In Episode 7 of the THIS IS HOW podcast from Season 2, we spoke to Alison who works as a Data Scientist for Lyst . You can listen to the episode here but for those who fancy a read, or might be hard of hearing, the full transcript is below.
This is How – Episode Seven mixdown.mp3
Zoe You’re listening to this is how a podcast about people forging and digital careers for people who are taking the time to figure things out.
Will Whether you’ve just left school, college or uni or you’re already in a job, but you’re not feeling it. We made a podcast series full of tips, ideas and free advice from people who’ve been on similar journeys. Change things up and gone on to work in digital roles in some of the most interesting brands in the UK.
Zoe I’m Zoe Muller. I’m a life coach and radio show host. My coaching focuses on helping people figure out where they are, where they want to be, and then we work out how we’re going to get them there. I also have a radio show on Foundation FM, which allows listeners to message in with all their problems. And my guess and I offer our professional advice and tips live on a mix with some bangers
Will I’m Will Stowe, proudly from Hackney and ever showed it to those around me. I work for sneakers as a co-host on Sneakers Live, we have regular livestreams to talk all things sneak culture. I also write poetry, make music and throw parties in my spare time.
Zoe So we are back with another episode of This Is How. And today we have the lovely Alison Wong, who is a data scientist, at Lyst, and we’re going to kick off the episode today with a game that we always play
Will It’s called two truths and a lie. If you’ve been to a house party or you know you have siblings or friends, you probably played this once in your life before.
Zoe Sorry, do you play this at house parties?
Will Yeahh it’s like a nice icebreaker
Zoe I play it on like Zoom Calls
Will At house parties that have games like before you it’s gets into drinks games, spin the bottle, all that kind of stuff… Okay I’m going a bit old school. But um yeah. Yeah, so a favourite at house parties as it always goes off. Dunno about Zoe’s house parties but at my ones they go off. Emm but yeah two truths and a lie. You know, you tell us to two truths and a lie and we’re supposed to guess them so, you know, make them as, you know, liey’ as possible and as truthful as possible. I just made up a word liey’.
Alison Yes, I had a lot of fun trying to come up with these, and I’m going to try saying with a poker face because I’m quite bad at lying and they usually give it away. So I’m just going to. So the first one is I competed in a triathlon in Wales. OK, second one I am an award winning and published poet. Oh, and the third one is I have sat on top of a whirlpool in a inflatable boat.
Zoe I really want the second one to be true, the poet one.
Will It’s very believable.
Zoe Can you can you give us a verse of one of your poems?
Will Freestyle maybe?
Alison Um, it was a long time ago, and I don’t do poetry anymore.
Will This is where the lies begin.
Will This is where it starts.
Zoe What was the whirlpool like?
Alison So the whirlpool, it’s the third largest whirlpool in the world. And it kind of feels like a roller coaster. Hmm. And just kind of sit in the boat and ride the whirlpool.
Zoe What kind of boat?
Alison An inflatable boat
Zoe It was an inflatable boat in the sea?
Alison Yeah, in the sea. Yes, so the whirlpool is in the sea
Alison Its the third largest whirlpool in the world
Alison And I just sat on top of it in an inflatable boat.
Zoe OK, what’s the first one again?
Zoe Oh, I competed in a triathlon
Will I think the triathlon is true.
Zoe Yeah same.
Will And I think the whirlpool is real.
Zoe Yeah, I agree.
Alison So the triathlon one is not true. I can’t actually swim or ride the bike, but I do want to do a triathlon at some point. Just haven’t done one yet
Zoe You just said it’s so like confidently.
Will It’s true.
Alison Oh, did I?
Alison Yeah, I usually get told like, you can tell in my face when and I lie. I tried to be really, really careful
Will You was being very serious
Zoe OK firstly let’s go like the poem. So you’re an award winning poet?
Alison So this one
Zoe oh, did you lie to us?
Alison No. So this one is true, but it’s not as impressive as it sounds. So basically, I won a national poetry competition. I think I was 14 and they got published in a book and my parents have actually got a copy of it hung up in the living room for years.
Zoe Oh, that’s so cute.
Will That’s incredible.
Zoe And tell us about the whirl pool?
Alison oh, yeah. So that was really fun. So it’s in the correyvreckan, just on the northwest side of Scotland. And basically, I think they call it like the Witches Sea from back in the day. There’s a lot of mythology and stuff around it. Um yeah. So we were actually on like, what’s it called like a sea wildlife tour
Zoe A sea wildlife tour?
