The Unexpected Path to a “Dream Scenario” in Data Science

Sandeep Ramesh (B.S. ’22 mathematics; B.S. ’22 computer science) spins a fantasy sports internship into a full-time job at DraftKings

Sandeep Ramesh (B.S. ’22, mathematics; B.S. ’22, computer science) has gone all-in on three things he’s passionate about: mathematics, computers and sports. But he never imagined he would find a career that combined those things until the summer before his senior year at the University of Maryland, when he landed a summer internship at DraftKings, a Boston-based daily fantasy and sports betting operator. 

Sandeep Ramesh
Sandeep Ramesh. Photo courtesy of same. Click image to download hi-res version.

"I don’t think a company like DraftKings was even on my radar if you’d asked me as a freshman or sophomore,” Ramesh said. “The career path in my head was always to go to Big Tech, you know Microsoft or Google, something like that. But I got lucky and found something different that’s a great fit for me.”

Thanks to his summer internship, Ramesh scored a full-time data science engineer job at DraftKings after graduation, and he’s already making his mark

“Even though I’ve only been here a year, I feel like I’m already making an impact,” Ramesh said. “Because of the internship experience, I feel like I was able to transition quickly and hit the ground running.”

Learning to love math (and soccer)

For Ramesh, math and sports have always been part of life. Encouraged by his dad, he started playing soccer—and doing complex math problems—almost before he started school.

“My dad wanted to get me exposed to as many different sports as possible, so I did a year or two of baseball—I was terrible—, a few years of basketball, and I’ve been playing soccer practically since I could walk and I still play today,” Ramesh said. “As for math, my dad definitely pushed me early on. He’d give me five or 10 problems with six-digit numbers and he’d say “Multiply these,” or “Try and divide these,” and I think that sparked an early affinity for math and numbers.”

When Ramesh got to high school, he took advanced placement math and science classes and explored a growing interest in computers and engineering. In 2019 when he started his undergraduate work at UMD he set his sights on computer science, but math was never far from his mind.  

“Freshman year, I took linear algebra with Nathan Manning and it became one of my favorite subjects,” Ramesh recalled. “Initially I was going to do pure software engineering, but after I started to enjoy the math side of things and proof-based mathematics I started wanting a more math-heavy type of career, so the big thing I was trying to get into initially was quantitative finance.”

In his spare time, he dabbled in trading strategies with Apex Fund, a student-run investment program.

“They were looking to set up a quantitative side of the program, so they brought in me and another student—funny that we all met in that Nathan Manning algebra class—and it was a ton of fun,” Ramesh said. “We would act like normal hedge funds do nowadays, looking at stocks and analyzing them to try and predict create and backtest certain strategies.”

Through his experiences at UMD, Ramesh began to see how a math and computer science skill set could open up big real-world career opportunities in finance,  tech and beyond.

“That’s what I liked—you had so many options,” he explained. “You could go super math-heavy and go into finance, but you could also merge math with some computer science and be a data scientist or a data science engineer.”

From investment analytics to fantasy sports

Two summer internships with an investment firm gave Ramesh valuable experience in software engineering and investment analytics.

“In the first internship I was doing more application development, which wasn’t the most entertaining as it was mainly code testing” Ramesh said. “Then the next summer I wanted to do more investment-focused work, and that allowed me to use a lot more math skills and modeling.”

At the end of his junior year, Ramesh decided he was ready to take his data science skills in a very different direction. Encouraged by a friend in his fraternity, Ramesh landed a summer internship at DraftKings, where he contributed to the company’s entertainment products and gaming experiences for fantasy sports and betting.

“My project that summer was related to daily fantasy sports,” he explained. “You have a basic amount of money, like $50,000, you have to draft six or seven players, and my project was to figure out what the salaries for those players should be, specifically for college football. I really enjoyed it.”

It was definitely a detour from the Big Tech career path he had in mind a few years earlier, but for Ramesh, the collaborative culture at DraftKings felt welcoming and supportive. And shifting to sports data gave him a whole new perspective.

“I think the biggest thing was that I was able to comprehend the data a lot better,” he said. “In investments when I’d see a stock name or a ticker name I’d recognize the company, but I didn’t really know what all the numbers meant. But seeing a college football quarterback at Alabama, I can see their passing and rushing yards and I can actually comprehend each of these data points and their relationships with a lot more understanding.”

Realizing he’d found his niche, Ramesh worked hard during his internship to make a memorable impact. And it paid off. By the time Ramesh started his senior year, DraftKings offered him a full-time position as a data science engineer.

“It’s honestly the dream scenario,” he said. “I think this role specifically is the perfect combination of my degrees—computer science on one side and mathematics and statistics on the other—and I think having both degrees has enabled me to be impactful on both sides of things here.”

After more than a year working on everything from fantasy sports to fraud prevention, Ramesh feels energized by the work and the company’s unique environment.

“We have TVs everywhere so whatever’s going on, whether it’s MLB or soccer, you can just glance up and catch the game, and each area of the office is actually themed after a specific sport,” Ramesh explained. “Right now I’m in the (Derek) Jeter conference room and I’m a big soccer fan so I used to take meetings from the Pelé conference room. Things like that make it a lot more entertaining.”

It's a long way from the path Ramesh thought he’d take in data science—but for him, it couldn’t be better.

“This experience changed how I look at my future—I’ve learned to never turn down an opportunity just because it’s the path less traveled. I think not ending up at Big Tech ended up being a blessing for me,” Ramesh reflected. There are so many opportunities here at DraftKings that I would not normally have if I had gone to Big Tech or any other more traditional firm. I’ve learned that while this route may be unorthodox, it’s truly the best fit for me. I would say my career is off to a great start.”

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 8,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and nine interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $250 million.