Whenever I am on a boat I have this habit of spending the first moments looking back at land as it looks more distant with the time that passes and then at some point, when I feel satisfied with that, I look the other way, where usually the sea and the sky become one, a sense of serenity washing over me, fully aware of what l what I left behind and going into the unknown that awaits. The 6-th of May marks my first anniversary of my working career. I tend to do the same thing with life as I do on the boat, look back for a while, see what went down, what I took from it all and then turn the other way and go about my day.
It has been a long year, a bit of a roller coaster, mainly because life can get complicated which most often unconsciously affects your career choices because as much as we’d like to separate the two they are strongly related with one another: there are no two cars going on two different lanes, the car is just one and so is the lane; I stand today with plans changed along the way, in my second job, and full of lifelong worth of lessons learnt.
My first job was an internship as a Data Scientist in a very big company which lasted 6 months. I think it’s safe to say that just like your first love, you never forget your first job.
I am incredibly lucky to have had a wonderful mentor during these 6 months, who took the time to point out to me, on a daily basis, what are the things to keep in mind, to repeat to me all the lessons he had learned during his years of experience, to leave me room to experiment but also to instruct me.
I learned how to hold a meeting, I learned how to hold a meeting without losing people’s attention, how to present my work, the technical aspect of things, to people who are not familiar with Neural Networks or any Natural Language Processing terms, how to be precise in a presentation, how to put everything inside a box in a presentation (it’s kind of an inside joke), how to get the requirements for a project, how to get informed for a field I did not know much about like Supply Chain, how to distinguish which requirements are feasible and which are not when the time constraint comes into play (this one took me awhile, I have to admit). All this due to good mentoring.
I also learnt that the industrialization of a machine learning solution to a problem can take months and months to be done but that’s a discussion for a different day.
One aspect that I had felt was always missing during my university years was human interaction, the act of collaboration with people from different backgrounds while working on a project. In a field such as Data Science domain knowledge is fundamental and without that collaboration you risk producing results not worthy of anyone’s time. During the internship I had the pleasure of working with people of many different areas like marketing or HR. Not only were these collaborations a key factor to the projects’ success but they also helped me personally a lot too. I remember in particular how working closely with the HR team gave me some insights which came in handy when I was interviewing people for a position or even when I was doing job interviews during my second job hunting.
Image is often considered as something shallow to talk about but I learned that it is even more silly not to consider it a key factor. Whether it is the image of your company, you or the work you are presenting, the design and the attention to the details, it is now evident to me that it might have a contribute up to 40% of the work done. Don’t underestimate it.
My second and current job is one of Data Engineering, not that far away from the first one. The dynamics are very different, the company I work for is smaller in size, the culture in place differs a lot from my first job mainly because of the daily activities and area of business.
If there is one thing I have learned during the last couple of months is that of being flexible, flexibility in terms of software used, in terms of types of datasets explored, in terms of people you have to work with.
The use of different types of software that serve the same purpose is that of looking at data from different perspectives and using your imagination to fix whatever issue might come up in different ways, to find different solutions to one problem. Switching from one to another can be tough at times but I have found it to be quite a stimulating exercise for the brain as well.
One of the aspects I love the most about the field that I studied in is the diversity that comes with each dataset at hand. To be able to work on a problem of any kind with a dataset you first have to get a feeling of the data underneath and that usually is accompanied by learning a lot for a specific field which can come in handy even in everyday situations.
Another aspect that I am finding quite important is the amount of interaction I have with different people I get to work with. There is so much to learn when it comes to work relationships and the only way to learn this is through experience.
From mentoring to management
Something that has stuck with me is how much impact a mentor (for a beginner) and a manager (later on), can have inside a company and more importantly for an individual. The first person to have that impact on your working career, being that positive or negative is something that stays with you forever.
Often-wise, being in charge can be a daunting task. Not only you have to organize the work that needs to be done but you also need to best organize your resources as well, where the most valuable resources are the team members. The organization of the team can be brought down to three simple components: realizing the potential, setting up the right environment and continuously feeding the team members with the right spirit. A “well done, great job” can do wonders.
A team is as strong as its manager.
As I see it, the distinction between a good manager and a bad one is centered around personal qualities of the individual: ability to understand people (realize the potential), being organized and always looking ahead of things, planning for eventual situations, not just the current one (setting up the right environment) and most importantly to have patience and understanding as well as to reward the team whenever necessary (continuously feeding the team members with the right spirit). As all human characteristics go, not everyone has them and while it is true that in time one can learn I always wonder about the naturalness of things and in this case if everyone if then meant to become one.
As I see it, being a mentor or a manager it’s also a question of leaving your mark in the world; a chain of passing down what you know and helping someone in becoming a better person and doing his/her job.
Always a student
The general perception, at least mine, was that during your studies you are taking and taking and when you start working you have to start giving and giving, but boy was I wrong. There exists an expression in my mother-tongue that translated in english is “As you shall live, you shall learn”. I had never understood the meaning of that to its fullest extent until I started working. In only just one year I have taken and then some more which at times feels overwhelming when thinking of how much there is one does not know, especially the things one does not know to not know.
“Sa do rrosh, do mësosh”
When I was a little, my mom used to always take a photo of me on the first day of the school to immortalize the beginning of another year of investment towards my future. I kept the tradition up even during college and I remember the bittersweet feeling of the last time I did that; what I didn’t know back then was that things were not going to change much even after the years of studies. I did end up taking a photo my first day of work also, maybe because the excitement of the first day of something big for me was always associated with school or maybe because, indeed, we remain students for life.