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What to do with an eclectic background?

Erik Anderson
Data Engineer
・2 min read

I'll start by getting to the point: What should I emphasize/de-emphasize in this background as I move into the data science job search?

[This started as a comment to a post by Paula Santamaría, then morphed into a post in its own right.]

I'm sure my background will make my work unique. (Currently I'm studying data science). I just hope that background, which is eclectic, will prove useful in my new career.

I got a degree in chemistry because I like to solve problems and ask how things work. During that degree I published a real deal scientific paper with a physics professor.

I also got a degree in music because I love music and, perhaps equally important, I like performing.
I started a PhD program in chemistry to decode photosynthesis, solve renewable energy, and save the world. I ended up leaving with a master's degree, my tail tucked between my legs, and my health (mostly) intact.
After that, well after taking time to heal up, I tried a few different jobs: tutor, uber driver, freelance writer, Nothing stuck.
But then I heard from a former grad school colleage who had done a coding camp and was now happily employed. I remembered that I had enjoyed the little bit of programming I did in grad school. It was perhaps the best part of a difficult time. So that got me thinking tech bootcamps. Furthermore, some combination of hype and genuine interest in programming and asking precise questions led me to data science.
To put it another way, I was still into science but I was sick of chemistry, and I liked programming. Data science just seemed to make sense.

Since then, I've been self-studying programming and data science as well as taking a beginner data science course online with Metis, and working towards a computer science certificate, also online, from Loyola.
In January I will start the in person Metis Data Science Bootcamp, a 12-week intensive program with a project-centered curriculum and excellent career support.

When I look at that background I see some strengths and some weaknesses. My question is: which things will be valuable to focus on, on which things are better left unsaid?

Discussion (3)

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xanderyzwich profile image
Corey McCarty

I've been having to do this moving from a support role into a dev one. Read job postings for positions that you want and figure out what skills that you have that would help you to perform those duties. Twist your resume to display those things and figure out what your experience actually does for you. It likely is more beneficial than you think.

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frankc profile image
Frank • Edited

Hey Erik!

Congrats on this courageous career change and pursuit of interests. I shared a similar answer to a close friend who found a software job after spending most of his adult life in chemistry (phd in nano-chemistry from a prestigious university, did a boot camp / self-studied and just moved to SF for a job).

I think there is not a straight forward answer to your stated question "what parts of my resume should I focus on?" because any career changer will contain some risk from the hiring manager.

A slightly different question for you might be: "What companies (and their culture) will cultivate and appreciate your diversity of interests and strong background?"

What if your frame / pitch on your resume is "I'm an entrepreneurial, newly minted data scientist who has a track record in X fields, and I can be a high value add to your team culture. The risks from being new are over shadowed by how I learn and how I produce results".

Best of luck!

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rsanjabi profile image
R Sanjabi

This is the question for career changers, right?!

And I'm guessing you mean what you should you focus on in terms of communicating your background for getting a job (i.e., resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters, and interviews)???

I would like to think that nothing in your background hurts you, it just competes space & time-wise with your stronger assets. But I don't have a data science job yet, so...¯_(ツ)_/¯

I figure the work I did as a data analyst looks better on my resume than getting a certificate in landscape architecture, even though as far as life experiences go it might have impacted me more and was certainly more recent.

People definitely seem to grok the power of quantitative degrees and seem to be able to see how looking for answers and asking scientific questions is relevant even if you are switching from photosynthesis to business questions. So unless there's some angle I'm missing, you probably want to play that up over music. That being said listing a degree in music might be more beneficial than uber driving (showing you have a breadth of interests) but freelance writer could be even more beneficial if the hiring individuals recognize the importance of communication skills.

But I don't think any of those things you listed are weaknesses. They may not check off the skills the hiring company wants to see but that doesn't make them liabilities. I would really like to believe that companies have moved beyond expecting cookie-cutter career path. My concerns are honestly more sexist and ageist (stay at home mom returning to the workforce), than simply unconventional path.

How about this, is there something, in particular, you are worried about?