Science to data science (S2DS) is a training program run by Pivigo for scientists desiring to transition from academia to the industry. Here are a few thoughts and lessons learned from my participation to the August 2017 London program.
A souvenir from S2DS 2017 in London.
A lot of fun thanks to a great team
composed of Jonas, Matteo, Scott and myself.
Let me start with the reasons I joined the S2DS 2017 cohort. As my fourth year of postdoc was coming to an end, I decided that it would be my last year in the academic world. There are various reasons I took this decision. The main ones were: despite being in an international collaboration, I felt isolated, with few to no colleagues to interact in person about my work on a day to day basis. I did not feel I was learning as much as I used to when I was doing my Ph.d., and for me all the fun is in learning! Finally, I wanted to have more connection between my work and the world that surrounds me.
It felt that data science could fill all these gaps, while keeping the scientific state of mind I enjoy. So I decided it would be the direction I would take. Now, stepping into the industry while you have been in academia all your life is a tough move. Do I have the skills required to be a data scientist? What kind of industry would I like to work for? Should I apply to an established company or a start-up? Freelancing you say, what is that? These are just some of the questions I was facing.
With all these questions in mind I started to look for people who had done the transition in my network. I found that two former colleagues and friends had gone to S2DS and were recommending it. One even have blog posts about its own experience as an S2DS fellow. So S2DS seemed like a good option to answer my questions. It is also based in London, which is not to far from Geneva, and the fees (£800 including 5 weeks of accommodation in the suburbs of London) seemed reasonable.
I have looked for other possible data science bootcamps. I believe that Insight is a good alternative based in the US (although very competitive from what I have heard). Enrolment is free which is a big plus. I would have applied but you have to commit to look for a job in the US after the program, which was not something I was ready to do. You can find other programs in Europe using your favourite search engine, but the fees are usually much higher than those of S2DS.
What S2DS brought me (and what it did not)
While joining the program, I thought that it would bring me technical knowledge about data science. I quickly found out that it is not the point of S2DS. The program starts with about a week of lectures, with some time to get to know your mentors and the company you will be working for. Lectures are mostly introductions to a wide variety of topics. Some are technical such as Python and R basics or good coding practices. Some lay the basis of economics and finance. And some are more about soft skills and are a good way of getting to know your teammates.
The program continues with 4 weeks of work on a project for a company, with events on some evening dedicated to networking with external data scientists from different backgrounds (start-ups, established companies, consulting firms, freelancing).
What I have gained from S2DS is the following:
- It gave me a real experience of working as a data scientist for a company. That is of course something you can put on your resume, but I believe it is more than that. I got the confirmation that I have the skills required to work as a data scientist in the industry. This is maybe the simplest but most valuable message I have taken home. I have the certainty that I can be valuable in a company, and this gives me the confidence I need while applying to jobs and going to interviews.
- Through the many interactions I had with different data scientists, I got a better understanding of the job market and the paths I could follow as a data scientist. With my team, I worked for a start-up on content marketing. I learned that everything you do in a start-up can have a big impact. That due to the small number of people around you, you can have a global vision of what the company is doing. This makes it easy to really care for the company you are working for. (And I also realised that marketing can be much more fun than I would have bet). Of course each path, start-up Vs big companies, consulting, freelancing, has its own advantages and drawbacks, and S2DS gives you the opportunity to discuss with people who already have walked down them.
- Last but not least, it connected me with a wide network of data scientists. Most people in this network have transitioned from academia to the industry. They know what it’s like, and can help you after the program, with additional thoughts or questions you may have. And who knows, maybe help you find a job. Of course, remember that a network works both ways, so don’t forget to give back.
You get to learn a lot about communication.
Some people have raised the concern that you are paying to get some work experience. I do not agree with this statement. Indeed the fees are rather low considering that they include accommodation which is really expensive in London. However it is true that you are producing value for a company with no salary in return. But you get all that I have listed above. It is up to you to decide whether it is worth it or not. To me the answer is definitively yes.
I really enjoyed the project I was working on, and the company I was working with. We got already cleaned data on day one, and could move to the exploration and modelling part (a.k.a. the fun part) really fast. However this was not the case for all the groups, as a few companies where taking time to deliver any valuable data. Sometimes this was due to privacy issues, sometimes it seemed that the projects were not well defined. And we probably all agree that data science without data is missing part of the fun. This was however limited to a few companies and it seemed that Pivigo’s staff was putting a lot of effort to solve the issue.
There are numerous job opportunities during the program. Most companies are there for a reason you might have guessed: they want to hire data scientists. There are also few events organised by companies looking to hire some of the fellows and a job fair near the end of the program. The only downside is that the far majority of the job opportunities are in London.
In general Pivigo’s staff was extremely helpful, open and friendly. They do a very good job to make you feel comfortable. Keep up the good work!