Case study

Data scientist — Joe Harrison

Studying Applied GIS at Masters level helped Joe secure a job as a data scientist working in the public sector. Find out what other skills make a successful data scientist

What did you study?

I graduated with a BA (Hons) Human Geography followed by an MSc Applied GIS (Geographic Information Systems) from the University of Sheffield.

How did you get your job?

I kept an eye on job boards and used recruiters. The application process consisted of an application form with questions around why I believed I was suitable for the role. Successful applicants were then invited to an interview, which involved standard interview questions and a presentation on a data science problem set by the employer.

What's a typical working day like?

A typical day is computer heavy with lots of data work, primarily extraction, transformation and loading of data. Analysing data or running predictive models makes up a smaller proportion of my work time.

I also attend meetings throughout the week, giving updates on the progress I'm making on my current projects and helping inform decision making.

What do you like most about being a data scientist?

I get a lot of satisfaction from problem solving. My work often involves lots of little battles that make up an overall larger problem. I therefore have lots of little victories.

I also enjoy data visualisation, particularly mapping. I used to do a fair bit of photography so I enjoy using Photoshop, and producing visualisations allows me to be a bit more creative.

What are the challenges?

The data I work with is often stored in very unhelpful formats. Getting the data shipshape, and encouraging other people to take up best practices around data storage, can be an uphill struggle at times.

In what way is your degree relevant?

It got my foot in the door. My first job was as a data scientist at Ordnance Survey. My MSc in Applied GIS really helped with my job application and introduced me to the sorts of technologies I would be working with. I also had to complete statistics modules during both degrees, which have been very valuable to me.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have so far progressed from graduate data scientist to data scientist. With this comes more responsibility and higher expectations. In the future I'm looking to continue to improve my skillset and maybe take on management responsibilities.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Go for something you are genuinely interested in and are passionate about. My Masters was a full year and there were fewer contact hours than for an undergraduate degree. This means there is no one there to crack the whip but you, so it needs to be something you're prepared to get out of bed in the morning for.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Be proactive - Set up email alerts on Medium so you're exposed to the most up-to-date topics relating to data science. Things change very quickly in this field and it pays to be in the know.
  • Don't get stressed out by job descriptions - You will see listings claiming that the ideal candidate will be an expert in Python, R, Scala, SQL, Java, C++, have degrees in maths, physics and computer science, and 100 years' experience in application development. This 'ideal' candidate does not exist. It is better to specialise rather than be a jack of all trades. I focus on Python and SQL, but have dabbled in Scala on rare occasions. You don't need to know everything to apply.

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