Debbie Maltman, who recently graduated with an MSc in Data Science for Business (with Distinction), had the opportunity to tell her story at The Data Lab’s Reception at Scottish Parliament on 30 January. Hers is an inspiring story of a journey from redundancy through retraining and securing a job she loves as a data scientist, so we thought we should share the speech that she gave here.
When I first graduated from university with an Honours degree in Economics I didn’t really know what career path I wanted to take so I took a 6 month temping contract in financial services to build some experience, get a bit of breathing space to give me time to think about what I wanted to do. In the end I stayed a little bit longer than 6 months, I was there for almost 14 years.
Over the 14 years I gained invaluable experience in financial services, and an understanding of business processes that started my love of data. In every role I had I worked with data, but very specific types of data. Whenever I had the opportunity to work on broader data projects I always wanted to understand more about the analytical and modelling techniques used but never had the opportunity to learn.
Then came redundancy, at first, I had no idea what I wanted to do, the easier option would be to keep doing a similar role to the one I was in either at a different company or in a different location. Then Lynn, a lovely lady I’d worked with for many years took me for lunch and gave me homework! The homework was really simple, what did I like about my past roles and what would I want in my next job / future career, and I knew I wanted my future to include data analytics of some kind. After talking a lot about my options I was introduced to data science as a subject, The Data Lab and a new course in Data Science for Business at the University of Stirling.
The year that followed was a whirlwind
After attending the launch event for the course at Stirling and hearing industry professionals and The Data Lab talk so passionately about the data industry and the need to not only train new students in data but to retrain professionals to meet the needs of the data industry in Scotland I was sold, I would take the leap, get out my comfort zone and retrain.
The year that followed was a whirlwind, but the Data Lab was there to support me throughout my journey. We had employability skills workshops from MBN that helped us write our CVs for a role in data, prepare us for placement interviews and provide useful insights into the use of social media in personal branding.
We attended Data Talent Scotland that combined presentations from industry with an opportunity to talk to organisations about the types of roles available within Scotland.
Most importantly to me we had Innovation Week. Innovation Week presented real world issues faced by organisations that we had to solve by working through the design process and not just by using data.
Delivering useful data insights
Taking all the skills I learned from The Data Lab events and my course, I was ready to undertake my summer placement. I was matched to a project at Volunteer Scotland where the initial aim was to look at how we could customise search results on the Volunteer Scotland website to increase click through rates from people searching for opportunities to registering interest.
Soon I was delving into the Scottish Household Survey and other sources of data to try to better understand the characteristics of certain demographic groups of volunteers. The last part of my assessment was to present the findings from the summer project to Volunteer Scotland and my academic supervisor. It was at that moment I felt everything I learned from the past year come together and I felt that I’d delivered data insights that Volunteer Scotland could use in the future.
What did I learn?
Data science is vital to all industries irrespective of the stage they are at in there data journey. Working in the third sector let me see just how important data driven insights can be not just at an organisational level but in tackling wider Scottish issues.
Keep things simple and client focused, there’s a temptation to throw every technique you’ve learned at your project but they’re not all appropriate. Being able to choose what is appropriate and what will help your client is a critical part of not only your summer project, but any data projects you work on in the future.
Being able to communicate technical insights and techniques to non-technical audiences is as important as being able to analyse the data. It was really important to me that this was embedded in The Data Lab program as I’d often been in meetings with technical and business experts where it seemed both sides were talking in their own language, and it could be difficult to make progress, being able to bridge that gap is a vital skill for a successful career in any sector.
I’m excited by the opportunities that The Data Lab program has opened for me
Without The Data Lab’s support I would be a frustrated data scientist, without even knowing that’s what I was. With The Data Lab’s support I graduated with an MSc in Data Science for Business (with Distinction), I was honoured to win The Data lab Student Project of the Year and secured an amazing job at Volunteer Scotland. I’m excited by the opportunities that The Data Lab program has opened for me and where my own data journey will take me in the future.
Thank you to everyone at The Data Lab, MBN, University of Stirling and Volunteer Scotland for being part of The Data Lab program that offered me so much support over the last year. And thank you to the Scottish Government and all organisations that support The Data lab program that offers so much to all the students taking part.