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How to land a Data Scientist job in 2021 if you haven't studied Computer Science

Updated: Jan 18, 2021


Hi, my name is Ehsan. I am a Data Scientist at Generali Deutschland AG, one of the top insurance companies in Germany which belongs to Generali Group. As I am not a Computer Scientist, I would like to share my story with you, especially those who want to become a Data Scientist without prior IT background. At the end of each section, I will mention which skills I developed which supported me in becoming a Data Scientist. If you are not interested in my story and want to jump on the skills you should develop, click here.

I did my Bachelor's studies back in Iran in Civil Engineering at Amirkabir University of Technology (Polytechnic Tehran). To be able to study at this university you need to have very solid mathematics and physics background plus other 5 disciplines which are not focus of this blog. The only programming language I learned during my bachelor studies was Fortran90. After my graduation in 2011, I started studying Master of Science in Geotechnical Engineering at the best engineering university in Iran Sharif University of Technology. Besides studying, I was working as a Construction Supervision and later Construction Manager at a construction site in northern Tehran (Elahieh), which made it almost impossible to get good notes at the university.

My Data Science related skills so far:

  1. Strong Mathematics

While I was doing my Master's degree, I already knew I am going to leave the country and move to Austria. Meanwhile, I applied for a Master of Building Science and Technology program at the TU Vienna. My application got approved and I got an admission to study Building Physics at TU Vienna. So I withdrew from studies in Tehran and moved to Austria in 2012.

Austrian Education

Soon after starting my studies in Vienna, I became a project assistant working on an EU project called CAMPUS 21. With the support of Prof. Ardeshir Mahdavi and Dr. Matthias Schuß, I could quickly learn Matlab programming and scientific writing. Right after 3 months, I had built such a strong interest in programming that I was assigned to assist in teaching Matlab to master students. As part of my research, I had to process weather data collected by the sensors located on the rooftop of the department. Many years of data were collected such as temperature, humidity, global and diffuse radiance and even illuminance from devices such as Pyranometers and Sky Scanner MS-321LR.

The research goal was to develop a local high-resolution prediction model to predict diffuse irradiance. I was practically a Data Scientist without knowing I am practicing Data Science. However, the difference was that I was mostly using regression models and also didn't have big data challenges. So all data was running on a local server at the university.

My Data Science related skills so far:

  1. Strong Mathematics foundation,

  2. Statistics and Hypothesis testing, and

  3. Data understanding and Data Preparation

  4. Matlab Programming

After finishing my Master's studies, I applied for a Ph.D. position at the same department and could secure a three-year project under the Innovative Project Fund in Austria. I continued my research with now more focus on sky models than diffuse fraction models.

I was practically a Data Scientist without knowing I am practicing Data Science

Canadian Startup

Once I graduated from my Ph.D. studies, I was involved in a startup called QiLeap Analytics Inc (now FIND Innovation Labs). Working in a startup taught me to be flexible and wear any hat. I learned how to develop and prototype mobile Apps (Android and iPhone) and also get familiar with Product Recommendation. As the company was located in Vancouver, Canada, I decided to move there. However, it was almost impossible to get a work permit via this company as it was a relatively new company and the Canadian government would not support such cases.

Therefore, I decided to reach out to several professors in Canada to secure a Postdoc position. Therefore with the help of the company I drafted a research proposal. I got many rejections from several CS professors at UBC and SFU universities. Finally, Professor Conati showed interest in this proposal and I got the Canadian MITACS scholarship award. At the end of 2016, I moved to Canada which didn't last so long. After less than a year I decided to move back to Austria for personal reasons. However, during my stay in Canada, I worked quite hard and I was building fun apps during my free time.

Once I moved back to Austria I was having a career conflict as I had a quite diverse educational background. I was a bachelor of Civil Engineering, MSc and Ph.D. in Building Physics which has almost nothing to do with Civil Engineering. Then I was involved in product recommendation and retail industry and startup life. On the one hand, I had a strong passion for IT and innovation, on the other hand, my education was quite far from IT. After more than 8 months of job seeking, I realized that Data Science is the right job for me. So I decided to focus on strengthening my programming skills in R and Python and learn more about different algorithms and how to perform a model development via these models.

My Data Science related skills so far:

  1. Strong Mathematics,

  2. Statistics and Hypothesis testing,

  3. Data understanding and Data Preparation,

  4. Matlab Programming,

  5. Python and R programming

Finally, I was able to officially start working as a Data Scientist for a telecommunication company called Hutchison Drei Austria GmbH in 2018. As I listed above, the day I landed this job I was confident in these skills which are a must-have to secure a Data Scientist job. Of course, you need other soft skills in order to pass an interview. One of the most important skills is agile working. These days majority of tech companies are working agile. Therefore, understanding the terms and way of working will definitely support you in securing a job in any IT company. There are also other personal skills which I recommend to improve such as your:

  1. Communication skills,

  2. Being proactive,

  3. Critical thinking, and

  4. last but not least Persistency

Final notes

I hear often from my old friends applauding me with phrases like strong move and such a move. By move, they mean becoming a Data Scientist without having any IT background. To be able to make this move I had to develop the skills that I listed for you. Developing these skills requires passion, patience and persistency.

Data Science is also quite a broad discipline, and you need to decide for yourself which topic and domain you want to focus on. It is not possible to become a full-stack Data Scientist in the course of a year or so. Therefore, once you are familiar with topics such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), and product recommendation, etc. you should only focus on one of these subjects to be able to deepen your knowledge of tools, algorithms and techniques. Otherwise, you will be overwhelmed with information which leads you to discouragement and confusion.

If you consider the salary you will earn once you land a job, saving 1 month of your time is also 1 month

If you ask me what I would do differently if I could go back 3 to 5 years, I would say I wouldn't do much differently. However, attending an intensive bootcamp would definitely shorten the time I invested to land a Data Science job. If you consider the salary you will earn once you land a job, saving 1 month of your time is also 1 month. Therefore, the money you invest in bootcamps is definitely WORTH IT.

Feel free to comment if you need more advice or you have any questions.

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