I just got off a phone call with a budding Data Scientist and what we discussed is something I hear a lot. How do I get a job as a data scientist when I don't have a portfolio? And how can I have a portfolio when I have no job?
To be fair a lot of us have been in this boat at the beginning of our careers and heck this is not a problem limited to entry-level Data scientists only. With a lot of STEM professionals switching over to data science careers(coz they are hot), they feel they will have to begin from scratch and have no clue about it.
The good news is it can be done. You can get a job with no experience & no portfolio. Let's take a few examples.
Anand was desperate for a job as a data scientist. He knew he loved solving data problems and wanted to have a career in it. However, due to his lack of experience and COVID situation, no one was hiring except for a handful of food delivery companies. So he set out to build something for them. He met the owners of his favorite restaurants and started telling them about a system he is building with which they can predict sales of different food items.
Restaurants owners who operate in a cutthroat competition space saw value in that and shared with him past sales data from their POS. Anand ran Machine Learning models of sales compared with holidays, climate, paydays, etc, and found that sales of certain items increased on rainy days (e.g samosas, deep-fried items) and winter days( khichdi, ). Both these items need preparation time and if you overestimate you have wastage and if you underestimate you have lost revenue. While restaurant owners knew these patterns from experience they did not have a sales prediction system based on forecasted weather. E.g ‘Hey it's going to rain 6 inches the day after tomorrow so let's prepare for 2.7 x Samosa sales’. or ‘Hey it's going to be 10 degrees colder tomorrow so let's make 7.3 x more khichdi’.
Encouraged he tracked sales of 120 items in 15 zip codes and started seeing many patterns based on which he built regression ML models that could accurately predict sales. He quietly perfectly the system over few months and then wrote to the CEOs of the 5 largest food delivery companies in his area pitching each against another that he will give it free to anyone who will hire him. He got hired as a senior data scientist by the largest food aggregator. The model is now a premium feature offered by the company to not only predict sales but also order raw materials, which the same company also fulfills. This is also now the fastest-growing revenue stream for the company.
Paul had been fired from his role as Salesforce developer. He had been practicing data science for a few months and wanted to pursue a career in it. However, he too had the cold start problem. Who will hire him without experience? Paul befriended pharmacists and learned when people go off allopathy medicines after treatment they mostly begin taking homeopathy or ayurvedic supplements to prevent relapse. Eg someone who stops taking medicines after Fatty Liver cure starts a lifelong course of Liv52 supplements. He tracked 10 common reversible ailments and came up with a suggestion list. Then he wrote to 10 Medicine Super stockists and C&F (carrying and forwarding agency)to validate his idea. One of the Super stockists was friends with the founder of the largest medicine delivery company and he got picked up as Head Of Data a few weeks later.
The above process might seem happy go lucky cases or tedious depending on how you see it. The truth is nothing is achieved without focus. If you are looking for a job, Data Science or not, you need to narrow down on the following
The industry you want to work on and your favorite prospective employers
Hot problems you can solve for them without needing many resources. At this point, you need to delve deeper into the related tech. Like if you plan on working in MRI Scans then Convolutional Neural Networks, Chatbots then Natural Language Processing, etc.
Be fearless in promoting yourself. Sell and market yourself relentlessly all the time. This probably is as important as having technical skills.
Get out of your home, meet people, network, stop hiding behind your computer.
I would love to know if you have more stories to share like this.
Cheers to your new job! Tim
PS: Names and scenarios modified for the sake of privacy.