Alison Yeah. So to look at seals and eagles, and I can’t remember what other wildlife there was!
Zoe That’s so cool!
Zoe This is in Scotland?
Zoe Yeah its in Oban its really cool.
Will Are you trying to go
Zoe Take a little THIS IS HOW trip.
Will Talk to their digital team?
Alison So we unfortunately didn’t actually see that much wildlife. We saw some seals, but the Whirlpool was really active when we went. So the guy was like, OK, I’ll just take you guys to see this instead, Oh, and the inflatable boat is called a rib, so it’s like a rigid inflatable boat, and it literally is just the giant inflatable boat.
Zoe OK, so let’s get into it. So we’re going to talk through like some of your journey first. So what were you good at school?
Alison So at school, I wouldn’t necessarily say I was good at it, but I enjoyed doing a lot of things. I think I did a lot of subjects like, I like languages, I did English and French. I did maths because I happened to be good at maths and I quite enjoyed it. Well, I did history. Um, that was really interesting. And yeah, it’s good fun. I think just learning about how people live back in the day and things like that. And then I also did biology, but that one was probably my least favourite one. So I kind of realised I don’t really want to go into sciences
Will And what did you uh, what did you do after leaving school?
Alison So after leaving school, I went to university. So I just kind of assumed that I would go to university like, I don’t really know if I didn’t go to uni what other options were there. So the plan was always to go to university, and I basically had no idea what I wanted to study. I just knew, OK, I have to go to uni, that’s the next step. And I remember I had some friends who had quite a clear idea of what what subjects they wanted to go into, but I honestly had no idea. I think at the time, I know I enjoyed maths, but I was kind of like, What can I do? A maths degree? I don’t want to be a mathematician, so I don’t really know what to do with that. So then I ordered all the university prospectuses. I had a flick through them and had a look at all the subjects. It was interesting… And so I decided to pick economics because they sold it as kind of a combination of maths, sociology and history, and it sounded quite interesting to me. I feel like I was
Alison misled a little bit.
Zoe And so your time at university, can you like walk us throughwhat that was like and what your experience was like of that?
Alison Because I didn’t really know what I want to do, and I kind of felt pressure to just pick a subject and go for it. I was kind of hoping that whilst I was at university, I could figure out what I want to do after that. So I just picked a subject I thought was quite interesting, and then I was hoping I would figure it out at some point. I don’t really know what else to say, about university!
Will I mean, I think we was all there, like trying to figure it out and just picking something just to make the time pass.
Zoe Yeah, so true
Alison Actually what was quite good. So in Scotland, it’s a four year degree. And your first two years basically your subject that you apply for is only one of three subjects, so you can do lots of other things. So for example, my first year I also did linguistics and criminology and then I think my second year, I did Chinese and something else I can’t remember. And then your final two years are what you then focus on your degree subject, but also with any of the subjects you do in your first two years. If you realise you like them more than your main subject, then you can just transfer and do that instead.
Zoe Hmm, okay. And do you think like doing economics that that kind of set you up then quite nicely for going into like the career that you are now and the careers that kind of followed after Uni?
Alison I think it was probably more helpful in the career that I am now, although I do think I probably did pick up some interesting skills. So where the economics came in, it kind of sounds a bit cheesy, but like understanding the world around you with numbers and statistics and that always kind of interested me like how do people make decisions, how their businesses make decisions? And I guess that is kind of related to what I went into after uni and I suppose more related to what I’m doing now, I would say.
Zoe And then after uni, like what was the process of like you getting a job?
Alison Yeah. So unfortunately, I didn’t figure out what I want to do at uni. And also I attended a lot of the career events and careers fairs. But I think because of the uni I went to and the subject I studied, a lot of the jobs were around finance, around like accounting, banking, that kind of thing when I knew I wasn’t really that interested in. So I actually moved home for a bit after I graduated just to kind of figure out what I want to do. So then I was like, OK, what do I enjoy doing? Like, why am I interested in? And like, I was always been really interested in fashion. But at the time, I only knew about jobs like, you know, like a fashion editor or creative director, those kind of roles. And they didn’t really suit me either. But then I think one of my friends was talking about Burberry shares for some reason.
Alison And that me think like – Oh, actually, there could be other jobs within fashion. So I started looking at kind of finance assistant positions for fashion companies. But then I realised it didn’t really matter what industry I worked in. A finance assistant is still like a finance assistant job, and I wanted something kind of more creative. So after doing like a lot of research and Googling, I landed upon buying and merchandising, which is like a nice combination between kind of some data analysis and some numbers involved, but then also the creative side of fashion as well.
