MarTech Interview with Shamsudeen Mustafa, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Correlation One

MarTech Interview with Shamsudeen Mustafa, Co-Founder & CEO, Correlation One

“As the impact of AI grows, one of the biggest challenges we encounter will be algorithmic bias.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into Technology and the Data Science field. What inspired you to start Correlation One?

When we started the company in 2015, we felt the AI and Data Science talent market was being overlooked. At the time, Data Science had not yet become a buzzword even though the conversation around Big Data and AI was heating up.

In 2011, Marc Andreessen famously said “software is eating the world” and just a few short years later, the software engineering industry had institutionalized. There were plenty of tools for companies hiring software engineers. But almost none for companies hiring data scientists.

We learned of the pain points and blind spots firsthand through conversations with firms trying to quickly fill positions with elite talent. We repeatedly heard the same few questions: What makes a good data scientist?  How can I identify skills gaps at my organization? How should I apply analytics to increase revenue? How do I make my people more data literate?

We built Correlation One to establish standards in Data Science, where previously there were none. Against those standards, we have rolled out assessment tools, training tools, and have built a global Data Science community in the process.

What is Correlation One and how is it a tool for companies looking to hire Data Scientists?

Correlation One is the market leader in the data talent space. We enable companies to attract, assess, and train the people they need to execute crucial data initiatives. We’ve built relationships with the field’s top experts, more than 500 of the world’s leading universities, and 100,000+ data professionals to form a strong global community.

How is it a tool for Data Science candidates to enter the job market?

We believe in skills over resumes. Our global Data Science competitions give candidates – regardless of their resume, location or background – a platform to showcase their skills to sponsoring corporations. Our competitions ‘simulate’ the full life cycle of actual Data Science work. So, doing well at our Data Science competitions helps employers understand how candidates will perform on the job. It is also a great portfolio-builder and practice tool for candidates.

When candidates apply for jobs at enterprises that use Correlation One assessments, scoring well helps candidates advance to the next stage in the recruitment process. This levels the playing field for candidates with the right skills, but less flashy resumes. This systematic approach also helps firms with diversity and inclusion since technical assessments can also help to reduce bias.

What businesses are adopting fastest to Data Science and how are they bringing on talent?

As a result of our collaboration, Citadel was the only hedge fund to appear on LinkedIn’s Top 50 Places to Work in 2018. We work with Citadel on talent attraction and technical assessments. This two-part, attract/assess solution accelerates the process of bringing elite talent to the firm. The market for elite data talent is so intense that even $30B hedge funds need strategies to stand out.

Outside of finance, we’ve seen very interesting application of our technology with consumer finance companies like Experian as well as high-growth e-commerce unicorns like Wayfair. Our solutions are designed for almost any firm looking to expand data and AI capabilities. And the farther we get into the future, the larger that segment grows.

What are the technologies driving your products, how do they work?

We have some really cool tech underlying our tools. For example, we built TERMINAL, a video game that software developers can play in order to get jobs. The game is played by writing sophisticated code rather than mashing buttons on a joystick. That code automates the movement of a player’s pieces on the board, much like a chess bot. These algorithms compete with one another in a global AI programming challenge. Building TERMINAL, the programmatic interface, the assessment signal the game captures, the match-making logic, etc. was all very involved.

Other products of ours are driven by IP rather than tech. For example, our assessment platform has thousands of field-tested questions across dozens of technical topics in data science. Building and validating that IP is incredibly difficult, and unlocks significant value for both candidates who want to showcase their skills and employers who want reliable assessment data to make hiring decisions.

How can businesses maximize ROI and win the race for data talent by implementing Correlation One products?

ROI-maximization will differ from firm-to-firm as our products affect the bottom line in different ways. A winning talent attraction strategy will deliver new hires at much lower costs (compared to standard recruiting fees), while also elevating an employer’s brand. Elite candidates want an elite candidate experience. There’s a reason we saw tens of thousands of outstanding students from the world’s most prestigious universities apply to our talent magnet events last year.

Our technical assessments do three key things: (1) vastly reduce ‘bad hires’ by eliminating candidates with great resumes that lack the right technical skills (2) surface under-the-radar candidates that can easily go overlooked and (3) reduce overall hiring time by fast-tracking standout candidates directly to final-round interviews. By reducing time spent reading resumes and interviewing the wrong candidates, as well as reducing the probability of making the wrong hire, these savings compound in a big way.

Our training solution raises data literacy across the board. Because assessments are woven into the learning experience, we are able to quantify the progress employees are making with regard to newly learned skills. Our training solution is also built around a company’s existing data and its business goals. So as opposed to training that pulls employees away from day-to-day work, Correlation One training content is designed to be learned and applied in one motion allowing learners to apply new skills in real-time.

For enterprise clients, we mix and match our products to create tailored solutions no matter where they are on their data journey.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in AI and Data Management technology when it comes to recruiting?

As the impact of AI grows, one of the biggest challenges we encounter will be algorithmic bias. There have been many recent cases where AI and facial recognition systems have exhibited racial and gender bias when recommending candidates for jobs. In addition, women and minorities have disproportionately low representation in analytics, and even lower levels at more senior levels. As a company bringing data literacy to enterprises, we see equal access to data literacy and bias-free hiring as key components of our mission.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

We are looking at marketplaces for technical talent – like and TopTal – as barometers for the demand for data and engineering talent.

We are also keenly watching the AI-startup market in China. The demand for data and analytics talent in China will eclipse the demand in the US over the next few years. And as it does, we are positioned to distribute our products in what will be the largest data talent market in the world.

How do you prepare for an AI/ data-centric world as a Business Leader?

Become data literate. We believe that data literacy is the multiplication of tomorrow. If you are a Business Leader in the new data economy, you will be increasingly required to make decisions based on data. Therefore, it is important to have a grounding in foundational concepts – ability to interpret charts and graphs, understand statistical significance, understand the history of AI. It is also important to be able to understand examples of how machine learning has driven business impact, so that as a leader you can more easily understand if there are opportunities to apply technology in your role.

How do you inspire your team to work with technology?

We work in a very fast-paced environment. Unlike B2C startups that have more room for experimentation and margin for error, our technology has to move quickly but also deliver results, every time. The stakes are high for us, but they are even higher for candidates who are starting or changing careers and maybe even higher for our customers who are making these hires. We certainly feel a great sense of responsibility when it comes to product design, development, and engineering. It’s not quite a tightrope, but we are always calibrating and trying to find that perfect balance.

One word that best describes how you work.


What’s the best advice you ever received?

Worry about the process, and the outcome will take care of itself.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read

Reid Hoffman and Marc Benioff.

Thank you, Shamsudeen! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Shamsudeen Mustafa is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Correlation One where he helps companies win the race for data talent. Correlation One is the leading provider of quantitative assessments that help companies optimize their hiring funnels and identify the best data talent.

It is also building the premier Data Science community. Prior to his work at Correlation One he was the Director of Operations at NYCEEC.

Correlation One operates as a talent solutions technology company. AI is the biggest meta-trend in history, and companies across the world in every industry are rapidly becoming data-driven.

At Correlation One, they build technology to help companies win the race for data talent. Their solutions include a novel games-based assessment platform and live Data Science competitions that have gone viral on campuses.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.