Anthony Johnson had some experience with Python, but was missing the skills he needed to transition from Materials Engineering to Data Science. He researched flexible data science bootcamps and found that Springboard’s Data Science Career Track checked all his boxes. In under six months Anthony completed their online program and landed a job as a data scientist at TrueAccord – read about his journey and whether he feels prepared for his career today.
Tell me a little bit about your education background.
My background was in Materials Engineering. I got a bachelor's and Ph.D. in Materials Engineering, and grad school is where I learned to love to program. I did a lot of programming in grad school and in my first 'real job' outside of grad school at Arconic I did a lot of computational engineering using mostly MATLAB and some Python.
With all of your programming experience, why did you feel like you needed a Data Science bootcamp?
I think there was a slight misalignment between what I wanted to do and what I was qualified to do. All of the programming and data analysis I had done was in the context of Materials Engineering and specifically materials modeling. To get a job as a Data Scientist I needed to get more comfortable with certain tools and concepts (such as SQL and inferential statistics). I tried learning on my own but ultimately decided that I needed help, so I started looking for a data science bootcamp.
What drove you toward Data Science as a career?
The things that I liked most about my last job all revolved around data analysis and programming. My least favorite parts were the parts that actually related to Materials Engineering. Data Science seemed like a good fit for what I liked in the past and what I wanted to do with my future.
I researched several other bootcamps. I wasn’t looking exclusively for an in-person bootcamp, but I needed to be able to start the bootcamp immediately and wanted to go at my own pace. And I was only looking for a bootcamp that taught Python. I applied to a few data science bootcamps and got into two schools. Of the two, Springboard checked all the boxes for me.
What was the application and interview process like at Springboard?
It was not difficult to get into Springboard for me. But I now realize that getting into a data science bootcamp is way easier than landing a data science job. For the data science bootcamp it felt pretty straight forward whereas a data science job interview is round after round of interviews.
Yeah! I was admitted mid-December and I was able to start January 1st. It took about three and a half months for me to graduate.
That’s pretty quick – were you working full-time while you were doing the bootcamp?
I was doing the coding bootcamp full-time. I wasn't working at all. I was spending 40 to 50 hours per week on average working on it, which is why I was able to finish relatively quickly.
Did you interact with other students during your Springboard online experience?
I didn't really interact with other students. There were some forums where students could talk through questions on Springboard's site, but I mostly just interacted with the Springboard staff and my mentor.
Who was your mentor at Springboard? How did you learn from the mentors?
My mentor was Jeff Hevrin. I was matched with him my first week and he stuck with me through the whole bootcamp. Each week, I would get through as much material as I could and while I was doing my work, I wrote down a list of questions to ask my mentor. On our call, which was once a week, we would go through each of the questions. Those were mostly technical questions but some of them were more general like which skills I should prioritize learning and which skills are most important in the real world.
What was your mentor's background?
Jeff is a working Data Scientist in Illinois. He had been a Data Analyst, Machine Learning Engineer, a Data Scientist since 2011.
Looking back, curriculum-wise, do you feel like Springboard covered everything you wanted to get you on the right career track?
Overall, the curriculum went through everything I would have needed to know as a beginner Data Scientist. Some of the concepts (like A/B testing) were more vague or general. There were quite a few concepts that did not have a homework assignment that allowed us to apply it. But in general, the homework assignments were useful and helped enforce the concepts in the curriculum.
I wouldn't say I left knowing exactly what type of data science I wanted to work on, but some of the concepts were certainly more interesting than others – for example, I thought the deep learning chapter was interesting. But in general, I was open to anything when I was looking for jobs.
You already had some Python experience – was the Springboard curriculum new to you or did you feel like you already knew a lot of the curriculum?
I already knew some of the Python, but most of the data science concepts were pretty new to me. I had touched on a lot of similar concepts but never quite in the framework of data science. I think that's why I was able to finish the bootcamp in a relatively short amount of time.
Can you give us an example of the homework assignments?
They were mostly mini coding projects. At the rate I was moving through the Springboard curriculum, I did a homework assignment about once a week. We would use the homework to apply a concept that we had just learned in the curriculum. For example, one assignment was to apply a linear regression model to some sample data that Springboard provided. It gave me practice in cleaning, manipulating, and predicting data.
Did you do a capstone or final project at the end of Springboard?
There were two capstone projects. One of them was applying all of the machine learning concepts that I learned. The second one was applying a specialization that I could choose – for that project, I chose deep learning. For the deep learning project, I trained a neural network to distinguish between images of me and my twin brother. It was a fun facial recognition project! I did the project mostly independently, but my mentor helped me choose the project out of the five ideas I came up with. He definitely helped guide me when I got stuck and gave me some suggestions on what I should focus on for the final presentation.
Do you have any tips for staying motivated and graduating from an online bootcamp?
I actually took a three-week break in the middle of Springboard, which derailed me a little bit. I definitely recommend not doing that, at least until your first capstone is finished! I was in the middle of my first capstone and I should have stuck with it and finished my capstone before taking the break. The projects are generally small enough that it’s hard to get too stuck in the weeds, but that was the time when it was easiest to get off-track or distracted. Frequent sanity-checks with my mentor really helped me prioritize and ultimately finish the project.
How did Springboard prepare you for job hunting?
Springboard held my hand through the whole job process. I had one-on-one career mentoring calls once a month. They helped me with my resumé, cover letter, and improving my LinkedIn profile. This was all in parallel with the technical projects. At the end of the course, I continued meeting with my career coach, and they helped me with job applications.
It was on me to find and apply for the jobs, but they did help me through the interviewing process. In order to graduate from the Springboard program, I had to pass a few practice interviews.
How long did it take you to find your first Data Scientist job?
It was about two and a half months from when I graduated from the program to when I got the offer. In total, it took six months from starting Springboard to accepting my first job offer at TrueAccord.
Tell us about your job at TrueAccord!
I am a Data Scientist at TrueAccord, which is a large startup in San Francisco trying to redefine debt collection to make it more consumer-friendly. I tried to do a lot of networking and reach out to people for referrals, but I also applied for a lot of jobs online. And in this case, I found the TrueAccord job online and applied.
What was the interview process like for a Data Scientist job?
I did a lot of interviews and they were pretty rigorous. There's usually an initial HR screening. Then an hour-long technical phone interview – for some companies there is more than one of those. Then there was a data science challenge that took about 10 hours of work. There's another phone interview where we talk about the data science challenge once it’s completed. Lastly, there's an onsite interview.
Are you using a lot of what you learned at Springboard at your job now?
The tools I'm using now aren't exactly the same as what I learned in the bootcamp, but I feel like Springboard prepared me well for this job. When I started at TrueAccord, I didn’t have a ton of technical hurdles to overcome. Springboard also prepared me for the technical jargon that’s used in the data science field. Without Springboard, I would not have been able to get this job; I also don't think I would be as good at this job without the bootcamp.
Has this career transition turned out to be what you expected? Are you happier as a data scientist than as a materials engineer?
I'm happy that I decided to make the transition! I'm only two weeks into this job, but so far, I really like it and I think that this transition was a really good idea. On paper, it looks like this career change has happened so fast, but it feels like it's taken a couple of years. The bootcamp definitely accelerated this transition.
Is there any advice that you have for someone who is interested in data science?
Anyone who is interested in Data Science should definitely apply to Springboard. There are definitely certain prerequisites but it was a great career move and data science is a growing field.