student story

Manny Brar

Data Engineer @ The Green Organic Dutchman
Data Science Bootcamp, 2020
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Can you give a quick introduction to your background?

My background focused a lot on tech when I was younger – I was working as a network technician for a while so I had some experience in tech. Nothing related to coding or software, it was all hardware side.

So after doing that for a bit, I went into real estate. I did a couple of years in real estate and really enjoyed it. However, I was really just missing the technical troubleshooting, problem-solving aspect of it. Although I did well financially in real estate, my heart wasn’t in it like it was in tech. 

Prior to that I actually did SEO, very basic web design before getting into real estate. After a couple of years in real estate, I actually ended up getting sick. I was dealing with some health issues so I had to take time off work. We just had our first baby and so it was extremely stressful. It was a tough time mentally. 

I remember being super upset one day and I wasn’t able to think straight – I would forget in a conversation what I was talking about and this wasn’t normal for me before. I was pretty down and so one day I made the decision to just challenge myself. I always wanted to learn how to code and I had just kept putting it off thinking “it’s too late for me” or “I’m too old”, “I don’t have any formal training in this” – anything like that. I kept making excuses and putting it off. 

At that point when I was really upset, I thought, “I’m just gonna go for it. I’m gonna try to learn some basic programming skills on my own”. 

I think the first course I ever bought was a Udemy Python course and started going down that rabbit hole. I didn’t really know what data science was at that point in time, I just wanted to learn programming. Once I got started in that, I started looking into things and realized what data science was. Just going into the rabbit hole further and further with Python and then I started getting excited with some of the things you can do with data science. 

So I started researching, finally started just playing around with Pandas, doing a walkthrough project that someone had already done and I was just following along. After that, I was just hooked!

My health was still up and down but I just kept pushing on and did a couple of other small courses. That was probably over a year-and-a-half to two years ago, just on my own working away at stuff. It wasn’t full-time but I kept myself busy.

It was then I thought that I needed to take a serious step. After doing some Coursera courses and just stuff on my own, a couple of small projects. I had originally looked into doing another school, in which I ended up doing their certificate program at that time (it was Brainstation). It was good for me at the time because I was super new, but it was still lacking. I had built up some confidence from doing that certificate program, but after, I found out that some of the stuff I had confidence in – I shouldn’t have. For example, it probably wasn’t the best way of handling that specific project that I was doing but they didn’t really tell me that I should improve this. Just that I was doing a good job and so I thought that too. 

After looking into it myself, I realized that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. And so I started looking into another program again. I considered the Brainstation diploma program, I considered Lighthouse’s new data science program (at that time) which was a diploma program as well, and I looked at WeCloudData. Through my research, it was apparent that there’s a big difference in the quality of these courses. I found that Lighthouse was very new so I didn’t know what to expect. Brainstation kind of rushed on some topics and it was more of an entry-level, general type of course. Although it was a diploma program, I just didn’t feel like it had the depth that WeCloudData was offering. Not only that, but WeCloudData had the actual, real-world projects, which was a complete game-changer. It wasn’t even comparing apples to apples – it’s a completely different experience. The depth in the curriculum, the support, all of that was very superior. Very, very happy with my decision to go with WeCloudData. 

I know at the time I was struggling, and before making that decision I could have had government funding to do Brainstation or Lighthouse Labs, but that wasn’t the case at WeCloudData at the time but I still went with WeCloudData. 

Could you shed some light on your learning experience at WeCloudData? 

The learning experience was fantastic – from the TAs to the instructors, everyone was super helpful. It felt like we were all in it together (with the people from my cohort) and it was a very inclusive environment. The support was amazing! I went into it with some things I already knew but I still felt like I needed to learn a lot. I think the overall structure of the program was fantastic. The experience I honestly have nothing bad to say about it. It was perfect – it was a good pace, I never felt like we were going too fast. Maybe there was a lesson where I felt like I didn’t quite understand it but the support was always there, always available. It was easy to push past any hurdles that came up. 

What was your job search experience like? What were some of the challenges you had with your job search?

