In this blog series to commemorate National Mentoring Month, we are celebrating some of our incredible mentors in the Data Science for All program.
Alise Otilia Ramirez is a Senior Analytics Engineer at Netflix, and a mentor for DS4A / Empowerment. She answered a few questions for us about her experience, career advice and creating more inclusive workplaces.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career: what was the backdrop, what did you do, what did you learn?
The most pivotal moment in my career was transitioning out of my academic background of biomedical science to acquire technical experience. Given the limited opportunities in this space with an undergraduate degree, I took a role as an Analyst at Spirit Airlines in the department of Ancillary Revenue Management. It wasn’t what I had envisioned for my career, but ultimately it gave me the best trajectory into data science. This provided me the unique experience to learn data science, and its encompassing toolkit through real-world application. This decision solidified my career within data science, and taught me not to pigeonhole myself to any particular domain, company, title, or location because those can be self-imposed blockers.
Who were your mentors and role models when you were starting out? What’s the best professional advice you received?
Unfortunately, I never had an intentional mentor, but as the youngest of six that didn’t stop me from observing others from a distance and learning lessons vicariously. The absence of a mentor, especially of one that looked like me was a triggering moment for me to want to become one. I eventually hired a career coach, Latesha Byrd, who supplemented as a mentor. The best professional advice that I received from her was to focus on what I wanted even if it meant rejecting tempting offers. I rejected two 6-figure salaries to participate in an unpaid Fellowship program across the country. It was a risk, but I knew it would put me in a better situation for my long-term goals as a data scientist.
What have you gained from mentoring and coaching - both professionally and personally? Did anything surprise you when you started mentoring?
I have gained a sense of pride, confidence, and community from mentoring others on similar journeys. It’s about being part of something bigger than just yourself. It is a self-less act of handing down knowledge to someone who will eventually pass it down to someone else. I have been able to grow my professional network across a myriad of roles, seniority level, and companies. Initially, I was surprised by how much people appreciated my perspective. Sometimes it can be difficult to see how much you have grown, but when I started mentoring I could more clearly see all the obstacles that I had traversed. It is a great feeling to provide insight to others so that they can hopefully avoid a few.
Can you give us an example of how data skills are increasingly needed in your role and business?
Data skills are the cornerstone of all the work that I do in my current role, and primarily consists of data modeling, wrangling, analysis, and visualizations. Having an understanding of the data lifecycle is critical in order to leverage useful insights from it that can be easily digested by the target audience. It is absolutely critical for any business to have an accurate and precise picture of where they stand around a defined objective such as profit margins since this can lead to highly impactful decisions which can make or break the business. Some of my projects have involved determining leading factors for a significant metric change, which could be leveraged in the future to pull “levers” that could benefit the company at a large scale.
You’ll be mentoring a group of Fellows in our inaugural cohort in the Data Science for All/ Empowerment program, an initiative to create equal opportunities to access the data-driven jobs of tomorrow. What can individuals and organizations do to help create more diverse and inclusive workplaces?
I think it starts with empathy and education. We need to be able to identify our subconscious biases in order to change our language, behavior, and processes to be more inclusive. It is vital to have spaces for individuals to speak openly without fear of repercussion, which can be difficult when they represent a small percentage of all employees. Individuals should be encouraged not to conform since it is their most authentic selves which brings the most value. There is no one book, video, or training that will suddenly create equality; this is something that has been deeply ingrained in society. It is a conscious decision that has to be made every single day with a willingness to unlearn certain verbiage, and behaviors.