As he was finishing his degree in Biotechnology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, Nadim realized he wanted a more technical career. He tried sales, then heard that BrainStation was launching a Data Science Diploma Program in Toronto. As an international student from Lebanon, he was happy to find that BrainStation accepted international students and offered scholarships for recent graduates. Nadim tells us about his diverse cohort, his final project to predict used car values, and why he chose his new job as a Big Data Analytics Consultant at Project X!
What were you up to before BrainStation?
I graduated from the University of Toronto as a double major in Biotechnology and Molecular Genetics in June 2018. I spent most of my undergraduate career doing summer internships at hospitals or research labs, doing a lot of manual work like pipetting and surgery on small animals. I realized that I wanted a career that was more technical and involved more numbers. So I tried to change fields – I did a contract consulting job during my last year and worked in a part-time sales job. But I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I was in severe need of a career change because I wasn't really interested in going into healthcare anymore or being in sales.
Then I heard about BrainStation launching the first Data Science Bootcamp in Canada. I was always reading about what’s happening in the data science space, how it's a booming industry that’s just getting started, and how the job market is growing. So I thought it was a great opportunity. I started in June, the day after I graduated from university.
Did you learn about Python, R, or any data science tools at university, or did you try teaching yourself?
I did not learn any Python or R or any statistical programming language at college, but I did try teaching myself SQL and R online through Udemy and Coursera.
Did you research any other data science bootcamps? What stood out about BrainStation?
I did, actually. I checked out Bitmaker and General Assembly, but neither of them offered a full-time program at the time. I was in a situation where I had to either do a full-time bootcamp or take a full-time job. I didn't have the option to move to the States because I'm not a resident of the United States, and I'm not a Canadian citizen either (I'm from Lebanon and moved to Canada to go to college). BrainStation was perfect because they accepted international students.
As an international student, what sort of visa or permit do you need to go to BrainStation?
You can either be on a student permit or a work permit, which is what I was on. Technically, I'm not considered a resident of Canada, because a work permit is considered to be a temporary residence visa.
How you were able to pay tuition at BrainStation – any tips for people who are trying to save up for bootcamp?
I paid for half of the tuition through savings from my jobs, and my parents paid for the other half. But BrainStation also gave me a very generous scholarship aimed at recent college graduates, so that was very helpful.
What was the BrainStation application and interview process like?
BrainStation assumes that you have no background in SQL, so they provide a few lectures in a SQL prep course. They give you a business case or problem, and ask you to solve it using SQL. They want to see how quickly you can learn and solve the problem. Then you submit a presentation with your recommendations for the business problem.
After that, there's a phone interview – they want to find out why you’re interested in data science, what you're trying to learn at BrainStation, and what your career objectives and goals are.
What was your cohort like? Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, and backgrounds?
I was in the first ever data science class at BrainStation. It was very diverse in terms of both gender, race, and LGBTQ people as well. Almost everyone in my class was from a different country. There were three of us who were not Canadian citizens. In terms of ratio, we were almost 60:40, guys to girls. It was a very friendly environment. Nobody feels excluded ever – it is Canada at the end of the day!
Two of us were recent college grads. Another five were young professionals in their mid-late 20s who had been working for five or six years and decided they wanted to change their careers. Others were in their 30s and 40s – we had a few classmates who were more than 15 years into their careers and decided they wanted a change.
BrainStation’s Data Science Bootcamp prefers that applicants have a bachelor's degree, but it's not always necessary – it depends on your background. In my cohort, almost everyone had a bachelor's degree except for one guy who was about to graduate college.
What was the learning experience like at BrainStation? Can you tell me about a typical day?
From 9:30am to 10am, there's a coding challenge with a time limit, similar to what you would get in a job interview. At 10am, lectures kick off. Then there's 30 minutes of exercise time and a one-hour lunch break from 12pm to 1pm. At 1pm, we had another lecture, which could go until 4pm. After the lecture we had open studio time, when we could think about our capstone projects, practice our code, catch up on anything you missed during class, ask questions, or work on exercises.
What was your favorite project that you worked on at BrainStation?
My final project was definitely my favorite because it was my own personal project. I built a model and a small website that allows you to predict the price of your used car based on the mileage, the make of the car, and the year you bought it. It felt pretty cool to not only build a machine learning model, but also deploy it to the web for users to test out. That was amazing.
My project was all done through Python, and we learned skills at BrainStation to build models and make graphs. But what I really learned at BrainStation is how to pick new things up quickly. I figured out how to deploy my models and put them on a website on my own. BrainStation showed me how to learn these things quickly, adapt to learning something completely new, and how to implement what I learned.