Zoe Was this all self research? Did you find that you knew that you had to like, find something that you’re interested in and you were keen to kind of do that? Were there any resources that you use, people that you spoke to? Like, how did you kind of navigate that period of your life? Were you like I’m not sure what I want to do.. Im kind of like interested in fashion, but I’m not really sure how to get into it?
Alison Yeah. Honestly, I thought that was quite difficult because I feel like usually when you’re young, you get ideas on what jobs are out there from the people around you. And usually it’s jobs you can see, like, you know, like a teacher or a policeman, you can see people doing these jobs. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do those jobs I was looking at. And I remember I went to the career service to try and figure out what I wanted to do, but this is actually at school. When I was trying to figure out like what job I wanted so I could decide what degree I wanted to do. And she made me do a quiz and she told me I should be a weather reporter, which I also didn’t really want to do. Yeah. So I guess for me, like it was just all self research on the internet. I think I felt a lot of pressure to figure out like, what would I want to do with my life? Like, what job am I going to get? And yeah, just lots of Googling really on the internet.
Zoe So how long did it take for you to like research? And at what point did you decide that you wanted to take time out to do research on what you wanted to do?
Alison I think what really helped me was I had a friend who is a little bit older than me, who he’d been to university, and was working. I think he did biology and he’s working as a lab assistant. And I basically just asked him, like, you know, how did you decide what you want to do? Like, how did you know you want to go into this? And he said to me, this isn’t what I want to do. And actually, like, I’m going to leave soon. And I remember asking him like, Oh, well, like, I don’t remember that much of the conversation, but I do remember asking him, Do you think it was a waste of time? And he said no, because even though it wasn’t what you want to do, actually, he learnt that because it wasn’t what you wanted to do, it got him one step closer to something that he did want to do, I guess. So that kind of inspired me and I was like, OK, I just need to pick something and then just try it out because I think when I was researching fashion jobs, there were jobs in marketing, PR, all these different types of jobs within the fashion industry. And I was like, OK, buying a merchandising soundslike the most interesting one to me. I’m just going to have a go at it and see what happens.
Zoe I think it’s really interesting in that like, and it’s like a testament to you that, like you said earlier, like the jobs that you know about the people that are around you, right? So sometimes it can be quite limited. Yeah, exactly. And like, you know, nobody around you is like maybe working in fashion and but you knew that you wanted to kind of get into that industry. If, like, what advice would you give to somebody or like your younger self at that point, if they like, don’t know anybody that they don’t know anybody that’s from the industry, but they really want to get into it and everybody else around them kind of has quite different kind of careers.
Alison I would say nowadays, LinkedIn is honestly amazing. I don’t know if it was around when I was growing up, but I used it quite a lot when I was deciding what I want to do after buying. So you can basically use it to look at companies, look at the people who work at the companies, look at the different types of jobs that they do and then anyone who interests you that you can just send them a message just introduce yourself and askto find out more about what they do, what their day-to-day job is like. Honestly, just messaging people on LinkedIn.
Will So you got to this place where you found the middle ground of, like, you know, merchandising and by any like the creative side and the no side as well. But before that, did you do any interning any way?
Alison I probably should have. I didn’t. So I think a lot of people in my year were interning, but I think because I just knew for me, I just wasn’t interested in finance, and that’s kind of the internships that people were going to. So I mostly spent my summers working like in retail or working in hospitality, doing bar work, that kind of thing.
Zoe And how did like how did that move into fashion buying? Was it anything that you kind of like had to learn, like super quick?
Alison Yeah. So I think once I realised that this is what I wanted to do, then I started researching how to get into it. So I think the first thing I did was I moved to London because basically pretty much all the fashion jobs are inn London, I think there’s some in Manchester now, but at least in Scotland at the time that I lived there anyway, there wasn’t really that many jobs going, so I moved to London . So I thought, OK, I want to work in fashion. And it makes sense for me to get a job at retail store. So, yeah, I just got a job as a sales assistant whilst I worked out what to do next and a lot. I found a lot of courses online, like part time university degrees within fashion. buying, a lot of online courses. A lot of courses like Fashion Retail Academy and I was kind of mentally preparing myself to work full time and then study part time for this degree. But then I thought, basically, like again, I have nothing to lose by applying, so I thought, OK, I may as well just start applying. So I applied to the university programme. I applied to various jobs just to see what happened. And yeah, I remember the first time someone reached out to me an interview. I was just like, Wow, this is amazing. So I went to the interview and luckily I managed to get the job just in that first interview. So then I was like, OK, this is great. Now, I don’t need to go back to university into another degree. I can just start working. So, yeah, that’s how I got into the industry.
