Guest: Arca Blanca Data Scientist Anna Mackenzie
What is data science is a broad question, where every person you ask will likely give you a different answer, but Anna defines it as the practice of bringing together statistics and data to try and understand and describe systems in the real world, or the art of fitting a mathematical model to complex data.
Take the example of determining the cost of a flat in London, you can bring together a set of variables, what area of London the flat is in, how close to a tube stop it is, historical pricing of similar flats, and begin to build an equation that will tell you how much the flat might cost. This is where data science becomes a keystone to artificial intelligence and machine learning. See, you could go through thousands of equations, trial and error style, until you find a formula that finds the right price for the flat, or you can use the processing power of a computer to do these calculations far quicker than an individual can.
During a career in the military, there are numerous skills that an individual will learn that are transferable into data science. Alongside the communication and leadership skills learnt, any technical and analytical roles provide you with the base understanding of the logic and problem-solving required to succeed as a data scientist. Also, the adaptability of hitting a roadblock and collaborating toward a creative solution is key for finding models that make sense of the data being presented. But Anna’s biggest belief about the value of veterans in the workplace is the diversification of thought they bring. The unique experiences a veteran goes through are unlike anything a civilian will experience and is extremely important in trying to analyse and interpret real-world data. As Anna puts it, if everyone on the team is the same person with the same education, then everyone will have the same opinion and there will be no one to challenge the decisions and push the team forward.
Anna’s journey into her role as a data scientist at Arca Blanca began at university where she studied engineering, dipping her toes into data science, and building up a set of skills that she finds useful in her day-to-day role now. After university Anna worked as a data analyst in the financial sector, before retraining to move into a data scientist position. Part of her efforts to change her career involved attending a data scientist boot camp that gave her the hands-on skills required to be successful. The joy of her new role, says Anna, is that data scientists have become integral across virtually all sectors, with any company using data most likely needing a data scientist to sort through it. This gave her and gives anyone else interested in becoming a data scientist, the option to pursue a position in any industry that piques their interest, from cutting-edge advances in technology, and solving world crises such as climate change, to horse betting software, Anna’s pet project.
As Anna’s journey shows, there is more than one path into the field of data science. Of course, you can study a STEM subject at university, and come into a role with a PHD or master’s in machine learning, but that is by no means the only way. One alternative may be to start as a data analyst, as Anna explains that there is some level of overlap between the roles, and teams tend to consist of a mix between data analysts and scientists, giving you exposure to those in the role you are attaining to. One of the best opportunities for veterans is the Arca Blanca collaboration with TechVets to provide a six-week-long training boot camp in the world of data science. Over the six weeks, Anna, and the team at Arca Blanca will cover the fundamentals that underpin data science, with hands-on activities to help our veterans build up their own projects and portfolios they can use to demonstrate their skills when applying to jobs.