How did BrainStation prepare you for job hunting? What kind of career support did they give you?
On the last day of the diploma program, recruiters from BrainStation’s Enterprise Training Program came to see us present our final projects. That was a great opportunity to network with other professionals, and have direct contact with recruiting companies.
Throughout the bootcamp, BrainStation holds workshops called Power Hours where they help you with your resume, cover letters, and networking emails. They sent us to three Toronto tech events with panelists and tech companies in the audience. We also went on tech tours where we visited the offices of tech companies and spoke to data science Recruiters and Data Scientists to hear about what they do every day and what it's like to be a Data Scientist at their organization.
The BrainStation staff provides one-on-one career support if you still need help. Students also have the opportunity to develop their interview skills with mock interviews.
What made you decide to become a Teaching Assistant at BrainStation before you started looking for data science jobs?
I realized that looking for a job was a little more time consuming than people expect it to be. It doesn't take a day to get a data science job. It's a very competitive field. At every company I interviewed with the process was four to five stages. Being a Teaching Assistant at BrainStation was a great opportunity for me to keep learning while earning money, and help other students succeed as well.
Even though I’ve moved on from that Teaching Assistant role, I still keep in touch with BrainStation and my classmates – for example, our entire class is going for lunch on Saturday! We all help each other. If somebody doesn't think they're a good fit for a company, they'll refer others to interview for that company. BrainStation also holds alumni socials with free food and drinks – it's very generous of them.
And now you’re working as a Data Scientist – congratulations! Which company are you working for?
I’m a Big Data Analytics Consultant for a boutique consulting firm called Project X Limited. The teams are split up based on the practices they specialize in. The size of my team depends on the nature, length, and size of the project. If we're working on a big project, the team can be 10 to 20 people. If it's a small project, sometimes it’s just five people.
Their specialty is helping companies build better data management pipelines, and initialize or improve their analytics infrastructure. For example, we help companies implement scalable big data infrastructures using Hadoop and Spark, which are the two biggest tools in the space right now. On top of that, we’ll do reporting for companies – for example, building dashboard applications or mobile applications for a sales team.
The best thing about Project X is that it's an extremely data-driven company. The company's mission is to help clients create business value through data and analytics. I have to say – it's been a great learning experience.
What does it mean to be a Big Data Analytics Consultant? Can you tell us about your job?
I work on our big data team, and technically, I’m developing Spark and Hadoop applications for clients like data ingestion pipelines, while also teaching the clients how to use them, what's actually happening in the back end, and creating documentation.
Right now, I'm still in training – the Project X training program was a big reason why I chose this specific position because I was so fresh into this space. I’ve been paired up with someone whom I can ask questions and shadow.
What did the Data Scientist interview process entail? How did you get this job?
I found this job by searching on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, and other websites. I applied, wrote a cover letter, and made my resume slightly more tailored towards description. I was contacted for a phone interview and I passed that. Then I had a coding challenge in Python and SQL, which I had to solve within 90 minutes. The next step was a technical and behavioral interview. Since the company is more back end focused, they asked me a few technical questions around databases, warehousing, back end SQL, as well as behavioral questions.
In the fourth stage of the interview, I met with executives so they could see if I was a good fit for the company. Because Project X is a consulting firm where you work with clients directly, they want to make sure that you have a professional attitude.
I interviewed for about five companies during that time and they were all similar processes.
Are you using the technologies you learned at BrainStation or are you learning on the job?
I'm using Python and SQL every day, which are the two main technologies I learned at BrainStation. But because I'm delving more into data engineering, I'm definitely picking up new things as well along the way. PySpark is the main new technology that I'm learning right now.
How has your background in science been useful in learning data science and also in your job now?
This might not be the answer you want to hear – my science background was not useful to me at all, to be honest. I did take statistics classes in college, which definitely helped with data science (but not programming). BrainStation was an entirely new learning experience for me. A big reason why I chose to do BrainStation was because at my university, I felt like the Engineers and Business students had developed a strong problem-solving mindset and were more fit to take on professional jobs (such as consulting) that required fast-paced problem-solving and learning, than I was. Studying biosciences was a very focused degree which involved a lot of memorization. It wasn't really useful to me, honestly.
What advice do you have for other people thinking about switching tracks and going through a data science bootcamp?
My biggest advice is to not got to a bootcamp just to get a job. Switch careers because you enjoy this kind of work, because you find it interesting, and because you see yourself being great at it.
Also, work hard. Some people think that because you're paying a lot of money, you’ll just graduate with a job at Facebook that pays $100,000. Don't come into a bootcamp with that mentality. Come in with the mentality of being dedicated and changing your life completely.