Never Stop Learning: Sijia's Lessons on Leadership and Becoming an Expert in Your Field

The best advice SoFi Senior Director, Data Science, Sijia Lui has ever received? Never stop learning. This mantra has stayed with her throughout her life - from leaving China to study in the United States, to navigating some of the biggest financial institutions in the country. And it ultimately led her to SoFi, where she is continuing to learn (and teach others!). Today she’s sharing lessons on how women can grow into leaders, and how she and her team are using machine learning to enable key business decisions that are propelling SoFi - and the entire industry - forward. 

Before we get into your career journey and what led you to SoFi, what are three things others may not know about you?


  1. I’m the only person who’s into science and mathematics in my family, the rest of my family all study literature. 
  2. My mother wanted to train me into a news anchor when I was 18, and I said no.
  3. I have a corgi puppy and she is super cute. 

Okay, give the people what they want! Let’s see a photo of her.

Tell us a  bit about your background prior to joining SoFi. 

Sijia: I grew up in a historical town in central China and came to the United States to study Applied Mathematics at Iowa State University. I spent about 7 years working at Capital One and Bank of the West in their Credit Risk Management teams, where I covered the statistical and machine learning model development for various consumer and commercial lending businesses.

Wow, you have worked at some of the biggest names in financial services. What inspired you to want to work in Fintech?

Sijia: I’m grateful for what I was able to learn at those companies. But when it comes to using technology and machine learning to revolutionize the financial industry, to provide better user experiences, and to create more inclusive financial services that deeply impact customers’ financial lives, fintech companies have definitely earned their place. We have been seeing incredible organic growth for fintech companies as well as innovative collaborations between traditional financial institutions and technology companies. This trend will continue and will help establish more convenient, efficient, fair, and inclusive financial servicing engines that continuously improve financial ecosystems. 

SoFi has the mission to improve consumers’ financial lives, grows alongside members' financial needs, and aims to push the boundaries on using technology and machine learning to drive the innovations needed to fulfill our mission of helping people achieve financial independence - all of these reasons inspired me to join the company in July 2019. 

Tell us about what you do here as Director of Data Science.

Sijia: I lead a team of Data Scientists that develop machine learning models,  analytical reportings, and business intelligence analyses that help drive business decisions and provide insights to Risk and Operations. For model development, we propel business by creatively identifying opportunities of using machine learning models and landing advanced techniques to maximize model impacts. And the capability of building effective and comprehensive analytical reporting provides crucial insights that enable key business decisions, keep the health of our portfolios in check, and monitor operational efficiency - just to name a few!

There aren’t a lot of women in leadership roles in this homogenous industry. What has your experience been like ‘climbing the ladder’? 

Sijia: I think the most important thing is to first become the subject matter expert of what you do, then make sure to leverage that expertise to contribute to the business’s overall success as much as possible. Demonstrating leadership will require proactively taking on more responsibilities, voicing your opinions even if they may not be the popular or convenient ones, making difficult decisions, having difficult conversations, taking risk on new initiatives, learning/exploring in new territories, and collaborating with cross functional teams who have different background and styles of communications. Some of these may be difficult for women to do, especially when it involves facing conflicts and taking risks. I’m grateful for the support and guidance given by all the upper management and mentors I have, who provide encouragement and feedback to help me grow and overcome some of my own barriers. A lot of this learning comes from practice, so I’d say becoming brave in voicing your opinions and raising your hand for a new project, putting in hard work, and carefully listening to feedback and observing/learning from the impact of your actions is key for career development. 

So many amazing lessons you have shared, Sijia. Do you have advice for women who are also looking to become a leader at their organization? 

Sijia: Become an expert at what you do, never stop learning - expand your knowledge to understand a bit more about your partner teams, establish a strong relationship with stakeholders to understand the business needs. Start by raising your hand to take on more responsibilities without anyone asking you to, and try to overcome the fear of facing conflicts and taking risks. 

You are a member of one of our Circles at SoFi, Women @ SoFi. An ERG whose mission is to build a safe space for female-identifying employees and allies to connect across SoFi in order to promote the advancement and inclusion of women. Can you tell us what inspired you to get involved with this group? 

Sijia: I’m very happy to get to know more women in the workplace through this Circle - getting and giving more support to the community, growing together, and helping each other.

What does being a part of this Circle mean to you?

Sijia: It means we together have a community to support each other and learn from each other.

Thank you for all the amazing lessons you have taught us today, Sijia!

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The individual featured is a SoFi employee. Their personal experiences, obviously, do not take into account your own specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. Results will vary.

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Kari Scheidt, Talent Brand @ SoFi