Where I came from, and where I’m going
Hi there! My name is Cierra, and I am a numbers-loving, problem solving, communications expert by nature.
First, a little background:
I’ve always been motivated by helping people, and so long ago in a galaxy far away, I went to school to become a language teacher (more about that in a later blog!). Unfortunately, the year I graduated, education budgets in my home state of Texas were being cut. Teachers were being let go, not hired. I quickly and unexpectedly found myself in luxury fashion retail for a decade, where I worked hard to climb from being a cog in a sales team to the top of store management.
Relatively recently, I reconnected with my desire to help and be a positive impact for people and found a new love in working as an office manager for tech companies in New York City. I found it really rewarding to help make the workplace a positive environment by doing things like stocking the kitchen with delicious food that’s also good for the body and mind, helping people feel special on birthdays, planning themed happy hours or activities, and even educating my colleagues on composting and recycling. It was working so close to tech that finally exposed me to the world of data science. Learning about the field reinforced my fascination (perhaps borderline obsession) with figuring out how and why things work the way they do.
Exploring the field of Data Science
I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to break into the tech world, but it wasn’t until I discovered Data Science that I really felt I found where I belong. At first, I was extremely intimidated by the idea of entering the field. I had plenty of reputable professional experience, but none of that seemed even close to what it means to be a data scientist. However, upon researching what it means to be successful in the field, I felt like I was reading about myself. It was a revelation that really moved me. I began to study Python and rediscovered my love for statistics, and soon I was enrolled at the Flatiron School in New York for their Data Science bootcamp!
I’ve been remembering my days of hiring my old retail team and the importance I placed on the difficult-to-teach (and sometimes difficult to find in people) soft skills. Anyone can learn the hard skills to do a job (proficiency in a language, holding a certificate, technical skills, etcetera), but often overlooked are the soft skills, like the ones I’ve listed below.
Data Scientists are:
- Naturally curious. We want to know how things work. Not only are we constantly asking questions, we’re also obsessed with finding the answers. We aspire to be professional know-it-alls.
- Analytical. We look at every detail and ask a thousand questions about each one. We’re always playing devil’s advocate and questioning everything that we find, because we know there is always a new question and almost never a perfect solution. New insights will inevitably be uncovered, and there should almost always be several stages of discovery.
- Problem solvers. We love the scientific method! Is there anything more satisfying than seeing an answer come to light through discovery and hard work?
…But what makes a great Data Scientist?
The Best Data Scientists are:
- Constant learners. Data isn’t static, it’s a living organism that evolves over time. It reacts constantly to a myriad of influences such as economy, pop culture, the priorities of society, and countless other variables. Machines and program languages also change over time. It is therefore imperative not only for a data scientist to have the capacity to learn, but to also have the hunger and desire to continue to grow.
- Diverse. Data tells a story, but the analyst herself decides how it is deciphered and translated. An interpretation is only as good as the storyteller, and the best analysts should be aware and open to a thousand different ways of thinking. Personal background, past jobs and training, and even an individual’s lifestyle help to shape the way a person will read and interpret information. To have the greatest impact, it is infinitely important for a data science department to have that diversity.
- Expert Communicators. A vast majority of people don’t have a technical background, not even the head of your company; that’s why they hire us! Not everyone can look at a graph and decipher an accurate meaning, or implement a statistical formula in order to answer a question, or articulate a relationship between variables. It’s up to us to translate findings into layman’s terms so that someone without specialized training may understand the research, hypothesis, and observations behind a given problem. Most importantly, that means we know how to articulate an idea in a variety of ways. It should also be noted here that communication is a two-way street. A great data scientist never assumes anything and always ensures that their audience is on the same page. Part of being a good communicator means asking the right questions, so speak up!
Do you see some or all of these traits in yourself? If so, you have a solid foundation to become a Data Scientist. It can be intimidating to dive into something new, but people are learning new skills and changing careers every day. If this field speaks to you and you’ve been thinking about it, I urge you to give it a try!
Why Data Science?
Like so many, I was laid off from my job at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak with limited options for employment. The silver lining from an excess of free time is that it let me take a giant step back and ask some big picture questions like “where am I meant to be?” and “am I on the right path?” and “what is my dream job, anyway?” A forced break from working and happy hours gave me the time I needed to focus on my interests and priorities.
“what is my dream job, anyway?”
As I write this towards the closing of a heated 2020 political climate, it is clear to me how data can help society on a large scale. The news is overflowing with so many important issues I am passionate about: healthcare rights and reform, the infamous COVID-19 curve, social unrest surrounding police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, political voting trends, human rights in general, etcetera, etcetera. I know there is a ton of unfiltered information out there that we might not yet understand exactly how to articulate or how to work with.
Data tells the story. It can help us see hidden truths and communicate ideas in a way that is relevant to society. Whether I end up working on something as grand as policy change, or on a smaller scale working to help people be seen and heard, I’m so excited to develop the technical skills that can help me be a part of it!
In closing: please enjoy this live footage of me getting ready to devour some technical skills.