Carly Fennell had extensive experience in biomechanical engineering, but soon realized that data/programming skills would help her career blossom. Soon after her maternity leave, Carly took a leap of faith, quit her job, and enrolled in Lighthouse Labs’ online Data Science Bootcamp. As the parent of a one-year-old, Carly shares how she made the full-time bootcamp work for her, and her tips for other parents considering Lighthouse Labs. Plus, Carly shares how she launched her own data consulting business right after bootcamp graduation and how she landed clients like Lululemon and the NFL!
What inspired you to switch from biomechanical engineering to data science?
My career has centered around sports, biology, and physics, so I initially found a natural fit in biomechanical engineering. My bachelor’s degree is in engineering, with a concentration in bioengineering and biomedical engineering, and I have a master’s in mechanical engineering. During my graduate program, I had the unique experience of working at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in their Upper Limb Fitting Clinic that gave me a holistic view of patient care. I was able to work with the electrical and software engineers who code the software that connects to the prosthetics, the prosthetist who makes and fits the prosthetics, and the occupational therapist who assists with fitting and training. At that time, I was interested in becoming a biomechanical forensic engineer or a footwear research scientist/developer, so I took a position as an engineering lab technician at the University of Guelph to focus on understanding tissue mechanics.
After my time in the lab, I pivoted to focus on product development and I worked for Wiivv, a startup designing custom footwear and insoles. In this role, I found myself relying heavily on my employees who had data and coding skills, such as Python and data querying. It made me want to upskill because I felt a creative gap in what I could offer as a product developer not having that data experience. This desire to gain new data skills inspired me to leave my job and focus on learning data science.
There are so many data science bootcamps now — Why did you choose Lighthouse Labs?
I chose Lighthouse Lab primarily because they offered a COVID-relief scholarship. This scholarship was necessary for my family to afford a coding bootcamp financially since I would not be working at the time. I was also drawn to Lighthouse Labs because of their data science curriculum and the condensed timeline of the bootcamp.
What was the Lighthouse Labs application and interview process like for you?
The application process was intense — I wasn’t sure I was going to get in! But at the same time, it gave me confidence in the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp. The application process consisted of a group interview, a one-on-one interview, and a competency test. The competency test focused on testing your ability to think and problem-solve the way programmers do on the job. You did not have to write code to pass the competency test, though.
Did you complete any pre-work before starting your bootcamp?
I took part in some unofficial pre-work by taking a nine-course certificate in data science from Coursera, which focused heavily on Python. While I wasn’t great at it then, it did help me not start from scratch when I began the bootcamp at Lighthouse Labs.
Lighthouse Labs’ Data Science Bootcamp prep package was extensive and took about 80 hours to complete. I worked on it for a month and a half leading up to the first day of bootcamp. The prep work allowed me to work through the areas I could grow in and was a great learning tool. It mainly covered understanding what virtual environments are, amplifying your comfort level with command terminal, and downloading tools, like Jupyter Notebook, commonly used in the bootcamp.
What was a typical day like in Lighthouse Labs’ Data Science bootcamp?
I would get up at 7am and have breakfast with my family. I would start my bootcamp around 8am, either catching up on the previous day’s coursework or getting a headstart on that day’s material. The lectures lasted 2 hours and typically covered a specific topic. The rest of the time was spent working in Lighthouse Lab’s online platforms, which would populate coursework and readings that you would complete every day.
When there weren’t lectures, we would have mini-project days. These mini projects gave us experience in coding, problem-solving, and formulating stories on our process and results, which is critical in the world of a data scientist.
How did you juggle an immersive bootcamp and parenting?
It was challenging! My son was a little over one-year-old when I started the data science bootcamp. My husband took a leave from work in order to care for our baby while I was enrolled in bootcamp. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the bootcamp without the support of my husband, who took over most of the parenting duties during this time. During my evening breaks, I would help with dinner and put the baby to bed, which helped relieve my husband of responsibilities for a bit.
Was Lighthouse Labs supportive enough to allow you flexibility if a childcare need arose?
Absolutely! I would always try to plan and think about our scheduling needs. A few times, I needed to miss a lecture to take care of the baby, and towards the end of the bootcamp, we enrolled my baby in daycare. My family has one car, which meant I was on the hook to coordinate with my husband if anything happened at daycare. Lighthouse Labs stresses the importance of not missing too many lectures because it’s a condensed curriculum, but I never felt pressured to choose between being a good parent or partner and my bootcamp. Lighthouse Labs was understanding of my being a parent, and I could work my schedule around things as they came up.
Were there other students who were parents in your bootcamp cohort?
There was at least one other parent in my cohort, and I connected with him immediately! He had two girls, including a school-aged child, so his house was a lot more chaotic than my household. COVID made it hard for everyone, but I think it was a unique experience for parents during the pandemic, so we bonded over that right away.
Do you have any tips for other parents of small children who are considering enrolling at a bootcamp?
My first tip: Be aligned with your partner and be sure they are supportive of you. This bootcamp will be difficult, and you will have to rely on your partner to do most of the caregiving. You can’t be fully present doing both things. Being a parent is a full-time job, and Lighthouse Labs tells you upfront that the bootcamp is both a full-time and part-time job. If your partner can’t do all the caretaking, I would recommend getting aligned on who will do what and when.
