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Making an IT career go from vision to reality

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Dominika Szulc began her career working in optometry before transitioning to the IT sector, where she is now a junior machine learning engineer at future processing.

Here Dominika shares her career journey, why she chose to transition into tech and her advice for others thinking about a career in the industry.

Dominika is developing skills as Junior ML Engineer at Future Processing

Highly-motivated and passionate about machine learning and use of technology. After +5 years spent in sales and optometry industry, Dominika decided about career transition. Since 2020, Dominika attends online coding school, Turing College. Previously, she finished postgraduate degree: Data Science – Big Data algorithms, tools and techniques (Warsaw University of Technology) and before that she studied chemistry (Military University Of Technology And Erasmus Exchange at Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) and Optometry at Warsaw University.

At Future Processing, Dominika is developing skills as Junior ML Engineer, working on interpreting data, generating models and prototypes.

THE NUMBER OF PROFESSIONALS IN THE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY WAS RECORDED AT 55 MILLION IN 2020 AND IS EXPECTED TO INCREASE TO 62 MILLION BY THE END OF 2023.

The idea of transitioning from the optometry sector to the technology space appealed to me for several reasons. First of all, there was a huge shift in the optometry world from manual examination to the widespread usage of technology devices. From making an appointment – via a mobile app, and fitting ocular lenses using  multifunctional devices designed by specific manufacturers, all of these developments were made possible because of technology. That power was paramount to the industry’s growth and I wanted to be a part of that future development.

Making this move was a daunting prospect, so initially, I began looking at the career possibilities but also how these opportunities aligned with my skills and technical strengths. During this time I knew very little about the sector, and I decided to devote my time and effort to learning to program and understand what it means to undertake technical work. After thorough research, I chose not to focus on the optical world itself, instead being inspired by some great data scientists, such as Cassie Kozyrkov from Google. I entered the Data Science and Machine Learning field, to grasp the opportunities that the technology sector had to offer and make my IT career a reality.

BUILDING A PATHWAY TO SUCCESS

Over the years, I’ve discovered how important it is to analyse and recognise your own skills, before seeing how these align with different careers in the IT sector. For instance, if you enjoy speaking to people, then a programming role may be less suited to you than a role in UX/UI design or business analysis, which requires a higher degree of communication on a day-to-day basis and an understanding of wider business issues. Everyone can find something that suits their aspirations and it’s better to take the time to consider all the pros and cons of each of these roles, rather than realise it was all a big mistake after months of learning and preparation. Carving a pathway to success can accelerate your technology career from the very beginning, by visualising what you want to achieve and how you can get there.

TRANSITIONING FROM THE OPTOMETRY SECTOR

Working in the optometry sector gave me numerous transferable skills that I have taken with me on my journey in the IT sector, as my career to date has been within STEM. Optometry is a subfield of applied physics and I graduated from the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Physics, where I obtained a good education in mathematics. In addition, studying chemical engineering helped me to understand technical jargon and terminology, along with a grasp of scientific concepts. While these experiences helped to strengthen my STEM background, most of the skills that I have transferred are soft skills. Active listening, inquiring into the needs of others, openness and curiosity are fundamental skills when approaching data science problems, especially from a business perspective when the needs of others have to be taken into account and technology solutions need to work for a range of users and stakeholders.

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES

I have been expanding my Machine Learning (ML) experience through my studies as a postgraduate at the Warsaw University of Technology and Turing College’s Online Coding School. This has given me practical skills for a variety of ML projects such as having a live code review with business experts. As a result, I can now conduct exploratory data analysis and visualisation, build classical ML models, evaluate them, and perform feature selection and model explainability. However, lacking computer science experience is a significant challenge, meaning I sometimes face problems with model deployment, integration, clean code rules, testing and maintenance. While I’m fortunate to work for a supportive employer, being a mum is inevitably related to unexpected absences at work which causes a lack of continuity in project development, as well as slowing down progress in my career, even if I study at night and during the weekends. More needs to be done in this area to better support working mothers.

FOSTERING A CULTURE OF LIFELONG LEARNING

Learning on the job is critical, especially if women are to successfully overcome the barriers to employment in the technology sector. Businesses can foster a learning culture by connecting junior professionals with senior experts who can guide them in choosing the best tools and frameworks to learn. Senior experts can ensure that tools are up-to-date and related to important projects. Formal education is unfortunately a barrier to many professionals trying to enter the sector, and self-taught students and those with non-conventional educational backgrounds need to be given greater consideration when it comes to hiring and recruitment, to prevent these issues from becoming embedded. Those with no experience also need a helping hand and internships can help those people gain experience and get a sense of what it is like to work in an industry that they may not have previously considered. Internships can be the key to unlocking opportunities for people of all backgrounds.

CHANGING THE INDUSTRY FOR THE BETTER

In order to encourage more women to join the technology industry, businesses need to consider how they can give people opportunities to work remotely and flexibly, moving from the traditional model to one more focused on results and employee wellbeing. Women often carry the burden of caring responsibilities at home and great flexibility can help them to excel in their careers. But this isn’t enough, as employees ultimately want to be trusted by their employers and supported by them to flourish in their roles, particularly when women take time out of work for maternity leave, it’s about trust and not just flexibility – this is where business today so often fall short. There’s a more widespread issue in the industry when it comes to the hiring of junior specialists, as there simply aren’t enough job offers out there for juniors, with more of a focus on mid-level positions. The industry needs to shift its focus to think about the future of the industry and specifically where women sit within it, to change technology for the better.

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