Sabbatical and the search for a dream job

For last few months I have been unemployed. Now it’s coming to an end as I am starting a new job next month. Surprisingly, for the period that was supposed to be more relaxed, quite a few things were happening in my life, and I hardly had time to put anything in writing. Fortunately, it’s January now, and I can align this entry with all the other blog posts on last year’s review and New Year’s resolutions. So, it’s a perfect moment for the summary.

Technical Seller

To get into this jobless state, I merely left Microsoft at the beginning of July last year. There are plenty of reasons why one decides to move a company. But in my opinion, the bottom line is that something was wrong or not enough where they were. Even if your choice of change is a genuine career move, it means your current firm didn’t give you adequate opportunities. At least from your subjective point of view.

My primary motivation happened to be that the role evolved and at the end wasn’t what it had been advertised, simply not what I had signed up for. The central part of it became to be sales, not at all my career aspiration field. Some of my colleagues hated when we were called technical sellers in the formal communication, but for me, the central pain was that I stopped coding and switched to the Power Point, phone and Skype. And when I realised I was evaluated on the number of meetings I was having with the customers I started to wonder. Funnily enough, my conference speaking engagements weren’t recognised as the sales effort, and I was asked to do this in my own time.

My first instinct and everybody else’s advice were to examine the internal vacancies that would align better with my technical desires and conference speaking. I did that and even got some offers. However, as the roles weren’t entirely what I was looking for (and had still too much of the sales elements), I made up my mind to leave the company altogether.

Busy time off

To almost everyone’s surprise, I didn’t have the next job waiting. And I even wasn’t looking for one. The whole situation made me think that I still am not sure of what I want to do with my career. I certainly knew some things, like that I want to code and build machine learning models to solve real-world problems. I decided to take some time to get more answers.

The plan was to rest, have some space and do some thinking in the meantime. As I had a couple of conferences and workshops coming up, I did realise that it wouldn’t be all just relaxing. Having more free time during the day, made me add some items to my TODO list. I started few Data Science courses (including Andrew Ng’s Deep Learning specialization, Udacity nanodegree and John Hopkins University specialization), was helping with Katacoda and took up some side projects. On top of that, while successfully weeding out most of the recruiters, I encountered some attractive job offers and was preparing for their recruitment processes too.

There I was, few months into unemployment, working hard, almost every day, travelling and going to meetups. When I eventually woke up and started to think about having actual quiet time, it was already too late. My body had already decided that there is a time to break. I found myself in bed with a massive headache that lasted for almost two weeks. Nothing helped – pills, sleeping, home methods. Few good things came out as a result. First, I was forced to have some rest finally. And I started to go to the gym as working out was helping to relax my neck muscles that appeared to be the origin of the pain. It was also a prominent wake-up call. Since then I knew I have to take it easy and use the time off as intended.

What do I want?

Once I recovered and rested, I finally was in a position to come to some conclusions about my job plans. I was thinking about all the things that I am good at, my skills, fields of expertise and first of all what gives me the most pleasure and fun in my work. At that point, few things became clear. Main didn’t change – I wanted to use my abilities in data science to tackle real problems with technology. I needed to code every day, build machine learning models and help with the projects that will end up in production. Just designing and advising wasn’t enough anymore.

Another angle was learning and teaching. I feel the best when my tasks are challenging and demanding and when I learn a lot on the way. And then I love to reflect on my work and give back to the community. Speaking at conferences gives me the perfect opportunity for doing it, so it would be hard for me to cut this part off from my future career. I also gave some workshops during the summer, and it worked out very well from what I head from the audience and how I felt about them. Although teaching is undoubtedly my thing, I wasn’t convinced to do pure evangelism roles.

Finally, I was considering different kinds of employment. I could get another permanent position, go contracting or start my own business. I was enjoying my lifestyle so much, especially the fact that I wasn’t on the clock. I could go to the gym in the middle of the day, sleep until noon or stay up all night. You can see why the prospect of going to the office every day wasn’t that tempting. On the other hand, my own company would mean a lot of sales-related activities, the ones that had put me off last time.

Success and happiness

Recently I was asked to become a mentor in the Tech Leaders programme. This initiative connects women that want to start a project, make a career change or seek guidance, with people having the corresponding expertise and experience. At that moment I was called a successful person in one of the applications, and it made me wonder if I can be named one since I was unemployed for few months then. Could I advise anyone who wants to get a job? Would I be a proper role model? Can I be a person to reach to when someone is trying to figure out what to do with their career?

The answers were all yes. I have enough experience when it comes to the job market. I worked in a variety of companies, with many teams. I held positions from programmer, software architect and team leader. I also changed career from software development to data science.

During my unemployment time, I had and used many opportunities to earn some extra cash and not to lose touch with the industry. Throughout this period, I didn’t doubt that I can get a good job, even in the world leading company. I could be picky about the recruiters’ offers and focus on what I decided my next big thing would be. I am still being asked to give talks at conferences, organise events, mentor people, and be a part of CFP committees. The fact that I have had a chance and resources to not to work for few months only confirms me feeling successful.

Dream job?

Finally, last month I made my decision. I’m taking up a job at Google as a Machine Learning Cloud Engineer, starting in few weeks. When working with customers, my primary duty will be coding to build machine learning models. Is this going to be my dream job? Well, everything can happen, but I will surely work hard to make it one. And I believe this company will help me with some of my ideas.

