The Career Spotlight series aims to shine a light on people from a range of different academic backgrounds and career pathways beyond the less traditional ones to inform, inspire and empower others to explore their own interests and talents. I’m constantly inspired by so many people around me who have taken the leap, challenged the status quo and pursued their passion which in some instances is different to what they studied at university. So, I’m hoping I can share their own accounts and stories to help you on your journey. To find out more about what inspired this, check out the launch blog here.
The second guest featured on the Career Spotlight blog series is Ama-April Frimpong, a Data Engineer within financial services. Read on to learn more about how she studied Chemistry at university, moved to teaching and then self-taught herself how to code and became a Data Engineer. I’m so inspired by her journey as she wasn’t afraid to experiment and steer away from her degree and switched careers three times over a few years till she found the right one!
Why did you decide to study Chemistry at university and how did you find it?
I studied Chemistry at both undergrad and masters level at university. The reason I studied Chemistry was because I enjoyed how the subject blended theoretical and practical principles and as well as how it could stretch across to both biology and physics so the possibilities of interest were vast, hence I felt it was broad enough for me to have full career flexibility.
Most people ask me why so stayed on to do my masters in the same discipline as my undergrad, honestly, there are two answers: 1) I really hadn’t made up my mind about what steps to take after university; and 2) I enjoyed my degree and my university and thought I could carry on learning a subject I was interested in, in a place that made me feel at home.
I enjoyed the practical aspect of running experiments the most. I learn by ‘doing’ so it was great to put theory into practise. The most difficult part about my studies was how many hours I would spend not only in lectures but in the labs. Most weeks I had 30 hours contact time…sometimes more!
What career did you pursue right after completing your undergrad and masters in Chemistry?
Going into university I was quite set on becoming a researcher mainly pharmaceutical research, but during my degree I noticed more and more that a lot of pharmaceutical companies were scaling down and essentially the market was saturated with a large number of researchers and a fewer number of jobs.
I saw this as an opportunity to branch out, but had no idea where to start.
I have always had an affinity to working with children and young people all the way since primary school when I took part in a buddy system when I was in Year 5 to help Year 3’s adjust to junior school from primary. I was always a bubbly person but when it came to class I was always too shy to ask questions or even answer them. It wasn’t until one day my teacher asked me why I didn’t say an answer he knew I knew, and I said I was shy. I knew I wanted to help give young people the confidence my teachers gave me. Based on this and the fact that I like working with others I applied for a graduate job in a tuition centre.
I worked in the assistant manager role at the tuition centre for a year and although this catered to my passion for working with children, I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my interest in a technical type role. I wanted a role that would enable me to have the best of both worlds 1) a role I felt I was making a difference to people’s everyday lives; and 2) a role that satisfied my hunger to learn challenging concepts.
Upon this realisation I left the assistant manager role and for the following few months looked into other more technical avenues.
How did you kick-start your career as a data engineer?
I wanted a role that was technical but also focused on helping people. I began researching technical roles for STEM students and came across roles like analyst and data engineer. Since the way we live our lives becoming completely digital, the big data sector became more visible, working for a whole range of companies.
So my career path came about from observing the job market and me wanting to scratch my technical itch.
I didn’t know anyone directly in these roles so it really helped me to utilise platforms like Eventbrite and Meet-up to go to career insight evenings and talk to people in those roles. As a result of going to one of these events I met the head office staff of a tech consultancy. They specialise in recruiting graduates and people who have recently graduated who want to transition into a career in Big Data.
All consultancies are slightly different, and their contracts and clauses will also differ. My experience completely changed my life, in terms of my career prospects and learning how to conduct myself in that particular sector. I underwent training at my consultancy in Big Data concepts and learned how to code in various languages as well as learned how to extract useful insights from data through visualisation software. This training lasted four months. During this time companies would interview you to see if you would be a fit for the team.
I was then recruited to contract for a financial services company for two years. During those two years I worked onsite with the company whilst having catch ups with a liaison representative from the consultancy for regular check-ins. After the two years I had the choice to either stay with the consultancy or stay with the financial services company, or leave both. I decided to stay with the financial services company and become permanent staff as I had built a rapport with the team and I felt the company could be somewhere I could grow and progress.
What do you currently do in your role?
I am a data engineer so I create processes that refine data and format in a way that analysts and economists can use it to gain insight and hence make more informed business decisions.
A big governing principle of my role is ETL/ELT (Extract, Transform Load/ Extract/Load/Transform) which is the fundamental basics to almost every data lifetime cycle. Where are you extracting the data from, how will you transform it, and where will it be loaded in order for people to access?
A big part of my job is understanding that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to solving problems. People think of ‘data’ and people either think of a black screen with 0’s and 1’s everywhere or they think of excel spreadsheets and as we come into a world where everyone is experiencing data in some way or another, both of these are correct ways of looking at things. Part of my role is to make data more accessible to business areas by processing data (in whatever format it comes in (excel, XML, SQL tables…) clean, transform and format it in a way that they find useful, which could be tabular or as an interactive chart. A great overview of this can be found here.
What do you love most about your role?
The best thing about my job is honestly, the people I work with.
I can’t stress enough the fact that yes you have to love what you do because you are doing it at least 7 hours a day, but you have to remember that for most jobs you will be interacting with others and working as part of a team, so you must make sure you comfortably feel part of the team.
To what degree did your parents’ impact or influence your choice of degree or career pathway? If your parents weren’t supportive initially, are they more convinced now?
My role literally did not exist as a career option when my parents were in their mid-20s so to convince them this wasn't a 'fad' and that it had real career progression was a bit strange. I think my saving grace was the fact that I work for a well known company so that made the whole conversation very comfortable. At the beginning they were just at ease due to my employer but as time went on (and especially now I've been working from home due to the pandemic) I've been able to show them the work I do and explain it.
What’s your advice for students or people considering taking that route or applying for that role?
Be proactive with learning. I began to teach myself Python by using free platforms such as CodeAcademy and Udemy before I joined a consultancy where I underwent training to become more competent with various coding languages. This learning does not have to just be self teaching, but going along to Eventbrite and Meetup events (most of these are free or have very minimal admin fees) where you can network and learn about the job to see whether that career path is for you.
Don't be worried about whether the subject you studied matches up to your chosen career path because two people can study the same degree and achieve the same grade and still take completely different career paths: It’s not about what you’ve studied, it’s about what you learned.
What’s your self-care routine?
I love having me time! The week can very easily get filled up meeting up with friends, colleague drinks and all sorts. But make time for yourself to decompress. Making sure I don't bring work home, have quiet time after 7 pm, drink chamomile tea, do a face mask, read a book/or watch something fun and get an early night.
Hope you enjoyed reading this blog! If you did, please share with others who may find this useful and share your thoughts in the comment section below. If you’d like to be featured please contact me.