While transforming your life may call for the birth of an entirely new career, fear not. Your background, regardless of the industry, can become a solid foundation for the life you want to live. Take Rachelle Perez, for instance. As an unemployed mother, she was fruitlessly trying to pursue her passion for operations in an industry where a career like that just didn’t exist. Still, she followed her heart, discovered data analytics, and went from a complete beginner in tech to a data analyst at Spotify and an improved quality of life. Here’s how self-determination and Practicum helped her make this iconic transition.
The stars align
Rachelle didn’t plan on having a tech career. In fact, her job functions were so far from anything tech-related that she’d never looked in that direction. For ten years, she worked in tourism sales, where her day-to-day life included building and optimizing processes for group bookings and tourism resellers. “During that career, I was most excited about the operation side of the business: how to make bookings more efficient, and how to reduce customer friction.” However, in the tourism industry, sales ops were seen as a part of the role of a sales rep rather than a distinct function. “I was interested in data, and I would unknowingly incorporate [it], but it wasn't my career,” she says.
That is, until she got laid off in 2019. Rachelle instantly felt that this was her window of opportunity to try pursuing what she enjoyed. She also wanted to break out of an industry where people were used to putting in many hours for low pay. “I decided that I wanted to actually spend the time learning something new, and embrace the operations side that I loved doing in a different industry.” But what industry exactly?
“I had no clue,” she recalls, “I didn't know that [sales operations] was so broad. I didn't know what tech offered. When you are so deep into a different industry, you just have no idea. I started going on Indeed and putting in vague statements to see what happened: operations, sales reports, etc. And that's when I started seeing [data analytics] jobs and I was like, ‘Oh, that's the kind of thing that I want to do.’” With a path defined, Rachelle needed to find a way to step onto it. Luckily, she was a resident of New York City, where they were sponsoring a data analytics bootcamp for its unemployed citizens. Rachelle applied and was accepted!
This bootcamp turned non-tech students into data analysts in a short time, so she only learned just enough for a starting job. However, it also gave her a roadmap to further learning and encouraged her to press on. Rachelle realized she needed a more advanced bootcamp, but her personal life limited many of the available options. After all, she needed to work, but she also had a child in preschool to look after. She was looking for something asynchronous, flexible, and well-structured. So, when she went to a local Women Who Code event and spotted an ad for the Practicum Data Scientist program, she felt it was just right.
From the start, the Practicum course was vastly different from her first bootcamp. “I was under the perception that I would do really well, because I had just done another bootcamp. So, that was my first wake up call, like, ‘oh, I definitely need this, because [this intro lesson] is not as easy as I thought it would be,’” she laughs. Still, the course was structured quite well for newbies, Rachelle says. The content was informal, easy to understand, and felt like it was aimed at someone at about her level. It was different from simply picking up a data science book with similar content, which, she says, just did not cater to her level of comprehension at the time.
The program consisted of multiple two-to-three week long sprints, each of which included reading up on theory, coding practice, and project assignments. Rachelle could complete the reading and practice whenever she wanted, but assignments had to be submitted by deadlines to unlock further sprints. She split the workload into small chunks and spread them throughout the week to get the assignments done and have time for her own commitments.
After she submitted assignments, she would receive feedback from professional code reviewers, who checked her code and suggested improvements. “Being able to [converse] with professionals quickly became my favorite part of the learning,” Rachelle says. “Once you do that over and over again, it becomes more of a two-way communication. I would leave comments for my reviewer, my reviewer would reply to my comments, and then I will add extra questions. So, those code reviews became a way [to show that] I was actually [progressing].”
“[To say that learning] was easy would be a lie. But I think Practicum made it as comfortable as our situation could be,” she admits.
Breaking into a new life
Determined to succeed, Rachelle got a job a couple months into the Practicum program. She became a tutor at another data analytics bootcamp, which, combined with the Practicum course, helped her polish both her hard and soft skills.
She was able to develop her communication skills to better describe what she was doing, why she was doing it, and what she knew and didn't know. She could understand cases better and even explain limitations that prevented her from answering certain questions. “I [could] address them more strategically, step-by-step, because I had the experience,” she says.
This experience and skill helped a lot when she started looking for a full-time role. Practicum projects exposed her to “really cool things” like analyzing movie reviews, she says, and she didn’t want to level down. “It made me think, at what kind of workplace would I be exposed to the kinds of things that I'm seeing?”
After some research, Rachelle sent her CV to Spotify, a music streaming service. She passed the initial screening, tech interview, and take-home assignment, which was very similar to what she had done at Practicum. She had already built a structure for cases that she had perfected over many projects, so she aced the task. “It was a week. Here's some data, here's a question. Prepare a deck with an answer to this question.”
Rachelle’s efforts paid off: she landed a role as an analyst on their Content Promotion team! She analyzes user preferences and makes data-backed suggestions on what new content users might like. “Sometimes you go into the platform and there are these banners that tell you information, like little boxes that say, ‘Check out a new single from Adele’, ‘Check out this new podcast’. So, that's what my team does. My goal is to make sure that if we have content that you will enjoy, that we help you discover it.”
Is Rachelle happy in her new role? Well, first, her quality of life has improved a lot. She’s receiving better pay, a lot more paid time off and sick days, great health insurance, and the ability to work remotely whenever she wants. Second, she feels fulfilled and loves the learning opportunities offered through her job. “I'm also happy with the culture. I actually probably put in less hours now than I ever did in my older jobs. I spend much more time with my son now. I also love that I'm learning new things.”
She would love to stay at Spotify to continue learning and grow in her role, she says, but just like many of us, she learned to accept the unexpected. “Five years ago, I was working for a company that did sightseeing tours along the New York City harbor. And my office was in a boat. I try to not plan ahead too much.”
We’re proud of you, Rachelle! Your background could also land you in the field of data analytics. Check out our top-rated program here.