Will How were you able to develop your skills and kind of like, get sharper and, you know, get in deeper into this industry?
Alison So I think honestly, I think my retail job as a sales assistant really helped. So I worked at quite a small boutique, so I could basically see like how the store was run, how kind of deliveries came in, like how stock arrived into the store. I could help up with visual merchandising. So understanding like how the layout of a shop kind of affects customers and sales and how, yeah, just how things are displayed can affect what people are actually going to purchase. So then I actually used that knowledge in my first interview with merchandising. So I went to the flagship store. I walked around. I’ve made notes on like the different departments where they were displayed around the store. I really tried to think about why they were displayed where they were. I tried to look at how people were kind of moving through the store. So I use that in my interview and came up with ideas like on kind of changes that you can make to the store and the layout and how that could improve things.
Zoe You seem like you’ve always been like super proactive, but it’s so like, would you say that? Is that like, just does that come naturally to you?
Alison So I think for me, like I don’t really have any role models or people in my life doing like a variety of different jobs, I feel like. So, you know, my family, they worked in restaurants or takeaways. So that was kind of all I could see. And I didn’t really know what was out there. And I know, like when I went to school, a lot of people at school like, you know, they had networks, they had contact with people in different industries. But I guess I never really had that. So I always felt like it was on me to find the job on me to, like, find something that I wanted to do.
Zoe That’s sick. I think that’s that’s like a testament to like where you are today that you’ve had to kind of like, really just like, do it yourself, that’s really inspiring. Could you tell us about your move to Selfridges?
Alison Yes. So after my sales assistant job, I actually applied for an allocator within the merchandising team, a kind of traditional suiting company called Awesome Made. Unfortunately, they’re not around anymore. But so I was there for about six months and it was quite exciting at the beginning. Like I was learning all these new skills, learning like a different type of job that I was interested in. But I wasn’t really happy there. Basically, it’s just kind of wasn’t really the right environment for me. So I was kind of thinking about what to do next. And then a recruiter just randomly reached out to me and said, Hey. I will say I think she called me and I don’t know how she got my number. I can’t remember how it came about. I think maybe I submitted my CV on like one of those like job boards. I’m not 100 percent sure. Um, yeah. So she just reached out to me and said, Hey, I’m recruiting for a job at Selfridgess. Would you be interested? And I was like, Oh, this has come at such a perfect time. Like, I’m not happy, I want to leave anyway. So I interviewed for that role and then was successful there, and then I just stayed there for five years.
Alison I feel like honestly, there’s probably made me a little bit naive when I started applying for data science jobs because I feel like I’ve been quite lucky to get one job straight away. And when I transitioned to being a data scientist, suddenly like I was getting rejection like from all angles. So that was eye opening.
Zoe But I didn’t stop, you know? So yeah, this is great. What did you learn while you was at Selfridges and was there any surprises?
Alison Hmm. I think, um, so at Selfridges, because it’s quite a big company as well. You really get to learn more about the different roles that go on behind the scenes and also within buying and merchandising as well. You’re kind of like the central point for a lot of different departments. So that’s retail operations, social performance marketing, the online trading team logistics. So you’re kind of like the centre point and you’re kind of communicating and working with all these different areas within the business. So I thought that was whatt gave me a really good understanding for the business as a whole. And I guess because I was there for so long as well, I really learnt like how different functions works. And yeah, just got to know a bit more jobs
Zoe And then can you kind of like you’ve mentioned that the first lockdown, can you kind of tell us the story around the pandemic for you and how that kind of affected what you were doing at the time?
Alison Yeah. So I feel like so. Obviously, Selfridges is online and in-store, but the large portion of the business is in-store and a big part of my job was kind of visiting different brands, meeting lots of people, working with them on the range and also doing like law walks in the store, kind of working out how best to display certain items. And when the pandemic hit, we were sent to work from home. The store closed. I feel like a lot of parts of my job just kind of stopped overnight, basically. And then, yeah, half the team got furloughed. And I think as well when I wasn’t buying. So the hours are very long and it’s quite a high pressure environment. But once lockdown happened, I feel like I had the opportunity to spend more time at home and kind of think about, I guess, like I wanted to do.
Zoe Was this similar to like, um, university moment where you kind of like took a step back again?
