Data Analytics Career Track
Cana Curtis
Before Springboard:
Math teacher
After Springboard:
Research analyst at Virginia Commonwealth University
“My mentors were a critical part of my success in the program.”
“My mentors were a critical part of my success in the program.”
Meet Cana Curtis, a graduate of Springboard’s Data Analytics Career Track.

After graduating with a math degree, Cana Curtis wasn’t sure what her next step would be. She applied to the Teach for America program and was placed as a math teacher at a public school in Oakland, CA. However, teachers put in a lot of extra work outside of the classroom, such as grading assignments and making lesson plans, and Cana sensed she was burning out.

While living in Oakland, she was exposed to people from the Bay Area who worked in the tech industry. That’s when she first learned about data analytics. Given her love of math and analytical thinking, Cana was immediately drawn to the field. After completing Springboard’s Data Analytics Career Track, she landed a role as a research analyst at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she analyzes data for the school of medicine.

Given her education background, Cana found that her best strategy when job searching was to use her domain knowledge as a career switcher and focus on applying to jobs in the education sector.

Tell me about your career path before Springboard.

I joined the Teach for America program, which took me from Maryland to California. My teaching approach was a bit unorthodox. We would play games and dance. I was looking for ways to make math less frightening for eighth graders.

What led you to take the plunge and study something new?

Living in California and being exposed to people from Silicon Valley and the Bay Area opened my eyes to the fact that I could do more with my math degree. I’ve always loved that math is black-and-white: you get a right answer or a wrong answer. I wanted to learn data analytics because of my love for numbers and problem-solving.

Was it scary to take the first step toward your career change?

There were a lot of unknowns. When you make a career change, you’re taking on the possibility of not having an income for a while or having to work a temporary job to get by while you’re switching careers. But I had a lot of hope and knew it would be worth it.

Did you work while studying at Springboard?

I became a substitute teacher so I could be in a classroom three or four days a week instead of every day. Substitute teaching let me step away from lesson planning and grading so that when I got home, I could just focus on Springboard.

Tell me about your new job as a research analyst at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I’m a teacher, so I’ve always been invested in education, so I’m excited to work at a university that’s also pretty well-known. During my job search, I found my niche. I noticed I would hear back from colleges and universities more often than when I applied to a random company. I like that I contribute to the education industry while exploring data analytics and sharpening my technical skills.

How did your background as an educator set you apart from other candidates competing for the same position?

Having a degree in math was an advantage. It was a very challenging major, but I had fun doing it. My education background made it easier for me to land a job at a university. It impacts how I look at the data, which set me apart from other candidates.

Tell me about your favorite capstone project that you completed at Springboard.

My project was an analysis of whether NBA players are getting taller over time. I was watching NBA games during the course and I noticed a lot of players were dunking. This made me wonder if the players were getting taller because dunking requires height. According to my analysis, players are not getting taller overall; they’re just able to jump higher and run longer and fasterThat’s why more players are able to reach the rim [of the basketball hoop] regardless of their height.
I made an interactive dashboard grouping the players by decade so you could see the tallest players, their height and weight, and average scores.

Did you have a chance to discuss your capstone projects during the interview process?

During my first interview at VCU, the interviewer said, “I saw that capstone project you did on the NBA players and it was so interesting.” He was an NBA fan, so he wanted to shout that out.

Do you have any future data analytics projects in mind?

I live in a sports-loving household and I watch a lot of games, so I will probably do something sports-related. I’d like to do an analysis of female broadcasters because there aren’t that many of them at the bigger sporting events. Another idea I had was to explore the relationship between winning an Oscar and how that impacts an actor’s earnings.

What was the most valuable part of your Springboard experience?

I’m so grateful to my mentors. I could bounce ideas off them and they would listen to anything I had to say, whether or not it was Springboard-related. It was the first time I’d built a relationship with someone in the tech community. It was nice to talk to an expert while I’m learning new skills. My mentors were a critical part of my success in the program.

What’s the best piece of advice you got from your mentor?

Focus on learning the most important concepts. Everything else will come. Later on, you’ll learn how to make your data visualizations beautiful and add bells and whistles. By focusing on building a solid foundation, I got through the course without too much stress.

What was your job search process like?

It’s about telling yourself to wake up and send 10 more applications, even though you don’t feel like it. I’m a pretty good judge of character, so 10 minutes into a call with a recruiter I can tell if it’s not going anywhere. The job search is the hardest part and you just have to persevere through it. My career coach and my family helped me through that.

What do your family and friends think about your career switch?

My mom was a teacher for over 30 years. I grew up saying I didn’t want to be a teacher because I saw how hard it was for her. In the beginning, she said, “What are you doing? Why are you leaving the teaching profession?” Now that I have the job, everyone’s excited. My mom called her brothers to tell them about it. They understand this field is more suited to me. I know they’re proud of me and they’re happy for this next phase of my life.

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