Making A Career Change To A Technical Role with Experian
CASE STUDY: Tammy Green Data Scientist at Experian
Tammy Green, tells us more about her transition from a non-technical background to a technical role in Experian. She shares her journey from studying, getting her Masters and PhD, only to change course and pursue a technical role and learn new skills.
Tammy has been at Experian for four months and is learning and expanding her skill set every single day.
Can you share a little introduction to yourself?
I had a very windy journey towards a tech role. Originally, I graduated from University with a degree in Politics. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I landed a role in Advertising and Sales. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do in life, and I’ve always been drawn to Marine Biology, so I did another degree, about 10 years after my first one in Marine Science, Oceanography, and I loved it.
After that, I realised I wanted to get a PhD, with something in research. And as PhDs often go, after a year I realised I wasn’t interested in academia and left. In my PhD, I realised I love analysing data so I started my coding and analysis. It then became clear to me that analytics and data science are where my passion lies.
After my PhD, I entered the commercial world doing more junior Data Analyst roles and then landed a job at Experian as a full-time data scientist.
I have 3 degrees, 2 of them I could’ve probably done without but it’s been an interesting journey to where I am today. For those reading, I want to say it’s literally never too late! I didn’t get started on this kind of journey until my mid-30s.
Can you share your journey from making the transition from a non-tech role to a tech role in Experian?
I started in Experian in a technical role, but before that, I did a number of very non-technical roles.
When I started my PhD, I worked for a water retail company, then worked for a few commercial banks as a finance analyst. I had sufficient skills using AR and Python, but it wasn’t my “bread and butter”. I then got into coding and SQL, but none of it was “groundbreaking” or as technically-focused or as competent as I am now.
Now in Experian, I am very grateful for my boss who saw the potential. He didn’t hire me because I already had some technical skills, he told me that I can learn those and Experian will teach me those and that they could provide all the coaching. What he hired me for was being able to engage with clients, and that is something that is difficult to come across in the world of data science - having technical competence and people/communication skills.
My role is a combination of postural and technical because you have to communicate complex ideas to a client. If you can’t do that, in my particular role, you can really struggle. I’ve been able to use the more innate skills I have and build upon the technical side. You can teach people how to code, analyse data, build a model, etc. but it’s more difficult to teach them how to communicate this with a client. In my role, I’m able to combine my soft skills and hard skills.
I’ve received a huge amount of support from the team at Experian. There’s a whole website where you can sign up for EDX or Coursera courses, and your team and boss are very supportive if you need to spend a couple of hours trying to improve your knowledge. Everyone has been extremely helpful in that regard!
Learning technical skills, if you don’t have them, has been great. I started with a 5 or 6 out of 10 with my technical capabilities, and I’ve definitely learned more in the past 4 months, compared to the last year!
What was the most challenging part of this transition?
The most challenging part has been finding time! There’s always so much to do and it is a very involved job with clients.
In my role, you need to understand everything in the background, to be able to help clients. You want to be doing and working, but you also need to learn. My workaround with that was realising I don’t need a course to learn, I can learn by doing the work and helping the client. Taking someone through that journey with you in a more client-facing/consultancy-based approach has been a new way for me to work, which has taken time and practice.
What has been the most rewarding part of your new role?
One of the most rewarding aspects for me is when a client gives you feedback and they say they’ve enjoyed this and learned loads.
Another is when you see that someone “gets something”, especially after you’ve taken the time to train someone or go through some code, and they have a “lightbulb” moment and they share that this has been so useful. That’s why I do this.
A third is having a boss that is very supportive and good at providing feedback/constructive criticism. When you do something well, my boss is very good at congratulating a job well done, and having that recognition is a great feeling. Experian has that type of culture that does that.
And finally, cracking a code that I had been working on for a long time. After figuring out the code, it was extremely rewarding because you know that it’s not just you that you’ve helped, an entire project, the whole of Experian, and the client, as well!
What skills have you acquired in your role that you didn’t have previously?
Lots! From a technical perspective…
- My AR programming has improved significantly. I previously used it for stats in my PhD, but now I can comfortably work in AR or in Python.
- Similarly, I’ve used Tableau (data visualisation tools), and getting to use Tableau in Experian has gone from no knowledge to being fairly proficient. I’m now working with clients with introduction training, which is really great.
If I’m interested in certification, Experian will cover program or certification costs, which is motivating as well.
I’ve also improved my knowledge working in a Spark environment. I had theoretical knowledge about it before, but actually working with it in practice gives you a much greater understanding - what is the cost of computing, what does it mean, why do I need to care about how many nodes I have, etc.
It’s been a lot in the past 4 months, but now I am more comfortable and confident in working with things I once considered difficult.
And one more question, can you share 3 tips for someone who is interested in transitioning to a tech role, who may not have a tech background?
Don’t waste your time doing three degrees, there’s no need!
But in all seriousness, my three tips would be:
- Don’t rely on certifications. In the real world, it doesn’t matter. If you want to go and get one, that’s fine, but you don’t need to spend thousands on courses. You don’t need the certification, what you need is experience. You need to demonstrate transferable skills from your non-tech role to your tech role. Get a laptop, download Python or AR, Tableau has a public version that’s free, you can do Coursera courses or EDX ones. There are tons of free courses out there. You don’t need a specific degree, you need experience. Some websites like Kaggle or GitHub have free data sets, go and learn some theory and find other people’s projects and play around with the data. Get a project that you can take to an employer and say “I did this in my own free time, I’ve gone from knowing nothing to teaching myself” - that will mean a lot more than not having experience.
- Pick one thing and do it well, because you can learn the rest. Pick one platform and you can then do the others quite easily. Don’t try and do it all at once, because your brain will explode and turn to mashed potatoes!
- Don’t let people tell you what you can and cannot do. If I had listened to everyone who said I can’t get a PhD, I would’ve never gotten one. If you want to do something, go and do it! Use people’s negative views about what you can achieve as fuel to the fire!.
The single most frustrating thing before being in a non-technical role was that I was so bored. It made me really unhappy. So if you want to change your career - go and do it! There are so many free resources out there that make it easy to learn and gain experience.
Some really great websites if you want to learn to code and give you some inspiration are:
People say data is the new oil, it’s not going anywhere. If you want a career in data science, data analytics, or tech roles… they’re not going to be disappearing anytime soon! Career changes are never too late to happen - do something that makes you happy and not miserable because what’s the point.
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