Alison That’s a very good point. I’ve never thought about it like that
Alison That is very interesting. Yeah, I guess. Yeah, that probably did help just taking like a pause and kind of just thinking, reassessing my life, thinking about why, what want to do next? Yeah, I think they were probably very important.
Zoe And then can you tell us about you kind of taking a step back and what that meant for you? And then the next steps in your career?
Alison Yeah. So yes, I had this feeling for quite a while. I think maybe last year or two of my job, I wanted to work in more fashion technology role, but I didn’t really know what jobs were out there. And also, I really loved the team that I worked with. I really loved my manager, so I probably stayed there longer than I should have, And yeah, I was a bit nervous about leaving my job. But then once the pandemic happened and then I got seconded into this new department of the business, I feel like that was already like a step away from my job. Even though I was at the same company, I was seconded to the digital trading team for about six months. And during that time, I got to learn a lot more about how the team worked and just kind of more behind the scenes behind the website work. So I guess the digital trading team was kind of similar to buying in that they were like the central hub for a lot of, I guess, digital roles. So they worked with performance marketing. So I was like digital marketing, and they worked with more closely with the product team, like data analysts, that kind of thing. And so within digital trading, initially, I went through a two week training process just to get up to speed with the new tools and basically to learn how they worked. So after the two weeks, I started to get like a little bit more responsibility, day to day tasks I would carry out. And then I think sometimes I would come across something that I wanted to do or like a new responsibility that I wanted and the team were really supportive of actually in making sure that I got as much out of the experience as possible. So they were more than happy to train me on how to do certain things. And then once I got used to that, then I would start doing that. So I looked towards the end. I ended up taking ownership for all the menswear edits on the website, so they’re like kind of curated edits of products that we’ve hand-selected. So that could be like maybe for sportswear, we have sportswear edit, we’ve got like a loungewear edit, that kind of thing. And I also started looking after the searches on the website. So having a look at what users were searching for, taking a look at the results that were returned after they searched. And I guess I was trying to find ways on how to make the search better. And I came across all these, I guess, tech blogs from other companies. But all these cool things that they were doing with search, and I guess that just caught my interest. And the more I reading about it, the more I was like, OK, this is something that I want to go into so I started investigating that. And yeah, that’s how I first discovered data science.
Zoe And then can you tell us about like, I guess, a journey from when you first discovered data science?
Alison So I think when I first discovered data science, I guess a couple of things happened. So before I had been at my previous job for quite a while, I was quite nervous to like, take the leap and leave. But because I got sucked into the digital trading, even though it was in the same company because I was already in a different role, in a different department with a new team. I was already like a step kind of removed from what I was doing before. And then I guess that really gave me the confidence then take a bigger leap and leave the company as a whole. So before I left, I again went back to the internet, did research. This is when I would message random data scientists on LinkedIn. So what did you do? Like, how did you get there? I started researching how other people got into data science. And so in the end, for me, I decided to do a bootcamp course in data science. But you know, there’s like massive degrees in data science and people are self-taught as well.
Zoe So at what point did you like realise that you course you wanted to do? How did you decide what course you were going to do and then what was like, what was it like kind of starting that course?
Alison So when I first discovered data science, I kind of fell into a bit of a rabbit hole in the internet where I just thought was really interesting. I tried to learn as much about it as possible. And I guess the more I was learning about it, the more I was like, OK, I think this is like, This is why I want to do this. So then I just started Googling like basically from asking people on LinkedIn and then from Googling to find out about the different courses that were out there. I did look at doing a data science master’s course, but honestly, I couldn’t afford the tuition fees and to take a year out of work. So then I came across these bootcamp courses that General Assembly did, and they were like, Oh yeah, study for three months, become a data scientist, which in hindsight I think was really naive of me. And if I really thought about how long it would take to be a data science, I think maybe I wouldn’t have done the bootcamp.
Zoe Can you tell us a bit more about like what the course was like? Like, was it? Was it worth it? Did you enjoy it with their parts of it like that? You didn’t enjoy it? How did that whole kind of process go?
Alison So the course itself was nine to five, Monday to Friday, but that was during that time. We were just learning new things constantly. Like every hour is just new concepts, new things. And in order to process that and kind of actually solidified the knowledge basic to even understand what I was learning. I did spend a lot of most of my weekends and evenings during those few months, just revising what we’d learn, doing some more research online. So, yeah, that was quite hard. It was like. So the course itself is only three months long, but there’s a month of pre work where they tried to get you to learn how to code through some, basically to get you ready to do the course. And then after the course, there was like a month where you go through their careers coaching programme. You work on tidying up your portfolio, practise interview skills, that kind of thing. So all in all, I was probably like five months in total that I spent there.
