Solving problems is data scientist’s passion

Leen Schafer took nontraditional path to her current role at Viasat


Leen Schafer’s personal and professional path has been anything but traditional, including stints as a nursing assistant, researcher, heavy metal singer, rock climber and mother. But each has opened new doors and provided new insights, eventually leading her to Viasat.

A senior data scientist at the company, Schafer calls problem-solving her superpower, so a company culture that encourages innovation and exploration is a perfect fit.

Schafer recently accepted a position as manager of Chief Information Officer Krishna Nathan’s office. In that role, she hopes to accelerate Viasat’s goal of customer centricity through machine learning and data.

“Whenever you’re talking about something becoming customer centric – making our products all about the customer – you’re talking about building a personalized experience,” she said. “I’m really motivated to try to bring us together in how we look at our data, how we grow and begin to trust our data, and develop a better plan forward.

“As a company, that will require us to really harmonize all our expertise and collaborate. However I can enable that, I would love to try.”

schafer climbing

Leen Schafer pursuing one of her other passions: rock climbing

From healthcare to heavy metal

A lifelong lover of math and science, the Orange County, CA native originally envisioned becoming a medical doctor. After graduating high school in the late ’90s, and lacking the funds to immediately start college, she began working as a nursing assistant. She quickly realized patient care was not in her future.

“I would emotionally attach to the patients,” she said. “I ended up working in different departments, but I would always feel like every patient was my family member. It was very emotionally draining for me.”

While she lost her original career plan, Schafer’s work in healthcare gained her her first exposure to data. She transitioned from patient care to coordinating clinical research.

“I was learning about cutting-edge medicine, how to recruit patients into these trials and manage that data we would generate,” she said. “It was a really great learning experience.”

She then accepted a job as clinical research coordinator with Tufts Medical Center in Boston, managing and reconciling research studies and authoring budget proposals. Spring boarding from that experience, she joined Genzyme Genetics, eventually transferring to their LA office to work as a quality assurance specialist.

The death of Schafer’s father prompted her move back to California. But being on familiar turf didn’t stop her from venturing into new territory.

She joined a couple of heavy metal bands. The most successful, D’evolution, played in the Los Angeles area in the mid-2000s.

“I was the lead singer where I sang/screamed,” Schafer said. “We recorded a couple of demos and eventually considered touring with a label. At that point, I had to take a step back and say, ‘Do I really want to do this?’

“My passion had always been science. Music was a passion as well, but it didn’t engage me intellectually in the same way. So I took the leap. I enrolled for one year in community college.”