I want to pick up on more community work like organising events, contributing to open source and volunteering in some programmes. I still believe we could do inclusiveness better, especially when it comes to encouraging women to technology. My skills in mentoring, over fourteen years of experience in the industry, few crises and a career change should equip me with enough.

As for my New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to take it easy and focus on sharing more here. You will see more blog posts on things like my travels, restaurants and other leisure time activities. I also had a lot of time to think thoroughly about the topics of career, recruitment and job expectations. Last but not least, as promised, I still want to do the series on data science related entries. After this one, you can expect the detailed plan shortly.

As I have lots to do now, I’m saying good bye for now and write to you next time.

Dreams, passion and maths

It’s been over a year since my last blog entry, and a lot of things happened in my life during that time. I’ve changed my job, travelled to few continents for the first time and finally took a real vacation. But the most important aspect that is the topic of this post and of which I’m extremely proud is me changing my career field. I stopped being a software developer and am now a data scientist. Nowadays it doesn’t sound like something special. Data science, machine learning and AI, in particular, are the areas that seduce hundreds if not thousands of software engineers every year. It’s no brainer why – there’s clearly the future there and being a part of something this big and influential is appealing to practically everyone. Let me tell you how I got here.

Since I was a little girl…

… I wanted to do maths. My dad is a retired mathematics teacher, but when he was younger, he decided to introduce me my sister and me to the topic very early. We started with simple calculations like adding and subtracting, went through multiplication table, dividing numbers. This is when the fun has begun. Wait, have I just said fun? Indeed, back in those days, I couldn’t wait till the next weekend when we could again spend the whole morning playing with maths. It’s my dad who made it entertaining, and we were not for even a moment under the impression that this required hard work. Even though it did, it felt like the right kind.

Finally, the time has come for us to conquer the world of square roots. At that moment, at the age of 6, I had my first career crisis. I remember this very clearly. Imagine, I was just told that, to find out the square root of let’s say number 36, instead of calculating I need to go through the process of few tries. I first need to find the number, i.e. 3, and square it, which gives me the number 9. I repeat these steps until I identify the result that equals with my original 36. This mind switch was quite exhaustive for my little brain. But I wasn’t to give up and couldn’t believe that there is no other way.

So, I invented one. Long story short I discovered that when you add odd numbers sequentially, you’re always getting a result that has an integer square root. Check it with our 36:

    \[ 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 11 = 36 = 6^2 \]

This rule can be generalised like this:

    \[ \sum\limits_1^n (2n -1) = n^2 \]

Of course, at that time I was nowhere near this kind of formalisation. I didn’t even know what an odd number was, not to mention how to write down my findings. So far, all my discoveries were safe and sound in my head. But I was hooked, and that very moment made mathematics the love of my life.

Attraction and practicality

When I started my formal education, the school was all about maths. It was much more than that. Mathematics defined me, became the part of my identity, of who I was. Everyone was convinced that my further career choices would be tightly connected with the field. Probably even academia related. But when the time of the decisions came I went for something more practical. After endless conversations with my family, teachers and peers I decided on studying computer science.

Of course, this choice resulted in the curriculum that had some lectures that introduced me to the higher mathematics. It even generated a second wave of my love to the field. I’ve learned it wasn’t at all about the numbers and that in reality, they are used mostly when indexing theorems. But computer science wasn’t enough, so eventually, I started a second faculty – mathematics. Unfortunately, this configuration didn’t last long, studying two subjects and working full time was a little bit too much for me.

I was missing it like crazy, so instead of putting myself through the path of too many duties again, I decided to do something data related when working on my MSc dissertation. I guess today you would say I was doing data science and machine learning. At that time it was called data mining. I graduated and decided to continue the project through the PhD studies.

That was quite an adventure. Classes to attend, classes to teach, research and a full-time job outside of the academia. After few years all I had to do was to write the dissertation itself. I was investigating topics like classification problem, fuzzy rules and evolutionary algorithms. And then the decision about moving to London came along, and I had to put my work on pause.

London, baby!

Software engineering gave me a great background, but it was London what kicked off my career in data. Armed with the experience and skills I gained while working with many companies, academia, various projects, in different roles, teams and people in general, I finally decided to focus on data science path.

As a result, now I get a lot of queries and request from attendees of my talks, former colleagues and fellow developers on how did it happen. They ask what the best way to approach the world of data science is, where to go to continue with more advanced topics and how to stay committed. The most common question, though, is if there is this one resource, either a book, a website or a course that will give you the comprehensive knowledge or at least a decent background.

The answer is: yes and no. Of course, the world (and the internet specifically) is full of content on every topic; data science is no exception. There is no excuse for not reaching and exploring what’s out there. But it comes with the price, this amount of information can be intimidating. You can say we have a big data issue with big data topics, as so many resources bring a lot of noise, repetitions and simply too much information.

This is where my idea comes from. For people with the similar background to mine, I’m planning to create a series of blog posts dedicated to data, machine learning and AI. I will walk you through the basics, dive in into topics I find interesting, explore the real-world applications and point out useful resources. My goal is not to add to the noise and repeat what’s already out there. I would rather like to organise the knowledge, so you find it easier to decide where to go next.

New content will result in the new structure of the page, maybe even rebranding. I am also adding few workshops to my portfolio, so if you or your company are interested in starting your adventure with data or exploring more advanced material – have a look and don’t hesitate to contact me.

I feel excited and cannot wait to write my first entry of the new series. Is there anything you would like me to write on?