Home > data science, guest post, math, modeling, open source tools, statistics, women in math > Guest post by Julia Evans: How I got a data science job

Guest post by Julia Evans: How I got a data science job

April 5, 2013

This is a guest post by Julia Evans. Julia is a data scientist & programmer who lives in Montréal. She spends her free time these days playing with data and running events for women who program or want to — she just started a Montréal chapter of pyladies to teach programming, and co-organize a monthly meetup called Montréal All-Girl Hack Night for women who are developers.

asked mathbabe a question a few weeks ago saying that I’d recently started a data science job without having too much experience with statistics, and she asked me to write something about how I got the job. Needless to say I’m pretty honoured to be a guest blogger here :) Hopefully this will help someone!

Last March I decided that I wanted a job playing with data, since I’d been playing with datasets in my spare time for a while and I really liked it. I had a BSc in pure math, a MSc in theoretical computer science and about 6 months of work experience as a programmer developing websites. I’d taken one machine learning class and zero statistics classes.

In October, I left my web development job with some savings and no immediate plans to find a new job. I was thinking about doing freelance web development. Two weeks later, someone posted a job posting to my department mailing list looking for a “Junior Data Scientist”. I wrote back and said basically “I have a really strong math background and am a pretty good programmer”. This email included, embarrassingly, the sentence “I am amazing at math”. They said they’d like to interview me.

The interview was a lunch meeting. I found out that the company (Via Science) was opening a new office in my city, and was looking for people to be the first employees at the new office. They work with clients to make predictions based on their data.

My interviewer (now my manager) asked me about my role at my previous job (a little bit of everything — programming, system administration, etc.), my math background (lots of pure math, but no stats), and my experience with machine learning (one class, and drawing some graphs for fun). I was asked how I’d approach a digit recognition problem and I said “well, I’d see what people do to solve problems like that, and I’d try that”.

I also talked about some data visualizations I’d worked on for fun. They were looking for someone who could take on new datasets and be independent and proactive about creating model, figuring out what is the most useful thing to model, and getting more information from clients.

I got a call back about a week after the lunch interview saying that they’d like to hire me. We talked a bit more about the work culture, starting dates, and salary, and then I accepted the offer.

So far I’ve been working here for about four months. I work with a machine learning system developed inside the company (there’s a paper about it here). I’ve spent most of my time working on code to interface with this system and make it easier for us to get results out of it quickly. I alternate between working on this system (using Java) and using Python (with the fabulous IPython Notebook) to quickly draw graphs and make models with scikit-learn to compare our results.

I like that I have real-world data (sometimes, lots of it!) where there’s not always a clear question or direction to go in. I get to spend time figuring out the relevant features of the data or what kinds of things we should be trying to model. I’m beginning to understand what people say about data-wrangling taking up most of their time. I’m learning some statistics, and we have a weekly Friday seminar series where we take turns talking about something we’ve learned in the last few weeks or introducing a piece of math that we want to use.

Overall I’m really happy to have a job where I get data and have to figure out what direction to take it in, and I’m learning a lot.

  1. April 5, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Congrat! We need more math people out there playing with data! Good luck in all you do :o)

  2. April 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Reblogged this on analyticalsolution and commented:
    Gotta start somewhere! Good luck Julia!

  3. Vanya
    April 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Congratulations! You have a treasure! But you could specify in your title ‘in the US’, how you got a data science job in the US. Because in some other places, it seems data don’t exist. I have 5 years experience in building predictive models, statistical background, knowledge of machine learning, agent-modeling, programming in R, Java and Matlab and the most I have got is a consultant job for two months… in last year and half. Keep that treasure of job you have and be lucky not to be in a country with 26% of unemployment rate.

    • April 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Thank you! I live in Canada, but the economic situation is even better here I think. It’s awful that you’re having so much trouble when you know so many things. Good luck!

  4. Al
    April 28, 2013 at 4:33 am

    I also recently got a job in data science, and I’m surprised how much your story has in common with mine. I was also at a university in Montreal when a company came to my department and recruited me. My company also hired quite a few people who didn’t have much practical experience with experimental data (I’m not one of them). I’m quite certain from the details of your article that we are not working for the same company. For one, I had to move to a different continent to take the job.

  5. May 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm

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