Skip to main content
Michael Shao

Michael Shao

Journey to Discover: How the FlexMSBA program helped pave the path

Michael Shao (FlexMSBA ‘22) wants to know whether you are going to pay back your student loan.

More precisely, it is Shao’s job to help Discover Financial Services predict the cash flow coming to the company from its entire student loan division. To do that, he leans on the education he received from UC San Diego's Rady School of Management's FlexMSBA program.

Now a senior data science analyst, Shao works on a team that builds financial models that estimate and manage the expected cash flow from a portfolio of student loans. Doing that accurately helps the company be in a better position to loan money to future students who are more likely to pay it back. It’s a role that has grown in importance as more Americans strain under the weight of heavy student-loan debt.

As of the second quarter of this year, Americans owe more than $1.77 trillion in federal and private student loan debt, according to LendingTree. All but $128.77 billion is federal. Of the 43.5 million Americans who have federal student debt as of the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, nearly 300,000 are delinquent by 90 days or more.

Thriving in his current role requires a deep understanding of data science. To do that, Shao said it's sometimes important to not get lost in the complexities that come with analyzing data.

“A simple approach, be it regression or an analytical approach, might be a better choice over complex models,’ he said. "If we build complex models, it can be challenging for us to explain model output to our business partner, particularly the financial industry. Therefore, we need to have a baseline model before developing a fancy and complex model, as well as have a good adjustment on whether variables are related to dependent variables."

Shao said his FlexMSBA classes did a great job of preparing him for the work he now is doing at Discover. He said Professor Vincent Nijs’ Customer Analytics course was the most valuable.

“It not only enhanced my technical skill but also taught different machine models that current industries are using,” he said. “Although the class is probably the most intense class in the FlexMSBA, there are lots of things to learn.”

He said Professor Sally Sadoff’s Experiments in Firms course helped him build his knowledge of A/B testing that allows him today to tinker with different variables in models to see which predicts the most accurate outcome. Shao's Fraud Analytics course built on both and helped him refine his model-building capabilities, he said.

Through all his courses, Shao said he learned one extremely valuable lesson, one that he appreciates even more now that he’s at Discover.

“Teamwork is important in completing projects efficiently, whether we are in school or at work,” he said. “I enjoy participating in a variety of projects with my team.”

Shao practiced balancing multiple projects at a time while at Rady, where he held a full-time internship at Tesla while pursuing his MSBA degree.

“I am proud that I worked at Tesla full time and participated in the FlexMSBA program at the same time,” he said. “Time management and sleep were my biggest challenges. I had to manage my time very well to get good performance in both.”

While at Tesla, Shao built new automation tools and dashboards for his team, which didn’t have a technical expert before he arrived. He said being the lone techie on the team taught him resourcefulness in getting necessary work done.

Because of his own experiences in the FlexMSBA program, Shao strongly recommends it to prospective students looking for a career boost. He said it’s important for students to come into the program with at least a general idea of where they want to go once they earn their degree.

“Prospective students should have a roadmap of their career and think about their skill sets to see how the FlexMSBA program can benefit them and grow their career,” he said. “MSBA faculty are always willing to patiently answer your questions. It was a great journey at Rady.”