current students.