Unsure which direction to take her career after graduating with a degree in English, Abby Morgan decided to keep her lucrative job as a bartender in the Boston area while she mulled over her next move. Eventually, she became a bar manager, overseeing inventory, invoicing, and a team of 5-10 bartenders.
While the pay was good and she enjoyed getting to know her regulars on a first-name basis, Abby knew she didn’t want to stay in the hospitality industry long-term. When the COVID-19 pandemic triggered government-mandated lockdowns, like millions of other service industry workers, she found herself without a job.
After accepting a part-time role as COVID-19 contact tracer for a nonprofit organization called Partners in Health, Abby had her first exposure to data—namely, the importance of public health data during a time when experts knew so little about the virus and the risks of contagion.
“I didn’t work directly with data, but I realized that the data was shaping our understanding of the pandemic,” said Abby.
After completing the Data Science Career Track at Springboard, she landed a role as a data scientist at NPD Group, a market research firm headquartered in New York. She also became one of the first Springboard students to join the Community Advocates Program—a new program that provides former students with the opportunity to mentor current students who are enrolled in Springboard.
When I first graduated college, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had gotten a bachelor's in English because I loved reading, but I was a little bit lost in terms of my career trajectory. So I did what a lot of college grads do and I got a job in the hospitality industry. I got a few promotions and eventually I was managing a bar.
Before I knew it, I'd been doing it for way longer than I'd ever anticipated. Ultimately, I'm super grateful for my experiences in hospitality before I discovered data science. It shaped my work ethic and helped me excel in customer-facing roles.
Working in the service industry sharpened my communication skill as well as other soft skills that I know I'll use for the rest of my career. But I never intended to stay in that career. So when I started to learn about the importance of data and how it's used in the world today, I was super excited to make that shift.
When the pandemic started, I was out of a job for some time, so I began working as a COVID-19 contact tracer. I didn't have too many hands-on experiences with data, but I did have a lot of interaction with the data team. I began to appreciate what data teams bring to the table. So much of the early days of the pandemic were defined by this data and having access to real time breaking information.
I was fascinated by the process and seeing how quickly the data teams would ingest information and turn it into actionable insights.
NPD Group is a market research and analysis company. We work with general merchandise and consumer packaged goods companies from industries ranging from food and beverage, to apparel, to automotive. We track consumer trends within the U.S. but also internationally.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons about the importance of data quality, data cleaning and data classification, because we deal with huge amounts of data that is often very messy and needs a lot of tender, loving care.
My mentor was Raghunandan “Raghu” Patthar [manager of AI and machine learning at the Faurecia R&D Center in Bengaluru]. Mentors are definitely one of the most helpful parts of the Springboard experience. I would not have made it as far without Raghu, because he really shaped my understanding of the data science concepts I was learning.
My biggest misconception before Springboard was that I thought a data scientist’s job was to analyze data and create something from it, whether that’s actionable insights or even a physical product. But so much of the job is about analyzing noisy, dirty data and turning it into something you’re able to work with.
When I first started optimizing my LinkedIn profile and defining my professional backstory, I struggled with this. My advice is keep thinking about your past experiences and tease out those transferable skills. Communication is one example of my transferable skills. In data science, technical people don’t always know how to communicate with clients and stakeholders. I think my experience as a bartender taught me how to speak to people, understand where they're coming from, and get right on their level.
I had a moment at some point in my Springboard experience where I stumbled upon this idea of “learning in public.” It means being open, vulnerable, and humble about your learning experience but at the same time being confident enough to share what I do know and ask for help for the things I don’t know. Being active on Slack and LinkedIn really transformed my learning journey when I became more open to making mistakes in public and testing my new identity as a data scientist. I joined the program because I wanted to give back and continue my own learning journey.