This has to be the most common question on data science I am asked, and honestly it is a hard one to answer. For everyone out there trying to get your foot in the door on your first data job, believe me, I feel for you. Multiple interviews without any offers, or even not getting any interviews at all can be beyond frustrating. Now unfortunately, I do not have any magic trick to get your into the data field, but I can share how I did it.
So, how did I get into the data science field…
Honestly, I “Made” my first job. My first career out of the Army was as a biomedical equipment technician. I fixed medical equipment like patient monitors, ultrasounds, and x-ray machines.
We had a ticketing system called MediMizer where all the repairs and routine maintenance jobs were recorded. My bosses would run monthly reports out the system. I read some of the reports and just felt like we could do better.
I started with just Excel. I downloaded some data, created some pivot charts and made some basic visualizations. I asked new questions from the data. I looked at angles that weren’t covered in the existing reporting.
I showed these to my bosses, my co-workers, other department managers, basically anyone who would listen to me. Then I learned about Tableau, and using its free version I was able to create some more professional looking visualizations.
I learned how to make a dashboard, I started analyzing data sets from other departments, and I began feeding them my reports. I went back to school to get a degree and used what I was learning in school to improve my reporting skills.
While my job title didn’t change, I was now able to put data analysis skills on my resume. I was lucky enough to have very supportive management who saw the value in what I was doing, and allowed me to dedicate some of my time to it.
But most importantly, I was now a data professional (even if not in title). I was using data to solve real world problems. I put together a portfolio of some of the reporting I was doing. This allowed me to show my future employer that not only was I able to create reporting, but more importantly I was able to identify real world business problems and use data to help solve them.
The take away is don’t let your job title hold you back. Look around, what kind of problems do you see? Can you find a data-driven solution to help fix the problem? If you do this, you are a now a data professional (even if not in title). A portfolio made from real world examples can be more impressive than generic tutorial or Kaggle projects.
Remember, when trying to break into a new field, sometimes you need to make your own luck.