My second tip: Carve out at least a small amount of time to engage in some caretaking. It is easy to feel guilty because you’re not carrying your weight. Having that small amount of time to take care of the baby in the evenings made me feel like I was contributing.
Did the Lighthouse Labs teaching style match your learning style?
I typically like learning via in-person formats because I enjoy connecting with my teachers and classmates, however, Lighthouse Labs made it easy to feel connected in the online format. Throughout the 12-week course, you see your cohort every day. You get to know each other well, and we bonded over our mutual struggles in the bootcamp.
Mentors and lecturers were available online from 9am - 9pm. They provide a considerable amount of support to students by helping to troubleshoot issues or walking through coursework you may be struggling with. Overall, Lighthouse Labs did a good job with their completely online learning experience.
What did you learn in the data science bootcamp?
We covered the basic steps of working with a client who had a data science problem. We learned to do API calls and used those techniques to connect to larger, global databases. The course also covered how to choose a machine learning or deep learning algorithm to get you what you needed. We also learned natural language processing, model evaluation, model deployment, and model improvement.
What did you build for your final data science project?
I began hounding companies early in the bootcamp to access datasets related to sports, biomechanics, and product development. I connected with a professional soccer team, who agreed to work with me. They had just gained access to player tracking information that would give you positional and speed data for every player on the team. The team was interested in understanding how they could use this information to enhance the performance metrics of players on the field that are off-ball. They recommended building a pitch control model which can assess the likelihood of possession based on the position of the ball and players. My final project was to get this pitch control model to work and provide them with tools to enhance their performance metrics. This was an exciting project, and I was lucky to get my hands on a “dirty” dataset and real-world challenge.
How did Lighthouse Labs prepare you for the job hunt?
Lighthouse offered a lot of career assistance to prepare me for the job hunt, and I went through all of Lighthouse Labs career workshops. The mock interviews, which were the most helpful, were technical interviews that abstracted material learned in the course and paired it with what a company may ask in an interview. This forced us to reflect on what we learned, how it may apply to different companies, and how we would respond in our interviews. When I began interviewing for jobs post-bootcamp, I found myself looking back on the notes I made during this process. Lighthouse Labs also offers exercises on constructing a live resume and cover letter, and I was able to completely re-do both my resume and cover letter.
Lighthouse Labs offers lifetime career services that allow you to utilize their network at any point in your career. You also receive lifetime access to their educational portal so that you can review the exercises, modules, and notes from the bootcamp. Plus, alumni have access to adjusted material or course updates, which allows them to keep up with new technologies, techniques, and algorithms.
Congrats on launching your own data consulting business! What kinds of projects are you working on?
Three weeks after completing the bootcamp, I secured my first of three consulting contracts with Lululemon and I recently signed a 6-month, full-time contract with the NFL as a data scientist.
My work with Lululemon was exciting because they are an innovative and science-forward company whose approach to product development is second to none. One project I worked with them on consisted of comparing whether the raw material tests of their apparel completed in labs matched up with people’s experience wearing that apparel during specific activities.
My project with the NFL focuses on player health and safety. The NFL captures a ton of data that is used to create one-of-a-kind insights and predictive injury models. Generally, they are making data driven decisions regarding player health and safety in a way that no other sports league in the world is doing. They have world class partners like AWS from Amazon to accelerate this work towards new heights. They wanted to bring in a data scientist who could effectively communicate with bio-mechanical engineers, epidemiologists, data scientists, and equipment manufacturers and coordinate these diverse ranges of skill sets. I’m incredibly excited to learn from all of these data scientists and everyone working in player safety!
Why did you decide to do contract work and start your own consulting business?
Running your own consulting business is stressful because you’re finding the work that pays and feeds you, but a major benefit is that you get to choose the kinds of clients you take. I’ve been fortunate to only go after clients whose work and vision has excited me. Running your own business gives you the added benefit of working on problems that intersect with your skillset and interest. Plus, you get to set your own hours — it’s nice to have some flexibility in your day!
Are you using all of the concepts and tools you learned at Lighthouse Labs now in your data consulting work?
I’m in sponge-mode right now and learning a lot on this NFL job since I’m new. I recently started coding and using those skills, however, I’m not doing the comprehensive models that I did in the bootcamp. Instead, I’m working with the programmers doing this modeling, and I need to have a basic understanding of what they’re doing to move things forward in this project. I am also focusing on the data quality of all the disparate data sources I’ve already mentioned because that has been a tough problem for them to wrangle historically.
I also don’t see this as a total pivot from my biomechanical engineering career. Data science is used across industries, and I have been able to find roles that combine all my skill sets.
Was Lighthouse Labs worth it for you?
Yes. Lighthouse Labs offers critical mentorship that helps you work through complex problems in such a condensed time frame. The relationships you make during bootcamp last after you graduate. Two of my instructors ended up writing my letters of recommendation for the NFL, and one of them connected me to the soccer team that I worked with for my final project. It was a relief to rely on the experts to outline what I needed to do in order to become a data scientist. I don’t think I could have done all of this on my own through self-teaching.
My original plan was to monetize my skill set in a remote setting so I could be close to my family and still get paid at a high level, and I was able to do that as a data scientist.
What do you wish you had known before beginning the data science bootcamp?
Lighthouse Labs tells you upfront that the bootcamp is both a full-time and part-time job. I don’t think I entirely bought into that idea and wondered if it was an exaggeration. It wasn’t, so be sure to know what to expect when heading into this bootcamp!
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