Diversity and Inclusivity series: Rosie’s Journey from Freelance Translator to Data Scientist

Diversity and Inclusivity series: Rosie’s Journey from Freelance Translator to Data Scientist

At Infotel UK Consulting, we are proud to foster an inclusive and diverse environment where individuals from all walks of life can thrive. Today, we are excited to share the inspiring story of Rosie, one of our talented team members, who joined us in January 2023. Rosie’s journey as a woman in tech, a career changer, and someone who relocated to the vibrant North East region, reflects the spirit of growth, resilience, and empowerment that we encourage within our organisation.

Q: Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?

A: Infotel UK works in an Agile methodology, so days usually start with a standup meeting with my team. Apart from that, every day is different. On about two days per week, I work in the Infotel office, usually on client project work. This work involves data analysis, writing code, and data visualisation, as well as discussing project approaches within the team. I might also spend some time developing my skills through self-study, or in workshops together with my colleagues. On another two days a week, I do these same kinds of work, but remotely, from home. About one day a week, I visit client offices with my team, to present my work to the client and have other meetings with them.

Q: What initially attracted you to the North East region and made you consider pursuing further studies there?

A: I had been working as a freelance translator for a few years when the pandemic hit. When translation work dried up in the early months of the pandemic, I started to look around at other job opportunities. In late July 2020, I found a fully remote position as a Data Contractor.

I soon realised how much I enjoyed working in that sector. When I saw an advert for Data Science courses I decided to apply, so that I could progress in my new career.

Having done my undergrad degree at Durham I researched their Master’s courses and saw they offered a Data Science conversion course. I visited Durham for a week in September 2020 and while on a day trip to Newcastle I decided to see whether they also ran an MSc Data Science course, which they did. I received offers from the three Universities that I applied to for 2021 entry and chose Newcastle.

Q: Could you tell me more about your experience during your study to become a Data Scientist? How did it help you develop new skills and interests as a career changer?

A: On my course – MSc in Data Science with Specialisation in Artificial Intelligence – I was given many opportunities to learn new skills. We learned programming languages including Python and R, and techniques for Exploratory Data Analysis and Data Visualisation, among many other things. I also started working again on skills that I had started to learn in the past. For the first time since High School (a long time ago now!) I returned to doing Maths and Statistics. I was surprised by how much I remembered! The course instructors, and the materials they supplied, were also excellent.

The course involved some presenting and public speaking. I found that I enjoyed these things. I hadn’t known that I did, as I had never really done those things before. I also discovered strong interests in data visualisation, machine learning, and the domain of food supply chains.

The end of all Covid restrictions in the UK was followed by the end of the tenancy agreement on my house (in the other town) and I made the move to Newcastle. After I had moved, I went from living alone and working from home, to connecting with others on the course and in my shared accommodation. I had not had high expectations of moving into shared accommodation, especially as a mature student, but I loved it.

Q: How did the transition from working independently as a freelance translator to becoming a student again and connecting with others on your course impact your overall experience?

A: You must be patient with yourself as it takes time to learn anything new, but remember, if you don’t know something, it’s only because you haven’t learned it yet. You can learn new skills. And you might make progress more quickly than you expected to. As you start to work in a new area, you’ll probably also discover new talents, aptitudes, and interests.

It can feel like a huge risk and as though everything depends on success in this area so having other part-time or freelance work that is not related to your new career, and a supportive network can help. If you do not have these things, start looking for them now. For me personally, in Newcastle, it was helpful to be living with other mature students who were also committed to their postgraduate qualifications and to improving their professional lives. We were able to encourage each other and also have fun.

It’s not the ‘traditional route’ through life and it can seem like ‘swimming against the tide’. It requires a huge level of commitment. You will need to make sacrifices and at times, you might doubt yourself, but remember, that this isn’t forever, and you can always take time out if you need to.

Expect some initial questioning and lack of support when setting off on a new path, but rest assured that the success resulting from the risks you take will ultimately gather congratulations and praise from those around you.

Q: As a career changer, what advice would you give to others who are considering venturing into a new field?

A: Try it! If you are interested in an area, find a way to work in that area, even if this is voluntary work. See whether you enjoy it and whether this is genuinely what you want to do, but also whether you are good at it. Listen carefully to any feedback from people who are supervising or managing you. Once you are sure, then go for it. There are many more opportunities for retraining now than there were even a few years ago. Check out free bootcamps or any initiatives that the Government might be running. Or maybe your new employer will provide training.

Learn as much as you can from people who have been in your chosen new career for longer than you. Everyone you meet will know something you don’t yet know.

Q: Have you employed any strategies to sharpen your skills and secure your first job?

A: Starting in April 2022, I had the opportunity to take part in two free bootcamps run by Avado, in partnership with BT. This content was delivered fully remotely and involved individual online learning, group work and mentoring. I enjoyed, and felt that I benefited from, connecting with other learners, discussing ideas together and being exposed to new perspectives.