Zoe You mentioned that you like you’d spoken to a lot of people on LinkedIn about the course was like the course, like highly recommended. And would you recommend it to other people?
Alison I would say it’s a mixed bag. Some people really don’t recommend it, and some people really loved it. I spoke to one guy who actually loved it so much. He went on to do masters in data science. But I guess after so after I started telling my friends and people they knew that, OK, this is what I’m going to do next. I actually discovered like one of my really close friends actually did the same programme, and I didn’t realise until I’d spoken to him about it and he really recommended it. And basically, I really trusted his opinion. So yeah, that’s what led me to rule. But I think like, honestly, there’s so many bootcamps out there now for data science. And I would say, like a lot, the curriculum is quite similar for a lot of them. So I would try and meet the instructor, see if you like them, their teaching style. Um, I kind of wish mine was in person, but because of the pandemic, it was all remote. Um, and I guess some of them nowadays as well have Industry Connections, like some of them, offer placements at the end of your bootcamp, which I think would have been really good if General Assembly had that.
Will What I get from you, is that you’re not afraid to ask anyone anything!
Alison Honestly, I feel like I got that just from my previous job and buying, because I guess in buying, you’re working with a lot of brands. Some of these are like, you know, really, well, big established brands because I was going out basically speaking to a lot of new people all the time and having to ask them for things. I guess that kind of built my confidence in just going out there and just not being afraid to put myself out there and asking for what I’m interested in.
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Will So can you tell us a bit? Let’s move into like your data science roles now, can you tell us about? It was like like applying for these jobs and then interviewing.
Alison Yes, so I would say applying to data science jobs is definitely the most challenging, I guess job application process I had to go through. So I think so usually my previous jobs, you have your initial call and then you have a meeting with the manager of the department and then you might have another meeting afterwards. Whereas for data science, I feel like almost every company I interviewed with had slightly different interview process. A lot of them do fall along the lines of you have your initial screening call and then you have a coding test and then you have like a technical interview and then you have a behavioural interview.
Zoe Well, what would you do in like in those times when you was teaching yourself? Was there like, any extra thing just finding online to help practice with?
Alison Yeah. So I I really, really love Code Academy. It is a little bit expensive, but they do a free trial for seven days as well, so you can try it out
Will Keep just getting those new emails, keep trying it out for seven days.
Alison Yeah, exactly. Yeah, you can just keep doing that. So yeah, they have a really, really good Python course and the website is really interactive. So you like do a bit of reading to learn how things work. And then they slowly like, teach you how to do say, like the most basic part, like you just print something and then they slowly build it up and increase the difficulty. So it feels quite gradual and you’re like, you come at the end of it. I think be able to code pretty well. And there’s also some free courses on Coursera. I do a lot of practise as well. I think it’s called Code Wars, where they tried to make them like little mini games or mini puzzles that you have to solve with coding. Um, yeah. So that’s what I did to practise in my spare time.
Will How many jobs do you think you applied for?
Alison I feel like what I’m going to say is quite controversial because I know, like a lot of people say, it’s a numbers game. Just apply for as many as possible. But I, at least for me, like I just didn’t have the energy to do that. So I really focussed on companies that I was really interested in working. I basically just focussed on doing a really personalised application for those companies.
Will And what does your job then consist of as a data scientist?
Alison So as a data scientist, its quite a varied role. And I guess that’s one of the other things that was why I was interested in data science so that you can work across any industry you can have a lot of different types of roles within data science. So at Lyst I work in the search and ranked team. So we basically look after the search and ranking of products on the website, but we also do things like recommendations and personalisation as well.
Will I feel like everything comes full circle with you because wasn’t one of the things that you was looking at was how to make searches better?
Alison Yeah, yeah, that’s how I got interested in data science. So I think basically when I left the course, I was applying to all these jobs. I, you know, it was my first data sciene job. I had no experience. I would’ve been happy with any job like realistically. But the fact that I got a job at a fashion company, which is like the industry that I know really well and then get to work on the search rank team, which was the reason why I want to go into data science like it just kind of all fell into place really well.
Zoe So how then, as you like your knowledge of the fashion industry, been useful in data science?
