Interview with Dafni - Data Scientist and moinworld mentor Data Analytics

October 19, 2020

Can you introduce yourself to us?

Hi, I’m Dafni, I am a data scientist with a background in biology and computational neuroscience. I come from Greece but I’ve been living in Germany for nine years, the last five I’ve spent in Hamburg.

Why and how did you learn programming?

Since high school I was really intrigued by computers and I liked interacting with them. Of course, 20 years back it was all quite different, think of DOS for games, Windows95 and DSL internet connection. However, biology won me over! Fast-forward I’m in university, where I learned there is a branch in the field called “computational biology”. In short, using mathematical models to explain/predict stuff. I decided I want to follow this path, so I started to get more familiar with everything. From touch-typing and the basics of programming to statistics. In university, we didn’t have any programming courses in the biology department, so it was more of a do-it-on-your-own process, using books. Later, during my M.Sc which was on computational neuroscience, I had to learn how to code. This is where things really started to hit off. Suddenly, I needed C and MATLAB to do modelling and data analysis. Of course, the learning never stops, and nowadays the possibilities are endless. I’ve experimented a lot and used tutorials, videos, documentation, reading other people’s code, online courses and live classes.

Why didn’t you directly study computer science after your highschool graduation?

Biology had just stolen my heart and I don’t regret that choice for a moment. The knowledge I gathered for the world around us, nature, humans and everything is invaluable to me. I loved studying biology. The same goes for neuroscience: I wouldn’t trade the understanding of how the brain works with anything - though, of course, we don’t know everything yet, but even just having a grasp of it is extremely valuable information to me. I needed to understand the world around me, and biology and neuroscience provided this kind of understanding.However, the interest about computers was still there so I tried to combine the two.

Why did you go into IT after your education in biology and neuroscience?

Let’s say, life happened. Not everything is under our control. The original plan was to stay in academia but things didn’t go as planned, so, I had to find something else. I wanted to stay as close to science as possible and use all the tools and knowledge I have gathered over theyears. Although I don’t work in a lab anymore, all the other knowledge I have from research, I am able to take with me along this path. For example, when it comes to data analysis, the process is very similar. Yes, the data sources and applications might change but the main principles, the way of working and thinking are the same. Hence, I could use a big part of my skill set. There was still a lot to learn and adapt, but for me, this path made the most sense, time-wise and interest-wise.

How is the distribution of men and women in your field?

Anything between balanced to more male-dominated. In my current job, at the data scientist department, we are four people, three men and me. However, we are part of a bigger analytics team and there are more women. In the company I worked before, which was building medical devices, the rest of the team were men. In academia, it depended on the field. Biology overall was balanced, physics, math and CS were male-dominated.

How is it working for you working in a male-dominated environment?

It doesn’t really make a difference – as far as I can tell at least. I prefer/try to focus on my work and deliver results. Results are hard to argue with and so far, no one has tried to do so.Overall the people I interact with behave very professionally. Of course, there are some exceptions. For instance, I had a colleague who wasn’t very fond of women and made sure to communicate it in every opportunity – but it only made sure that our collaboration was not long-lasting. Thankfully, my experience with my colleagues has been for the most part very positive.

You also completed a bootcamp, right?

Yes, I did. Before I did the bootcamp in data analytics, I had already done a few online courses so not everything was new information for me. It was a great experience though because it was concentrated work. You would attend the class everyday from 9am to 6pm, with additional homework. These three months were very intense and demanding. I’m a person who likes to be immersed in a topic, instead of doing a little bit today and a little bit after a couple of days. I like this continuity. It helps me to learn better and enjoy it more. It also gave me a better understanding of how the industry works, when it comes to the job search. Looking for a job in academia and looking for a job in the industry are two different things; take for example, the content of a CV. The bootcamp was very good in giving some pointers into this direction.

You will teach data analysis at moinworld for which Python knowledge is required. Is it also the main programming language you work with at your job?

Yes, it is. Generally speaking, languages are tools, meaning you need more than one. Not every language is the best tool for the job at hand. For the project I’m working on right now, Iuse a lot of Python and SQL. For the project I was working on before, I had to use Python and HTML. It’s always a mix and match. I really like Python because it’s very flexible, the syntax itself is very straight-forward, and not as nuanced as C, for instance.

What would be a reason to recommend data analysis to other people?

Data doesn’t lie – if properly collected. You will find the truth there. With proper data analysis, ifyou don’t ignore the data you don’t like, if you do scientific work, you will find the answer to your question. Another important reason is that it becomes easier to spot bad analyses and/or poor datasets; which is very useful in a world where bad statistics are so commonplace and ‘scientists say’ is used so loosely. Not to mention the understanding one gets into the power of data and the importance of proper data management. GDPR happened for good reason.

What is your current project at work?

The project is about building a dashboard and its underlying database for a client. They havedifferent data sources, which need to be combined. Additionally the data is cleaned and altered before they are uploaded to the cloud database. In the end, they’ll get an automated solution and they can perform this process at will whenever they need an updated report.

Do you have role models you look up to?

Yes and no at the same time. I don’t want to give you any names but there are people who do remarkable jobs out there. You hear of someone’s accomplishments and how they managed to help other people and the society. These people are all role models for me. Thisis what I want for myself: to help. I think we humans are at our best when we help each other. This is why I wanted to become a scientist. In my mind, scientists are there to improvethe world.

Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to learn programming or data analysis?

  • Start. You have to start from somewhere and keep at it. Ideally daily, if not possible, every second day. When learning to code, especially at the beginning, it is important to be consistent. It’s easy to learn a new concept, but it’s also easy to forget it. - If you’re stuck, explain the problem to yourself. If that doesn’t help, ask for help.- Google is your friend. - Believe that you can do it, because you can!

And you?

If you like to join our next class on SQL you find the next dates here.