I would say the interview experience was very interesting. Every interview I did was completely different. This is just an honest response to what my experience was – I felt prepared but I felt like I didn’t know what I would get from each interview. Like it could be a BI role and I would get random questions; I would wonder why this was even relevant. I literally had one job interview wherein the description they wanted Python, SQL, etc. That was what the emphasis was on. But when I got to my interview test, there must have been a mistake with it but they ended up giving me a Java test. I don’t know Java. The HR person told me that was the test they were given and to just do my best. It was pretty frustrating. 

For the role that I’m in now, it couldn’t have gone any smoother. Long story short, it was a mixed bag. It was frustrating at times – I would feel like I nailed the interview and then missed out on the actual position. I got a little bit of everything. 

Do you recall how many interviews you got? And how long was your job search cycle? I know that you had started your job search relatively late. 

It was a few months of job searching – I can’t even recall exactly, about 4-5 months. I think I had 6-7 interviews. 

How many jobs did you apply for?

I applied for a lot. Maybe around 50-60.

60 jobs? 6 interviews? That’s not bad, to be honest. Considering how competitive it is. 

Maybe the number might be higher (than 60). Maybe this is the wrong approach but this is what I ended up doing: Some of the jobs that I thought I had a real shot/would really love, I put a bit more extra effort into the application. Other jobs where I was like “I don’t know, I’m just gonna apply”, I didn’t put my real effort there. 

Just two more questions. How have WeCloudData and BeamData prepared you for this career switch? Is there anything you’d like to highlight?

Maybe I didn’t get the full real-world project experience that I was hoping for. But that’s on me, the personal life issues I had at the time. 

However, I think even with the limited experience I had with that, it was very handy for me. Taking that jump from working through a school project (where you’re like “I gotta work on my own assignment/do a project”) – going from that to then utilizing tools like Jira, Confluence, what it’s actually gonna be like to work at a job in this field, I know it was minor things but it went a long way for myself because I could then visualize it (e.g. now I’m going from a project to a real-life experience – this was what being a data scientist/engineer would be like). 

Even going back further, just working with the instructors and TAs, joining office hours, and having my questions answered, was huge. It was very welcoming too, I don’t think anyone ever felt like they had a dumb question and shouldn’t ask it. 

The students also ranged quite a bit too, we had some Ph.D. students, lots of Masters students – but I didn’t have an undergraduate degree or anything like that. I did feel (at the beginning) that it was intimidating for me because I knew I was the only one without a formal undergraduate degree. But I was so wrong about that – it was very welcoming. This might be one of those things that get overlooked but for me it was huge. It was what I needed to build my confidence and ask those “stupid” questions that might seem stupid at the time, but it’s really not! 

My last question, to make things more interesting for those who visit our website later, what is your personal plan? Or the path you’re planning to take in the next few years. Do you want to go down the management path? You got your foot in the door, just curious about your 5-year plan. Is there anything you’d suggest for people who want to get into this industry?

I haven’t been at my job that long yet but I can see there’s room for growth where I’m at. I got hired on as a Data Engineer and now my supervisor is moving up to another role, so there’s an opportunity for me to be in a more managerial position that still requires me to do technical work as well. My company is looking into hiring someone for a Junior DE position (someone that knows Tableau, SQL) so I would be overseeing that in a couple of months. 

For advice, I would imagine anyone going into the program would have some reservations. But for myself, I would say it’s one of the best decisions I had made in a long, long time. 

I know there’s a lot of people doing what I did and comparing schools; you’ve made that decision that you want to do something further with data science, then you’re gonna be looking at the same options that I was (e.g. Brainstation, Lighthouse Labs, WeCloudData, etc). This program was far, far superior compared to the others. Just from the real-world project, it was a game-changer. Even just the curriculum, I don’t think the DE (Data Engineering) side gets talked about a lot in other programs. If you’re looking for a full spectrum of what data science is like, then this is the only option in my mind.

I’m very grateful for what I got out of WeCloudData – I wouldn’t be where I’m at now if I didn’t make that decision. 

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