Alison Um, within my current role, it’s being like, really, really valuable. From my previous experience, I understand how customers shop. I understand kind of what they’re looking for. And obviously, within search and rank, our job is to try and understand what customers are actually searching for. So say, for example, if you search for off white ,are you looking for the brand off white or do you mean the colour off white? Like things like that. So I feel like one, my knowledge of the brands and two the industry within fashion and two my knowledge of customers and how they like to shop as well.
Will I’ve always felt like working on the shop floor gives you such an advantage of understanding people and the way they shop. Would you say that that gives you? I mean, I mean, obviously looking at how people shop online, you can see like different trends and like what they’re buying and what kind of stuff. But I feel like it can’t tell you a mindset of someone, Dyou feel like being on the shop floor gives you an idea for how people think.
Alison Yeah. So I think I guess like I’ve always been really interested in why people make the decisions that they do like, why do how the people think? And I guess that’s why I did economics. And then that’s why I decided to go into buying. But yeah, I think my previous experience as sales assistant on the shop floor, I feel like that really helped me get my first job. Within merchandising, just because one I could understand how people were shopping. But two, I was able to use that knowledge and then apply that to basically use that to identify things that they could do to improve their business and sales.
Will This is your edge. Yeah.
Alison Just being really nosy!
Zoe Curious, your curious
Alison Curious? Yes, curious
Zoe And what does like? What does a typical day look like for you?
Alison Yeah, I would say the data science work is really varied. So in the morning, usually we have our morning stand up where we just have a quick catch up with the team of day on the projects and things that we’re working on. And then the rest of the day, it kind of depends on the day of the week. Sometimes I’ll have a couple more hours where I can do more deep learning and focussing on my own projects. There’s actually a lot more meetings as a data scientist than I thought, which I was really, really surprised by. So we have a lot of different meetings with people from different departments. We have a data science weekly catch up with the other data scientists within the company. We also have like a journal club, so say, every two weeks. Basically, we each pick a paper or blog that we read recently. That was interesting to us and then just kind of talk about and present it to the rest of the team. And then, yeah, I guess. Oh, yes, we also have so at the beginning of a project we have like something’s quite ambiguous task. So for us, we have we can have a brainstorming session as a team to basically brainstorm ideas, decide how we want to approach the problem. And then the next one. Once we’ve decided on approach, the next one might be at Zoom meeting. So then we’ll actually come up with a plan on how to do what we had decided to do. And then so then we go away. Once we have the planning and the design out the way, then we can go and do the work. And once that work is done, if it’s successful, maybe launched into production and then once is in production, we know so one one, if the first we prototype it and if it’s successful, then we might launch an experiment on the website. So we do things called AB testing, which is basically where you show half of your users one version of the website and the other half of the users, the new version and basically compare. So, yeah, kind of. Yeah. So you just you’re trialling up a new feature. And I think pretty much every e-commerce site does this as well. So say, for example, when you see changes to the home page or like the menu, a lot of times these are a b tested by companies before they actually test to see how people respond to them before they actually get launched to everyone.
Zoe And what kind of like person would be suited to being a data scientist? Like what sort of characteristics, what kind of like personality, what work mindset?
Alison I would say someone who likes to be a detective, um, genuinely so like a lot of data in the real world is quite messy. It can mean structured, like, say, you have like, I don’t know, like a form that someone has filled in by hand. So, you know, people might make mistakes. There might be gaps in it. So you have to figure out like how to tidy up the data and then how you want to reshape it to try and uncover some patterns within it. So I think detective work number one, I think being OK with getting stuck because that happens all the time. So being OK with being stuck, trying out new things and then just being OK with being wrong and not knowing, but then getting back up and figuring out. And then obviously you do have to code and there is an element of kind of maths and that kind of thing involved as well.
Zoe And I’m I’m very curious. So I think that like that kind of sits in the same bracket, right?
Zoe Do you have any vacancies with those?
Alison Oh yeah, we have lots of things you could check our careers website!
Zoe Are they any other like free forums or any other places that you kind of recommend for someone to like, really just like get their teeth stuck into. So they have really understand that the whole world of data science?
Alison So I would say, I think November last year, and it’s kind of crazy to think another year has gone by, but the data science festival is really, really good. They post a lot of events and also so each event kind of has a theme like maybe one will be on fintech, maybe one will be on health care tech. And they have a lot of speakers working within these industries from different companies who come to talk about the work they’re doing. And you kind of get to learn how people apply data science in different ways, in different industries. And usually at the end, you have time for questions. Sometimes they also have like a little networking session where you can actually speak to some of the other people who have been attending. And also Slack communities, so Slack is shall I explain what Slack is?
Will Go ahead yeah!
