An interview on the value of data science soft skills to stand out in the market.

“My name is Anna, I am a computational linguist / NLP specialist, and I recently started a new job at Relative Insight – a UK-based company specialising in comparative text analysis. Right after receiving the job offer, but before starting the job, I came across Omdena and managed to complete my first project. So, why would you join a challenge when you’ve already got a job? Because it helps!”

 

How did the Omdena experience help you with your job?

With Omdena, I had a chance to participate in a few technical tasks that were not involved in my everyday work: web scraping, topic modeling, sentiment analysis using various tools, classification tasks that involve different word embeddings. Now, I use at my work some of the tools I learned with Omdena.

But technical experience is not the only thing I got at Omdena challenges. Maybe not even the most important one. What is more important than technical skills?

Omdena projects are based on the principles of bottom-up collaboration and self-management. It means that no one gives you tasks, tells you what to do, or determines your work schedule. You are the one who comes up with ideas, does research, starts discussions, brings ideas to life, and seeks help when something’s not working.

This does not sound like classic work experience, right? At work, you have a manager who gives you tasks, sets schedules for your work, regularly overviews your progress.

 

What soft skills are essential?

Well, in fact, it’s not all that different. Self-management skills, promoted by Omdena, will be helpful at any data science or machine learning position. When you get assigned a task at work, your manager will not give you a step-by-step plan of action. You will still need to get creative, do some research, try a few different approaches to see what works best. And all that within a pretty short timeframe – just like in Omdena challenges where projects go all the way from conception to deployment in 8 weeks.

A related skill that I find very valuable is prioritizing: which method to choose, how to divide your time between project stages? Opportunities for research in a given task can be endless and exciting. But in real life, you do not usually have unlimited time. You need to be realistic in assessing how long possible approaches are going to take, and how that relates to practical restrictions.

But what’s probably the most important thing you learn at Omdena is asking questions. It sounds simple, but is there anyone who has never had doubts when had to ask a “stupid” question? It often feels like we are expected to know and remember everything, and asking would show us off as incompetent (hello, imposter syndrome!). When you get stuck with a task, it’s worth trying to figure it out by yourself – that’s a good learning experience. But it’s important to think: will it take me days? Weeks? or months? Asking a question can save you a lot of time. Your colleagues will not look down at you, quite the opposite.

 

What skills could you improve? 

I still have a lot to learn on the technical side, of course, I could spend days just listing it all.

On the personal side, I believe it is always a bit of a challenge to establish good contact with people – at a new job, in a new project. Being quite introverted, I still find it hard to get out of my shell.

 

Did the experience give some other insights/ changes in your worldview / cultural learnings?

The first answer that comes to my mind is related to my thoughts on the first question. When everyone stops being shy about asking questions, you get to learn a great thing: everyone’s experience is different and valuable. You might feel like you are the least experienced person on the project, but there are some topics in which you are qualified and can help others. And you should not be afraid to step forward and say – hey, I think I can help here.

The second insight that I got at Omdena is that everyone is very friendly and supportive, very willing to learn and help others learn. This probably sounds banal. But Omdena projects are really about working together, not about competing and climbing on each others’ heads. This is the culture I am happy to be a part of, the one I want to build wherever I am.

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