Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Madalina Daniela Mihailescu about her journey as Data Analyst

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Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Madalina Daniela Mihailescu about her journey as Data Analyst

Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Madalina Daniela Mihailescu about her journey as a Data Scientist and Tutor

Madalina is a Training Consultant at Purple Beard Training who delivers the Introduction to R course in the Data Analytics Bootcamp. In addition to this role, she is currently studying for a PhD in Data Science, with a focus on Bayesian statistics, at the University of Essex. Madalina also holds a BSc in Mathematics and Economics and a MSc in Mathematics and Finance. 

  • What attracted you to the tech career  in Data ?

I’ve always liked maths so that’s how it all started. I found out I’m very good at numbers but not that good with words and I’ve realized it’s difficult to be good with both sometimes. I find it extremely difficult to write, whereas numbers just come naturally to me somehow.

So I carried my interest in maths to Uni where I was mostly doing mathematics & economics. In my second year I started liking statistics a lot more, which I then continued on  learning via  my Masters and PhD. I also had a great supervisor who advised me to continue and that’s how I ended up here.

  • Do you think tech is biased towards one gender over the other?

I don’t think it’s necessarily biased, but I think it’s not that popular among women which makes women choose different careers. Tech used to be a male-dominated industry once so women might find it overwhelming to go into tech careers because of that. 

  • So have you ever experienced being the  only woman in the group ?

Mostly, yes, there were men – not only men, but mostly men. It can be overwhelming sometimes when you’re thinking, ‘Oh, am I the only woman in here?’ But I think with time you  get used to it.

 

  • You’re teaching Data Analysis  on our bootcamp and we’ve noticed that half of them are women, so something definitely is shifting. 

Yes, it’s a good thing, I think it’s becoming more and more popular among women. I mean anything in tech in general, not necessarily just data science. Women are not as afraid to join the courses anymore.

  • What in your opinion might make other women hesitant? There are so many Women in Tech initiatives, however the gender gap still exists. Do you think there are any other factors causing it, like a pay gap?

I don’t think there’s a pay gap. I think the pay gap appears because women go for different roles, it’s not like for the same job I was paid differently than the man who was doing it. We’re getting paid the same for the same position, but because in tech there are not as many women, the number of women who can progress is not as high as men. And because there’s more men in tech roles it’s more likely for them to get a job because there’s just more of them. Statistically speaking it makes sense therefore what we have to do is to encourage women into tech careers in order to even out the gap. So if there’s a bias towards women in tech, it’s probably because women don’t put themselves out there as much as men.

  • One of the reports we’ve read said that young girls didn’t get enough support from their parents or friends and some of them were discouraged from pursuing tech careers. Lack of support and role models seem to be an issue – have you had anyone to guide you during your journey?

I just liked it so I never really needed much guidance . My parents never told me what to do and which career to pursue, saying, ‘You let us know what you want to do and we will see how we can support you’ so this is how I made my decision. But also my teachers who guided me with a career choice  helped a lot. But I think it’s important to have this one person to help you and support you, who won’t discourage you from pursuing what you want to do. 

  • You’re a data scientist with a lot of experience, but for someone who’s just started learning data it can be very overwhelming. Have you ever felt overwhelmed yourself and if so, how did you cope with it?

I feel challenged every day, I think. Especially during my PhD as it was a really long journey and you have to know that from the beginning. You have to set your mind and perhaps  lower expectations about this journey and think, ‘I just have to keep pushing every single time.’ If you’re struggling just take a break, maybe one or two days, and think about it. And then keep pushing and moving forward. 

 I also think what makes people so unmotivated is  burnout. You need to make sure you don’t burnout – you need to keep working on it. I think it’s what made me resilient during my PhD –  I’ve also found most PhD students are very resilient. You go through many ups and downs and at some point you start thinking, ‘Well, whatever happens, it happens’. I know there’s going to be many ups and downs so I’m going to take it as it comes. Just take every day as it comes and try to do your best, and you’ll get there.’ But it’s a very long journey. I think the attitude  works for everything, not just learning data. You can’t learn everything in one night. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn,  the journey of learning never really stops. There is a great deal of  information as well as  things you can do that you’ll always be learning. It takes time and ambition.

  • Why is it important to get more women into data in particular and how can we achieve that?

We need to expose them to it (tech)  first, I guess, so they can realize what options are there and which one they can choose. If you don’t get exposed to things, you won’t know what you like. For example, as we said before, because there are not many women in tech, many women might think, ‘Oh, this is not for women, this is not something women can do, or would be good at.’ People might think then that either you’re very good at something or not good at all, but that’s not true. Most people are not very good at the beginning, you have to keep working. That’s why it’s important to expose women to all sorts of areas, especially in  tech. 

I also think most people are unaware of  how much impact data has on our lives, not necessarily just women. The things we search for, how algorithms are implemented like Google and other search engines that give us our news. It’s very important to know that not everything that’s out there is how we see it, there’s a lot more going on.

We can be easily manipulated with all this information so we have to learn to understand what to believe and what not to believe, what really is there and what news has been delivered to us because of the algorithm. Many people read something and think, ‘This is true’. You need to read and learn from different sources and then make your own conclusions. 

  • Can you think of any real-life examples of  when and how you used data in your life?

I was working on the project with a local council that was working with vulnerable people like young children, etc. Our project was  aimed to see how students were getting the free meals i.e  based on which factors was  the decision being made. For example, some parents were not applying for it even though they would qualify for it, possibly because of the social stigma that’s attached to it. Many people think if you’re getting free school meals then you could be  underprivileged and people don’t want to show that. So on this project we used data from different schools in a county as we wanted to let the schools know which children would qualify but their families  had not applied. Instead of having the parents apply for it, the school would go to the parents informing them they qualify and ask if they would like to apply. That could help the parents, because, for example, there were  parents from a range of backgrounds  who were unaware of  how it works and it may have been  difficult for them to access the information. We used data  to predict all of this.

 

  • What advice would you give to your younger self or to a younger girl who wants to embark on a tech career?

To myself I’d say maybe not take things so seriously. Sometimes when you have a challenge or you’re stressing out thinking it’s the end of the world but in reality, it’s not. We get many opportunities in life and we make our life a lot more difficult by stressing out.

To the girl I’d advise focusing on school and doing different projects so they can figure out what they enjoy doing. Many times you think you would enjoy doing something and then you actually end up doing it and not enjoying it at all, whereas there could be other things you’d enjoy a lot more. So just keep exploring, work on different projects and eventually everything will work out. 

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