Alison Yes. So there’s a lot of Slack community. So Slack is kind of like a messaging platform where I guess you can create groups and a lot of companies use it to kind of share ideas with a team or just a message, people. But there are also a lot of communities on there. So, for example, data talks club is a really good one. And also the A.I. Guild. So Data Talks Club, they actually have a lot of podcasts which are really good, and they recently did a free kind of machine learning. They call it a Zoom camp and that’s all free. And I think it was about 10 weeks and it’s all uploaded on YouTube as well. So you can also use that to learn.
Zoe And what would you tell your like 18 to 21 year old self?
Alison I would say get started earlier. I think I was kind of so worried about making the right decision that kind of stopped me for a while for making any decision. And I kind of. So in the end, I got there, but I wish I did it sooner.
Zoe So we like to go through your mini CV and then ask you questions about your CV. Kind of like a little mini interview and then we’ll decide whether we would hire you. I mean, I think we
Will I’ve made a decision in my head already. Do you want to tell us about your career highlight.
Alison Yeah. So career highlight, I guess, is definitely my most recent one. Being able to do a career change into data science, especially someone who comes from a non-traditional background or a non computer science background and have to have this like idea of wanting to go into data science and then actually getting a job out of it, I think I’m really proud of.
Zoe And what would you say has been your best failure?
Alison Yes. So I I don’t want to sound like basically, I genuinely don’t believe anything is a failure. I think everything is kind of an opportunity to learn something. Like, even if it’s to learn something that you didn’t want to do or that you knew was not the right approach, I would say probably. I did apply for promotion for about four times before I was successful, which I know like maybe some people after, like the first or second rejection they might like stop trying or they might get bit worried or just kind of lose confidence. So I think, yeah, it is important to persevere and keep trying and just kind of trust in yourself that you’ll get there eventually.
Will What would be like your ultimate dream project?
Alison So honestly, this can sound quite cheesy, but I do feel really, really lucky in that. Like, I’m really interested in the work that my team are doing and I think is really impactful. And like, I can’t believe that this is my job and I get to do something that I find really fun and interesting every day. But I guess dream project, if it wasn’t for work, I’m really passionate about data for good, so I would love to get involved in like a volunteering project of some kind. I’d be having a look at data kind, but it seems really popular and it’s kind of hard to get in as a volunteer. So maybe in a couple of years where I have more experience
Zoe Then finally, why should we hire you?
Alison You should hire me because I am a creative problem solver when it comes to business problems or data science problems. I’m really passionate and enthusiastic about my work, and I’m always just seeking out new ways to approach problems and learning new things.
Zoe I can definitely tell that you are like so open to like upskilling that constantly.
Alison Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think, yeah, I feel like like work is such a good opportunity to learn new skills as well. I feel like once you’re in a company, you can see other jobs that people are doing. You can ask them about the work you can just if you see something that someone else is doing, you think is interesting. I think people are quite open to if you have a meeting with your manager and you say, I want to learn this.
Will Mm hmm. So it’s always like always being curious, even when you’re applying for jobs, even when you’re asking people before you get into jobs and then not continuing that when you were in like no matter what level your were in.
Alison I would say, like, genuinely like, don’t be afraid to ask people like a lot of times, people love talking about themselves and they love talking about the work. So, yeah, definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to people. And also, I feel like. I personally, I find it’s almost easier on the internet now because, you know, you can just send like a few sentences message someone on LinkedIn, like it doesn’t really take too much time.
Will Hmm. Sweet
Zoe We hire her?
Will I think I think you’ve got the job
Zoe You’ve got the job to thank you.
Alison What are the benefits?
Zoe Asking the right questions already
Zoe You get to spend a lot of time with Will and I
Alison Oh, lovely.
Alison What are the benefits?
Will Let’s talk about it off camera.
Zoe OK, thank you so much for today. It’s been so lovely hearing your story. And you are really inspiring and I love your curiosity. So like, I just need to go and brush up on our skills.
Will Definitely. Definitely.
Alison Thank you so much for having me. I’ve had so much fun today speaking with you guys.
Zoe Thank you. And thank you so much. That’s a wrap.
Will You’ve been listening to THIS IS HOW created by Nominet and Livity. If you’ve enjoyed this conversation and you’re feeling inspired to develop your own digital skills. Head over to THIS IS HOW.UK, where you can find more information on all the helpful tips and advice shared on today’s podcasts, as well as trying our new THIS IS HOW quiz to uncover more about what you’re good at and what job roles could be a good match for you.