Apprenticeship update: hackathons and straight lines
Some days, you wake up and feel like everything it starting to fit into place.
I think September has been the most positive month I’ve had since starting my Data Fellowship apprenticeship at the end of March. After a bit of a struggle in June and realising things had to change, the situation feels like it’s now starting to move in the right direction.
My workload is still terrible though. I’m currently filling my day-job as a database engineer, acting as an IT service management (ITSM) consultant for another team to help them get through their audit findings, and helping yet another team with their performance reporting. This is all while trying to fit in an day of apprenticeship work each week and not freaking out about how much there is to do.
The good news is that a contractor is finally starting next week after three months of it being in the pipeline. Recruitment doesn’t seem to move all that quickly when you work in education but at least it’s finally happening. This person is due to focus on database and server upgrades rather than cover my role specifically while I do the consultancy thing, so how much it helps remains to be seen.
I’m trying to remain upbeat about it though. Completing the second project for my apprenticeship portfolio this month has given me a boost of confidence. Putting the report together went much more smoothly than the first and the words seemed to come together more easily, so I’m hoping this is proof of improvement which is going to continue. I still don’t understand why people love Power BI so much because it’s just not intuitive to me, but at least I’ve managed to show I can use it in at least one project.
I’ve always wanted to host a presentation at an industry conference but have never had the courage. Maybe 2023 will be the year I get up on that stage.
Another positive which has come out of September has been starting the Elevate programme after being accepted in August. I’ve only attended the introduction meeting along with a PR and media training session so far, but it feels like the development scheme is really going to be useful in my career. I’ve always wanted to host a presentation at a particular industry conference but have never had the courage to do so. Maybe 2023 will be the year I get up on that stage.
Public speaking isn’t something which comes naturally and is never going to be an activity that an introvert like me enjoys. But Monday’s hackathon, a replacement for our usual monthly apprenticeship training in September, made realise I’m capable of doing it. Although nerves about being in front of an audience and doubts about whether I truly know my subject are fears I still need to get over, I think I’ve made progress. I’m lucky to have some great people to take inspiration from this week.
I’d never participated in a hackathon before so wasn’t entirely what to expect when I entered the room. In a weird way though, it didn’t end up being what I thought it would be either. After being put into random teams of four or five, we were given a business problem to tackle together. The aim was to complete the analysis, then cover our findings in a presentation which would be shown in a lecture theatre at the end of the day so we could get feedback from our coaches and the overall group.
The members of my team came across as confident at first. Although none of us were familiar with the particular data sets we’d been provided with because the problem was outside our usual areas, we’d all been with the business for at least several years and were sure we’d be able to figure them out. After deciding which role each person would fill, we began going through the data to try and wrap our heads around the massive Excel spreadsheets in front of us.
Working real-world data rather than the perfect sets we’d been given during training sessions had shown that real life can be messy and unpredictable.
Five hours later and all we ended up with was a bunch of straight lines on a graph. This really wasn’t the cool visualisation we’d been hoping for. The team had been positive after the morning’s confident start but now there was a deflated look on everyone’s face. We’d produced something which showed no correlation between the two factors we’d been asked to look at and, with the presentation due to be given in less than half an hour, you could see the panic creeping in.
Somehow, we managed to pull it off. Being given the ‘conclusions’ section of our presentation gave me the chance to talk about how no finding is still a finding. Every data set tells its own story and it’s the responsibility of the data analyst to give it a voice, not force the story into one they’d prefer to see. We’d had the opportunity to work with some real-world data rather than the perfect sets we’d been given during training sessions, and it had shown that real life can be messy and unpredictable.
This went down well with our coaches, and I’m pleased to report that we received some lovely feedback from them. It still took a while for my heart to stop pounding when I returned to my seat though. As mentioned above, public speaking is never going to be my favourite activity; but I need to keep reminding myself that I’m more capable of doing it. With further hackathons and events coming up in the future, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for practice.
Having people to look up to helps and I’m lucky to have met some great presenters. Darkshoxx has offered to give me tips for my final portfolio presentation and watching Tom Keane from Godolphin Games talk at We Speak Games on Tuesday was inspiring. Volunteering for SpecialEffect is useful too and it was fortunate I had the chance to do this at EGX only last week. I always feel anxious on the day, but the nerves quickly melt away once I remember how much I love supporting the charity in this way.
Python is October’s subject. I’m not particularly worried about this as I’ve been using SQL for over three years and it’s similar enough in certain places to feel comfortable so far. With my first apprenticeship presentation now under my belt, things are looking up.