Whether you’re still deciding which profession to pursue or contemplating a career change, it’s always fascinating to hear about other people’s journeys – particularly those with non-linear career paths.
Lisa Mitford, a data scientist at 24.com, is someone who certainly didn’t go the traditional route. While the divide between music and data science may seem world apart, Lisa seems to have successfully crossed it – having both a bachelor’s in music and a successful career as a data scientist at 24.com.
What led you to data science?
After joining Media24 as a SAP consultant and working in this space for a few years, I experienced a health scare. On returning from sick leave I realised I craved a fresh challenge but was unsure what path to pursue. I then started taking inventory of the skills I enjoy using the most and the kinds of tasks that excite me. I came up with things like “I enjoy working with patterns and making order out of chaos and finding out I can build things”. After doing a bit of research I came across data science, and it sounded like a good fit for all these things I’d identified. Despite the fact that a career in data science involved skills I didn’t possess at the time, such as coding, I forged ahead because the whole field was just so interesting.
How did you acquire coding skills?
I sat down in the lounge one night, logged on to Udemy and found a Python course. After completing it I just kept going and found new courses to do each week. I also took a basic business stats course, and then came across one on machine learning, so I was just playing with these courses in the background and seeing how I felt about each of them.
My manager at the time was super-supportive, so I started automating some of the more mundane tasks in my job through Python scripts. By this point I was saving a lot of time, which I committed to my studies, and was able to attend an intensive two-month data science course. I came back fired up, wanting to gain as much experience as possible to realise my dream of becoming a data scientist.
“If you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable a lot of the time, then you’ll be a great data scientist.”
How did you land a career in data science?
By the time I finished the intensive course, I was ready to pursue a career in the field, but there weren’t any data science jobs available at Media24. So I contacted the then head of analytics and customer insights at 24.com, Gareth Lloyd, and asked if he had any projects I could help with to get some experience under my belt. Gareth gave me a little project to assist with and the very next month a data analyst post came up in his team. I had to do a bit more research and late-night studying to ace the interview, but I landed the job and soon after was promoted to data scientist.
What do you love about your job?
No two days are the same and I get to do something different almost every day. Businesses are always after new predictions and insights. Often you don’t know how to do it, but you’re so invested in the project and your own growth that you make time to gain the skills you’re lacking and find a way to solve the challenge. One of my earlier mentors from AIMS once told me; “If you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable a lot of the time, then you’ll be a great data scientist,” and this wisdom holds true. The challenge of being a data scientist and knowing I don’t know everything motivates me every day and challenges me to learn and explore more all the time.
Any advice for girls/women who want to pursue a career in STEM?
When I started my career in IT, I was the only woman in the room, but I wasn’t intimidated and always spoke up and put myself forward. Luckily times have changed, and more women are breaking into science, tech, engineering and maths (STEM)-related fields. I’m no longer in big meetings where I’m the only woman at the table. Over the years, the idea that women don’t/can’t code has all but dissipated and I hope future generations will push aside preconceived notions and not let gender stand in the way of their dream career.