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Caitlin Smallwood: Data-driven content and the power of storytelling

A VP of data science and analytics discusses her career trajectory and experiences at Netflix.

Illustration of two women with laptops

A recommendation system, like the one used at Netflix depends on data to succeed. | Illustration by Kevin Craft

“Be yourself” was just one of the many career tips Caitlin Smallwood shared during an episode of the Women in Data Science podcast.

This advice was born out of an experience where Smallwood tried to change who she was in professional settings in an effort to fit a mold that she had observed and thought would help her achieve success faster. Ultimately, however, she discovered that stifling her personality just made her miserable. With a bit more experience, she learned that coming back to herself didn’t mean that she couldn’t also make big progress in her career.

As the VP of data science and analytics at Netflix, Smallwood leads a team that works in the space of predictive decision models, algorithm research and experimentation science. Each of these areas is critical to the success of Netflix’s platform for recommending content to users. In addition to the more technical elements of data science at Netflix, Smallwood is also passionate about the power of visual storytelling. She believes that movies and TV shows have the potential to impact a person’s empathy and understanding of the world in a way that a news story cannot.

You can listen to the Women in Data Science podcast on Apple Podcasts, via the Women in Data Science website or Stanford Engineering Magazine.