Anna McCartan Data Scientist at KPMG shares her journey from mathematics to becoming an expert in data analytics and machine learning
After graduating with a degree in Applied Mathematics, Anna wasn’t sure which career path she wanted to follow. Having now worked in her role for over two years, she shares the importance of soft skills, diverse backgrounds and taking advantage of upskilling opportunities when breaking into a new industry.
So, whether you're considering a career in data science but don’t know where to start or you’re an industry professional looking to advance in your tech career, read on to learn more from Anna’s personal experiences and expertise.
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You recently spoke at the Women Techmakers event in Belfast about building a successful data pipeline - can you tell me a bit about this?
The theme for this year’s Women Techmakers conference was “Dare To Be” as they were encouraging first-time speakers and my manager Angelica at KPMG encouraged me to submit a talk. I spoke about data pipelines, what they are and the different types such as batch versus streaming pipelines. I also went over best practices to follow for a reliable pipeline such as logging, optimisation and version control and the benefits they provide such as improved data quality, flexibility and agility, faster integration, and scalability. I was a bit apprehensive at first and was quite nervous as it was my first time speaking to that many people, but Women Techmakers was such a great environment, everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and it was such an inclusive event. I’m so glad I went for it as I got to meet so many interesting people and I would love the chance to do something similar again.
What did you do before working as a Data Scientist within Applied Intelligence, Management Consulting at KPMG Ireland?
Before starting at KPMG I had completed my Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics from Queen’s University Belfast. I loved problem-solving and anything that was analytical or technical. I was also introduced to programming during my time at Queen’s, and being honest, I didn’t enjoy it at first, but when I started learning more and gaining exposure to different languages, I became really interested in it. Once I graduated, I didn’t know exactly what job I wanted so I started researching jobs that aligned with my skillset and Data Science seemed to be a great fit. I did some online courses, such as the Udemy Python for Data Science and Machine Learning Bootcamp to help my understanding of topics such as data visualisation, linear and logistic regression, clustering and natural language processing at a beginner level. Not long after that I saw KPMG advertise a graduate Data Scientist role and I’m so happy I applied as it’s been a great two years so far and I have learned so much!
What is a typical day like in your role today?
My day usually starts off with our daily project stand-up, where we go through all the tasks which are in progress and make sure no one has any issues or blockers. Then it’s time to get some work done, my current project involves a lot of SQL for data transformation so when I’m in the office a few of us usually brainstorm any problems together. I think collaborating in person makes problem-solving a lot easier. I also love my coffee break each morning to get my caffeine fix and get chatting with others in the office. I usually have a few other meetings throughout the day for different things, which could be a client call, a knowledge transfer session, a technical demo, or a team update, so I try my best to balance those with getting my work done. Then I finish up and if the weather is nice, we usually head out for a drink to unwind from the day.
Do you need a particular degree / qualifications to work in a role like yours?
Definitely not - there are so many different routes into tech you don’t need one specific degree. I think having a technical degree can help as it provides a lot of transferable skills, however, soft skills like communication and teamwork are so important too, every degree will lend a different perspective/skillset and I think that’s great. Many companies now, KPMG included, are running Academies which help people upskill for careers in areas such as data analytics, so there are much more opportunities for people coming from all backgrounds to get into the field. There are also so many online resources, people can now teach themselves how to code or build their own personal projects, so anyone could work in tech if they want to!
What was it like starting off in the industry vs where you are now?
When I first started my current role, I definitely suffered with Imposters Syndrome, since I didn’t come from a Computer Science background I didn’t have as much coding experience as a lot of my peers, and felt I was at a disadvantage. However, after gaining more experience, learning on the job and having the support of a great team now I am a lot more confident in my ability. Even though I still experience self-doubt at times I now know it’s completely normal. Especially working in consulting where you work on a range of different projects, there are times you will be put on a project where you may have to use a completely new tool or technology you don’t have experience with, but now I know I will be able to learn as I go and use my transferable skills. I think it’s important to remember that everyone has a different skillset and having that diversity in knowledge helps makes a great team. Now I see a challenge as an opportunity to learn rather than something to be afraid of!
What advice would you give to other women interested in or considering pursuing a career in tech?
I would say to anyone who wanted to get involved in tech, to start attending local conferences and meetups. Beltech, AINI, NI Dev Conference, Women Techmakers and Digital DNA are a few which take place in Northern Ireland each year. These are a great way to listen to people from different roles in tech so you can see what interests you. It’s also a great way to network with others in the field and ask for advice for getting involved. Communities like Women in AI Ireland are also great, they even have mentor schemes which are fantastic for new entrants into tech and they run tutorials and projects which are very useful for beginners and a great addition to your CV. Having a mentor is really useful for career advice and personal development, so I would suggest reaching out to other women in tech or joining a mentorship programme.
Looking back on your career what is one thing you would tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that it’s okay not to know everything. The good thing about working in Tech is that it’s constantly evolving and there’s always new tools and technologies coming out. This means you must be constantly learning to keep up with it all, which can be intimidating, but it’s important to remember it’s impossible to know everything and no one does. I think it’s ideal to focus on a few key areas of interest and try your best to keep upskilled in those areas.
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