I am a studied physicist but for about a year now I have been working as a remote Data Scientist for a startup. Today I will tell you how I changed my academic career for Data Science, what lead to that decision and which steps I took to get to where I am now.
A Physics Background And Nowhere to Go
I started my academic career in 2004 with the diploma studies of physics in Heidelberg, Germany. Physics had always been my favorite subject in school and I have been good at it, so this choice seemed natural. I enjoyed studying physics and something about ten years later I got my PhD in Medical Physics in Vienna. I enjoyed the experiments and the data processing the produced. But towards the end of my PhD, the proportion of experiments had dropped significantly and everything revolved around publications and grant applications. When looking at my postdoc colleagues, it was clear that it would not be any different in the future. That's when I decided to switch to the private sector.
The job search after university turned out to be anything but easy. Not many companies are waiting for a physicist with a PhD in Magnetic Resonance Tomography without experience in the industry (surprise, surprise). So my first job turned out to be as a SAP developer and consultant. The first few months it was fun. I learned another (though a very strange one) programming language and was coding most of the time. But then I experienced a similar shift: Suddenly my days consisted mainly of meetings, writing emails, workshops that I had to organise. And when I looked at my colleagues who had been at it for a while, I realised again that this is not where I saw my future.
(Data) Things Started Moving
My interest in Data Science was initiated in the end of 2015 by two physicist friends who, at the time, both had just gotten jobs as Data Scientists. Independently of each other. One of them attended to the Data Science Retreat in Berlin after completing his PhD in physics and immediately had several job offers in this field. There was no Data Science bootcamp in Vienna at that time and so I started with various online courses on Coursera and Udacity. I spent about 10 hours a week on this, most of it before work and on the weekends. I had a lot to catch up on. I had to learn the theoretical concepts and had to improve my Python skills. At the same time I started to visit all the data-related Meetups in Vienna. I even signed up for various newsletters in fear of missing out.
That's how the majority 2016 passed by. I collected a number of online certificates and had a rough overview of the theory. But when it came to coding and actually using this knowledge, I was still a complete beginner. Most online courses include toy programming exercises but they have little to do with reality. And every time I tried to participate in a Kaggle competition I didn't get very far.
For some crazy coincidence, at the very first Data Science Meetup I attended I met Juraj and Lukas, who were in the process of organising the first Data Science bootcamp in Vienna. The program was due to take place in the spring of 2017. I was hoping that by attending a bootcamp I would be able to make up for the lack of hands-on experience. And, of course, to be able to get a job in Data Science at some point. The timing was perfect and so I decided to quit my SAP-developer job in the end of 2016 and to join the first edition of BaseCamp in Vienna. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
Data Science Bootcamp BaseCamp
The bootcamp BaseCamp was a successful mixture of theory and practice. Especially the hands-on projects were the things which were always missing in the online courses. These projects were based on real data and were carried out in cooperation with various companies. My final project was about building an image recognition system for an app using deep learning. It turned out to be very exciting and challenging. And to my own surprise the image recognition prototype I built even worked pretty neat in the end.
After the two month bootcamp, a hiring day was organised in which a number of tech companies from Vienna participated. One of the startups was interested in my work and offered me a job. Besides that I also applied for a job as a computer vision engineer at another company and suddenly had two job offers. Both positions were in Vienna and were very interesting and I was ready to accept them both. It was a completely different experience compared to the job search after the university. But then it got even better. The founders of BaseCamp approached me with an open position for one of their partners. This job was a remote position but I knew I would be dealing with people that knew what they were doing. Being able to live location-independent was so tempting, that I finally went for the last option.
It has been exactly one year since then and I have never regretted that decision. The daily work has never been boring since I became a Data Scientist and it offers many challenges. Working remotely offers a lot of flexibility. It allows me to see my family and friends more often and saves a lot of time not having to commute to the office every day.
Now What Would my Story be Without Some Advice?!
Of course, there is no guarantee that a change of profession will always go so smoothly. But upon looking back, everyone usually regrets the things that they didn't dare to do and not the ones they did.
So my advice is to leap ahead, dare and challenge. Change what doesn't make you happy and take control over where your career is heading.
Take my advice or leave... after all what do I know, I am just a Data Scientist ;-)