Diversity and inclusion were features of the course, along with allyship. I later learned why allyship is important; if someone is a target of prejudice, it can be difficult for them to stand up for themselves. It can also be hard for them to be taken seriously when they do so if they are seen as being ‘worse’ than others because they belong to a particular demographic. That’s why it’s important for others – allies – to stand up for the person who is being targeted.

The skills and subject knowledge covered in the first course were quite broad, while the second course focussed mainly on the data visualisation software Power BI. This complemented my MSc study as I was also using Power BI in my degree, but the other content was largely new to me. I was also assigned a mentor who I found to be helpful for both personal and career.

Q: Did your previous experience as a freelance translator prove valuable in transitioning to a career in tech?

A: I was surprised at how many of the skills I had learned while working as a freelance translator were transferable to a career in tech. I will now consider some of these skills.

Learning languages! I had experience of learning several human languages and I looked forward to the new challenge of learning programming languages.

I had been managing my own time for a while my work was project-based, and I was used to balancing many different tasks and projects. I had learned to live on a tight budget and be self-disciplined and to work until the work was done.

Also, my previous experience working independently in remote teams proved to be valuable.

Q: As a woman in tech, how did you perceive the gender dynamics in your industry, both during your study and career?

A: During my MSc at Newcastle University, other females on my course saw in Data Science a new career opportunity. Like me, they greatly enjoyed the course, and they were excited about the future. (The same also applied to male students I spoke with.)

There were more men than women on the course, but there were also more women than I had expected there to be.

In general, everyone was respectful to each other.

Q: Could you share more about your first day at Infotel and your initial impressions of the gender diversity within the company?

A: When starting work, my entire recruitment process for Infotel had been done remotely. I was surprised on my first day to find out there was only one woman in a large open-plan office; and about 20 or 30 men. However, colleagues have helped me by giving me the equipment that I need to do my job and helping me navigate “the way things are done” at Infotel. Two of my colleagues have acted as informal mentors to me.

Women should absolutely be encouraged to work in Data Science and other STEM careers. Pay can be better than in other sectors and the job satisfaction is, in my opinion, great. Many women can and do excel in this type of work.
I aim to add value to whichever team I am on through my skills and experience, some of which will be unique or unusual among people working in Data Science. In addition to, or separately from this, being a woman is one way in which I can offer an alternative perspective, and different life experiences from many people who work in Data Science. A lot of the work in Data Science involves producing products and services. Having a team made up of people who represent a diverse mixture of individuals, who more closely represent the diversity of the consumers or customers who will use these products and services helps to ensure that a wide range of customers are being catered for and that many people’s needs and perspectives are being taken into account.

Q: What are your thoughts on encouraging more women to pursue careers in Data Science and other STEM fields? How do you believe diversity and inclusion can positively impact product and service development?

A: Regarding encouraging more women to enter STEM fields, successful role models could help. Young girls who see women doing data science jobs might realise that this career could be an option for them, too. As well, I believe that mentors are important.

Products should be designed with all consumers in mind. It should also be considered how the product interacts with other products that people use. When I started visiting the client office, I was given a card that gave me access to the building. Along with this, I was given a card holder that worked by being clipped onto pockets. All well and good, but women’s clothing often doesn’t have pockets. On that day I was wearing a long tunic and leggings, neither of which had pockets. Fortunately, Infotel gives its staff lanyards for access cards and both my Infotel card and the client’s card fit into the card space on this lanyard. Otherwise, I would have had to carry the card around with me. One of my hands would have been “occupied” by carrying the card, which would have made it more difficult for me to get through doors and turnstiles and to carry things around the site. If women were involved in product design and product selection (and if their input was valued and acted on) then women’s clothing could be designed with pockets in it, or a different type of card holder could have been selected for the workers on that site. I don’t think anyone intentionally designed clothing, or selected card holders that did not work for women, but the situation could have been avoided if women had been considered.

The example above is a minor one. Other products that are designed with men in mind but are used by both men and women have had life-changing and even fatal effects. Cars have been designed based on experiments with male crash dummies, but not female ones. This means that in a collision, injuries to men’s bodies are minimised, but injuries to women’s bodies are not. At work, women must often wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that was designed for men, and that is a poor fit for women. This puts women at increased risk of harm in law enforcement, healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and the military. When people talk about ‘products that are designed for women’, maybe the first things that come to mind are sanitary protection, make up and the like. But everyday products such as clothing and cars are used by both men and women. However, they have often been designed only for men.

Specifically with AI and tech products, facial recognition technology correctly classifies white and male faces much more often than black and female faces. This has implications for criminal justice, as perpetrators may be (and may have been) identified incorrectly.

When products are being developed for disabled people, involving product users in product development can lead to a much better user experience. This can make the difference between the products being useful or not. More useful products are more likely to sell in greater quantities and to lead to increased profits.

Getting product design right the first time, by building products that work for everyone, is cheaper than having to redesign products later and needing to spend time dealing with contact from customers for whom the product does not work.

Rosie Finnegan

Data Scientist
Infotel UK Consulting