When he was laid off at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Akibo Watson decided it was time to pivot his sales role into a more stable, data-driven career. Akibo enrolled in the part-time course at Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp (powered by Trilogy Education Services, a 2U, Inc. brand) to learn the fundamentals of the field and build up his professional portfolio with relevant projects. Before completing the boot camp, Akibo landed a contract position that developed into a full-time IT Business Analyst role at Veritas Technologies. Akibo shares how Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp’s comprehensive career support gave him the confidence to successfully land his new job.
What inspired you to pivot from business and accounting to data analytics?
I went to Binghamton University and majored in Economics, which gave me a better understanding of how banking and technology worked together. After graduating [from] college, I became a Business Development Manager at SoftwareONE, a sales-focused role through which I learned the ins and outs of the tech world. In sales, though, your success is ultimately always in the hands of the purchaser, and I wanted to control my own success. I transitioned to working as an executive at Madison Davis, a firm that builds HR pipelines for financial service firms. Being a recent hire, I was laid off due to the pandemic.
My early job experience helped me understand that I preferred to work with numbers and stakeholders rather than just clients. I also wanted to enter a field where it wasn't easy to get laid off. I was looking for stability and security. I had thought about enrolling in a data analytics bootcamp before being let go by Madison Davis, so the layoff sparked my career pivot.
Why did you choose Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp?
When I was deciding between programs, this boot camp's association with Columbia University was critical to me. In this boot camp, Trilogy Education Services adds 360-degree career services and other wrap-around resources. Boot camp students who attend class in person would have access to Columbia University’s campus.
What was the boot camp application process like for you? Was it hard to get in?
The application process involved an interview and an online exam. It was a cumulative process that allowed me to develop a realistic expectation for what the program would entail.
Anybody can enroll in the boot camp, but I recommend that an applicant learn some data analytics before enrolling. The boot camp itself moves very quickly. You're learning a new topic — and sometimes a new language — every two or three weeks. When you enroll in the course with some knowledge of data analytics, you will be able to handle challenges more easily.
If you're a beginner, the boot camp will give you optional prep work to complete. For those that aren't as self-driven, it may help to have a more structured introduction through a prep course. I wanted to have a better understanding of data analytics before enrolling, so I completed the Beginner Python course offered by Metis.
How did you pay for the tuition at Columbia University Data Analytics Boot Camp?
The program offers financing options and payment plans, and I chose to pay full-price and use the payment plan to pay for the course in monthly installments. I was receiving enhanced unemployment payments during the pandemic, which allowed me to finance this program. I also had money saved up that I could leverage to support me through the program.
Did the teaching style at Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp match your learning style?
Yes! There were always several forms of support to help you out with class activities. The boot camp has primary instructors and teachers' assistants. Students were never alone, even when navigating a challenging topic in class. All of the classwork applied to the homework, so if you didn't understand something in class, you could work it out one-on-one with a TA in time to tackle your next project or homework assignment.
What did you learn in the data analytics curriculum?
What kinds of data analytics projects did you build for your portfolio?
For some projects, our instructors gave us data sets, and for others, we used Kaggle and other resources to find data sets of our choice. For my final project, I used artificial intelligence to predict the Disney stock price. The projects that we worked on directly contributed to my professional profile as an applicant for jobs. Employers wanted to see the databases that I built during my time at the boot camp.
For those weighing college versus a boot camp, what are the differences you noticed?
New Python packages are constantly being created and new tools are being developed within Tableau and Power BI. Conventional education is only starting to change and offer micro-courses to learners who want to improve their skills in an area. The tools a boot camp offers are constantly transforming with the industry, and the project-based learning at a boot camp keeps you up to speed.
How did Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp prepare you for the job hunt?
The one-on-one nature of the career services team was a highlight of my experience. Coming from sales, I had to show that I had technical expertise despite mainly working in relationship-building roles throughout my career. The Career Services team helped us build our LinkedIn and GitHub profiles, connect with potential employers, and leverage our previous experience for data analytics roles. Each week, we had two or three employer webinars where employers would present their company and show students what opportunities were available.
Was there ongoing support after you completed your boot camp?
Boot camp students have access to Career Services for up to 90 days after leaving the program, so even students who didn't utilize those tools during the boot camp could do so up to that point. I had 1:1 career coaching, resume reviews, and even received help with negotiating my salary. Program webinars are available to alumni for life. I still attend the webinars to learn more about the industry and see what others are doing in the field. The alumni network and the people you meet throughout the program stay with you forever.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified for after completing your boot camp?
After the boot camp, I qualified for just about any data analytics or data analyst role. This boot camp would also be an excellent program for aspiring data engineers.
Do you have any tips for recent data analytics boot camp grads on the job hunt now?
The talent market in tech is changing because so many people want to be data analysts now. I suggest that applicants broaden their search in terms of title. You don't have to apply to only data analyst roles; usually the best fit for a role is someone with a background in the industry and relevant technical skills. After boot camp, I started as an IT operations analyst in a contract position, then got promoted to a full-time IT business analyst. There are many ways to break into the field.
The best advice that I received during the boot camp was this: Those who want to break into the industry should be open to contractor roles. If somebody is paying you to code, even if it's not precisely for the position you were looking for, you're still ahead of most applicants. You and your employer get a trial period to assess the fit, and in a worst-case scenario, you can move on to the next thing when the contract is up.
Congrats on your IT Business Analyst job at Veritas Technologies! What is your current role at Veritas?
Veritas Technologies designs and develops data management software solutions to help organizations to protect their data. We offer cloud data management, data protection, and storage optimization services. I work as an IT Business Analyst, and I analyze data to define the health of our global IT operations. My team’s big questions are: Are we delivering value for every single Veritas employee? How quickly and efficiently are we bringing it to them? Are we cost-effectively providing people software? Are we providing people the productivity tools they need? Our projects center around those questions.
Are you using everything you learned at Columbia Engineering Data Analytics Boot Camp?
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in this career change journey so far?
Getting your foot in the door of an industry that is constantly transforming can be difficult. Once you land that first job, the rest is much more straightforward. Even today, I still receive communications from people in the tech community for my expertise around what I currently do.
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