August 31, 2017

From Customer Service To Junior Data Engineer

I am a 22-year-old woman in tech currently working as a Junior Data Engineer. Two months ago, I worked in a customer service role, and I was very fortunate to be offered this role as a secondment. I am now almost halfway through my secondment, working with a great team of people. I am learning about programming in Python and SQL and solving problems within Big Data. My life was completely different three months ago, and I am here to share my story with you.

My background

Just three months ago, I worked as a customer service executive in a fin-tech start-up. I was in this role for nine months, and it was my first graduate job. A year prior, I had just finished my final year exams and was about to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. I enjoyed my course as I am passionate about understanding human behavior, thinking, and interaction.

After completing my degree, I was unsure of which career path to follow. I have so many interests and passions including psychology, technology, dancing, and writing, I did not know which one to choose. I knew I wanted to help people and I had some retail experience, so I applied for customer facing roles in the corporate sector.

I started a customer service role in a fin-tech company a month after my graduation. During my time working in customer service, I was exposed to other departments in the company including the engineering department. When I heard about programming and the endless possibilities of things you can create with code, I was very interested in learning how to code. I wanted to work in a sector where I would need to use creativity, logic and be challenged to produce projects.

The career shift

My interest in big data first began when I met someone who works in big data, and I asked them many questions about how to code and what problems big data is solving. That person became my mentor, and I was encouraged to learn Python as a good language, to begin with. After hours of working in customer service, I would learn to code starting with the basics of Python and SQL. I would have one session a week with my mentor where I could ask them questions about Python, and they gave me some challenging problems to solve.

I would highly recommend that you get a mentor if you are learning to code. I would not be where I am today if it were not for my mentor. The advice of a mentor based on their experience can help to push you to the next level. I went from:


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After four months of learning, I had a basic level of knowledge in Python and SQL. During this time, there was a job opening for a junior engineer in the data team within the company. I felt hesitant to apply due to my lack of a technical background. In my efforts to get the job, I researched the role, and I was prepared to express my passion for coding in the interview.

Despite my lack of professional technical experience, I was offered the job as a junior data engineer. I am incredibly thankful to my manager for giving me this opportunity to learn. I am now working in a team of very smart and focused people, who are extremely helpful and dedicated to their jobs.

Challenges I faced learning to code:

While I was learning to code as a complete beginner, I faced some difficult challenges. These included:

Which problems to solve.

Once I learned a few basic concepts in Python, I struggled to know how to apply all of them in a full project. I was lucky enough to have a mentor to provide me with some useful Python projects to work on such as requesting an API. One project I enjoyed working on was calling the Skyscanner API to get the cheapest flights from the user’s chosen destination (you can find my code here). For a beginner, I would recommend projects such as calling to website’s API.

How to problem-solve

When I was given my first python project from my mentor, I did not know how to go about solving the problem. I used to think that I could start off with writing lots of lines of code and I would be done. I did not know that most of the coding is thinking about how to solve the problem. Then, once you have thought of a solution, that is when the coding process begins. So now when I am faced with a problem to solve, I think about the ways to approach solving the problem before applying the solution. Some ways I have gotten better at problem-solving is by playing some challenging games on my phone, reading books and reading online about problem-solving.

How to google search

I have noticed that the difference between a junior programmer (like myself) and a senior developer, is that when I query google, I browse some links before I can find the solution to the problem or bug in my code. However, when a senior programmer googles searches, they locate the solution in the first or second link on google. Google searching is a skill which takes time to know how to do well. I’m working on improving this by choosing better keywords to search.

The imposter syndrome

For a long time, I have been feeling like a fraudster entering the tech world because of my lack of professional technical experience. I honestly felt like people were questioning my existence when they asked me how I got into tech. It took some time before I stopped giving power to my self-doubt, but when I did, I realized that people are interested in my background and I began to accept myself for where I am right now. I am so proud to be in the tech industry, and the people in this industry are so welcoming and helpful.

The present and future

I am still learning about big data, and I use Python and SQL to complete projects at work. I am excited to continue solving more challenging problems. I share my story as proof to the world that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, no matter what degree you studied. I came from a low-income background with a degree in Psychology, so I encourage people with interest in programming to go for it!

In the future, I want to continue to have an impactful contribution in the technology sector, to inspire and encourage diversity in the STEM industry. #WomenInTech

Nadia Ali

22 year old Data engineer, psychology graduate, dancer and blogger

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