Experience of a not-so-dev dev

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  • Data Science & IA

It has always been difficult for me to define myself as a professional. I studied Industrial Civil Engineering with a degree in IT, specializing in Computer Science and Software Development. I liked the courses and the career, but I constantly felt like a “weirdo” within the specialty. I felt I had other skills that didn’t fit with a career as a developer.

When I got out of college, the usual path was to apply and work as a software developer. I spent a long time thinking about applying to the classic FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, APPLE, Netflix and Google) but there was still something that didn’t quite fit.

Looking for options, I came across Brain Food, a consulting firm that promised to unite technology with business. It immediately caught my attention, it matched my hybrid profile (mix of technical and softer skills), so I decided to apply, and finally I was selected.

A year ago, I joined Brain Food as a Consultant. I participated in PMO (Project Management Office) projects with clients in the education area, benchmarking by contacting universities in multiple countries, in smaller reporting projects and in the development of spin-offs within large companies, but new challenges were coming.

During the first half of the year I joined a project that had several fronts, both technical and strategic. At first I joined the strategic front, which consisted of managing digital marketing digital initiatives by a PMO led by the team. Given the characteristics of the latter, I performed tasks of which I already had previous experience. Every week we had follow-up meetings with the business performance team, in these weeklies we monitored the digital initiatives with each owner, raising risks and possible delays with the initial planning. Based on these, we created action plans, defined the level of progress with respect to the use of the framework established in conjunction with the client, and the impact on digital sales. Approximately, we managed more than 100 initiatives, with more than 30 different owners.

After this first stage, I moved to the technical front of the project. This second part consisted of developing a projection of digital sales for the year 2023, for all the markets in which this client was present. Given the nature of the front end, the team changed and we all had to get down to work to complete this project on time.

This front was very challenging, involving data extraction tasks, data consistency and quality review, processing each of them so that they were in the optimal format for their manipulation, and finally, the development of a predictive model of digital sales. All of the above, for four markets, two products and opened by multiple different traffic sources, grouped by weekly views, combinatorics was important.

My first thought was: how can I contribute from my experience on this technical front?

The project implied stepping out of my comfort zone, stepping out of the more managerial projects and moving to a project with a technical focus, with different skill requirements.

That’s how I felt:

Despite the above, I want to emphasize that I never doubted the capabilities of the team to achieve the project, however, it meant developing my skills as a data scientist in a tight deadline in a project with an important scope and with a very demanding client.

Beyond the technical details related to the development of the model, I wanted to share with you some key learnings that helped me to pull this off and not die trying:

  1. Communicate, communicate and communicate: One always talks in projects with analysts, bosses, various counterparts, etc. But you don’t always communicate enough, or you don’t communicate what is really important. In general, we communicate the tasks we have for the day, a couple of problems we had and the tasks we finished, all related to the project. But, we don’t always communicate how we feel, how we really are; issues that are not directly related to the project, but end up impacting just the same. We spend most of the day and week working, if we’re not good outside of work, we’re not going to perform well inside of work. One of the moments that stands out the most about this project, and that was a turning point for me, was being vulnerable with my boss and the team; communicating to them that I alone, with the scope and deadlines defined, was not going to get the project done without affecting my mental health. It was thanks to that moment of honesty and vulnerability that, together, we defined an action plan to finish the project safely, taking care of ourselves and myself.
  2. 100% attitude: I know, it sounds like a marketing phrase, but it is 100% real. The attitude towards a problem totally changes the outcome of it. It is normal to be nervous, afraid or anxious about a challenge, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be, but the attitude with which we face it is key. The project in itself was already stressful for the simple fact of taking me out of my comfort zone, so to stand with a negative attitude towards it was not going to help me to make it easier. I had to look on the bright side, face it with the best face and move forward. This attitude switch made the project much more bearable and made me feel more confident and sure of my abilities outside my comfort zone.
  3. Nice and helpful people: Everyone says that the best people are in their company, but here at Brain Food they really are. In front of the client, the team consisted of my boss and me, but we became a team of almost 10 people collaborating. Each of the people who helped, supported and taught me did it with the best of the desire and with a smile, helping me in everything I needed, from a simple conversation to distract me for a while to teach me step by step how to make a reconciliation algorithm. It felt like we were all on the team together, working side by side, dividing responsibilities and supporting each other in whatever needed to be done. It really felt like the great and caring people at Brain Food.
  4. The best of both worlds: This is where I answered myself the question I asked myself at the beginning of the project: how can I contribute from my experience in this technical front? And the answer I discovered along the way was: everything! You need to have a business acumen to know how it relates to technical developments. There are a lot of examples where you move forward on the technical front, and at the moment of implementing it with business users, the requirements do not match the real needs. Particularly during the project we managed to put together presentations where we explained technical concepts in simple words and with business sense, integrating business changes within the model. Taking into account the above, it is becoming more and more important the hybridization in the professional profiles, where it is no longer pigeonholed in a black or white profile, but it takes more value to embrace the whole scale of grays. And it is in Brain Food where it makes sense to have “The Best of Both Worlds”.

Going back to the beginning of the post: I still find it hard to define myself as a professional, but at Brain Food I discovered that it is not necessary. Thanks to the culture of the team and the company, I can explore the different paths that exist and thus, I can find combinations of skills that fit my interests and capabilities and develop myself as the professional I want and dream to be.

If you have any questions or comments, happy to chat!