WIT WNY Interview with Regis, President of O’Conner Analytics LCC
Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them.
How did you become involved in business and market research?
When I finished my undergraduate education, there weren’t many job openings. The natural next step for me was to continue my education with an MBA to build on the skills I had. My concentration was in operations research – an avenue of statistics. From there, I went upstate and worked at Eastman Kodak for a few years in logistics operations. Then I decided to move into market research as it seemed more interesting to me. So, I transitioned to Exxon Mobile.
When I hear the term Data Scientist, it sounds a little intimidating. Can you breakdown what adult data scientist does?
Sure. There’s a lot of coding and there’s a lot of getting your hands into data to see if it’s clean. For example, you receive your credit card bill and the first thing you do is review the purchases to make sure there are no mistakes. In the event there is a mistake, you call, and somebody investigates it to resolve that issue. So what a data scientist spends a lot of time doing is looking through data like that and saying, “Do those numbers make sense?”, “Are there any holes?”, “Is there anything missing?” and using that data to build models. Data models are like descriptions, they’re used for finding patterns. Do you sew? I knit. Yes! Knitting is very mathematical. So, imagine you’re looking at your pattern and you have to gauge it to your needles and yarn. What a data model does is try to gauge that data to what a pattern might be. It’s getting together the data into a story. In summary, I would say it involves coding, statistics, and looking at a lot of math.
What are some other skills a data scientist should possess?
Well, you need to be curious. You have to be interested in opening a spreadsheet, looking at each line, and wondering what story is there. I think it’s important to pay attention to the details and be very patient because everything takes longer than you think it should. There’s a lot of checking, questioning, changing, and iterating. It’s a process of going back and rethinking things. You need to be able to understand the nature of uncertainty and variation. It’s also important to know how to communicate.
Let’s say I’m exploring career options and data scientist is one of my options? Where do you recommend I start learning skills? Do I need a college degree?
When I left my corporate job, it had been many years since getting my education, so I upskilled using Coursera. It was very reasonably priced, it was very rigorous training and I gained incredible skills from it. I went through about ten courses for $500. I would highly recommend it especially if you are exploring. If you don’t like it, it’s not a great out of the pocket expense. An undergraduate education is incredibly expensive and risky if you are not sure if you like it. If you have the discipline and means, I would try a course or two with Coursera. The other tool I use daily for training is LinkedIn Learning. IBM offers some really incredible training programs.
During your career, you’ve worked at several companies, but a few years ago decided to start your own consulting firm. What influenced that decision?
The infrastructure was changing at Mattel, and it was an opportune moment for me to strike out on my own. It was something I had been considering for a couple of years. What I really wanted to do at that point was data visualization. I opted to step back from primary research, which had been my corporate focus because there are already a lot of companies doing a great job at that. What I really enjoyed doing and what I thought I could help them with was data visualization.
What advice would you give to other women who are looking to pursue a career in tech?
I would say, if you have any interest, absolutely give it a shot. But focus on a specific skill set or tool or solution at first rather than diluting your efforts over a variety of different avenues. Carefully watch your cash flow and expenses. Avoid incurring heavy debt loads and long term commitments like expensive rent. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. What I’ve seen is that people are willing to share and help if you simply ask for it. Since tech changes so fast make sure to put skill set development at a priority. Developing your skillset is like training for a marathon. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, you need to have enough discipline to keep going. Don’t give up and keep trying every day.
The last question I have for you, what advice do you wish you were given at the start of your career?
One of the things I wish I knew about sooner were professional organizations related to my career. I’m a member of the American Statistical Association and I didn’t even know about it until six years ago! Now, I am involved and I take advantage of the resources available, but I wish that I knew of this group a lot sooner. My advice would be to get involved and take advantage of being part of professional organizations. You will learn a lot from them.
Thank you Regis for chatting with me! If you would like to connect/learn more about Regis visit her LinkedIn.