Rhey Ann Magcalas, Fellow, Data Science Bootcamp Cohort 5 (2020) || Interviewed by Bela Lumba, Eskwelabs Brand Designer

Rhey's journey into data science

How did you get into data science/ want to learn data science? What made it interesting for you to learn?

It was actually by accident that I got interested and got into data science. Three years ago in my previous company, my former boss encouraged us to join a contest wherein they provided a 3-day machine learning bootcamp and a 2-day hackathon. I was really glad that my boss encouraged us to join the contest and little did I know that it was the start of my data science journey. I was really amazed by the result and how machine learning solves a very complicated problem. It was the best feeling for me as a software engineer to be able to solve a problem and see the impact of it. I was amazed at how machine learning can make solutions faster and better. We almost won (1st place) but unfortunately, we were not able to answer the question, “Why did you use Random Forest?” I always pondered about the answer to that question before and wished back then to understand those concepts. To be honest, we actually only guessed the model and parameters to use and my groupmates used the data from their day-to-day tasks, that’s why we were able to select the features properly back then.

Three years later during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of issues arose most especially because of the lack of data in the Philippines. Also, I saw a lot of posts on how other countries like Korea and Singapore used data science to help track COVID-19 and to flatten the curve. It gave me the motivation to pursue data science because of two reasons: First, I want to help our country to resolve some issues through data science and to share the importance and awareness of it to Filipinos. Second, it was my dream back then to be a doctor but I wasn’t able to pursue it. Seeing articles that data science could be correlated to medicine gave me the hope that I could still have a career related to medicine.

What were your initial expectations on learning data science online? What was the experience like?

I expected that it will be fun, productive, and that I will have a community and mentor related to data science. I’m really happy and grateful that I joined Eskwelabs because the truth is: it exceeded my expectations. My favorite thing about Eskwelabs is that they do not just help one to learn data science, but they also encourage everyone to give back to society and suggest institutions and people to connect with.

Rhey's Data Science Fellowship online experience

What was it like meeting everyone virtually (Lectures, Socials, Mentors & Sprints)?

At first, it was really hard because I didn’t know anyone and could not see the reaction of each person in the room. But after one of the Fellows started to reach out to me, it became easier for me to connect with the others. Each [Data] sprint is really exciting because of the new topic, mentor, instructor, groupmates, and project. It’s not easy for me when it comes to mathematics and statistics but the instructors were able to explain it in a way that it is relatable. The exercises that they provided are really helpful and they also added other resources. The breakout rooms are one of my favorites where we were able to answer and discuss together the exercises and projects. The presentation is quite challenging, but I’m happy that we were also able to experience and to practice it.

I also learned a lot from the fireside chat and it was cool to be given a chance to ask questions to some data scientists and learn some tips. I’m also happy that we had other topics aside from data science like networking, HR talks, and personal branding.

For the socials, it was really fun and creative. It was the chill moment and it gave us the opportunity to be closer. The Discord channel was really helpful (thanks to Elissa for setting it up). Most of the time, we wanted to play more so we continued our socials there. After playing games, we also talked about other stuff—more like a support group, which is really needed especially during this pandemic.

Rhey's mentorship experience

Tell us about your mentor. How did the interaction go?

I really like the structure of each sprint. We had a different mentor that allowed us to experience a new approach and specialization. It also gave us the chance to meet and know the other mentors. Let me share with you some of the advice and strategies that I learned from them.

For my first mentor, he would always remind us about coding standards and the importance of it. I still remember it whenever I’m coding, and I’m still working it out to be consistent and clear.

For my second mentor, his advice was to try different machine learning algorithms, parameters, and features, and to see the effects on the metrics. I appreciate both of these mentors for the resources that they gave us, for patiently explaining the unclear concepts to us, and for providing us honest feedback.

For my third mentor, it’s a different approach because he was super hands-on and very involved in the end-to-end process. By the way, the approach to the third sprint was also different because it was the first time that we defined our own problem. I really appreciate all of the advice and ideas that he shared, most especially whenever we were lost or felt unclear about our goal. He would extend help even after the bootcamp hours—he even joined us in trying the code.

For my fourth mentor, I liked the approach during the goal setting. He reminded us to limit our scope and be mindful of our deadline. I really appreciate this reminder most especially during the development. I’m guilty of being so excited about new ideas that we forgot to be realistic.

Lastly, for the capstone [project], it was really great that they gave us an opportunity to seek advice from the previous Fellows aside from the current mentors and instructors. It was really helpful and it gave us a new perspective on what we can do and what we can improve. Also, the advice that we had from one of our instructors was a really huge help. We learned a new algorithm and we gained a new perspective. The mentors are also supportive and accommodating. Sometimes we ask them outside the bootcamp hours, and they are really responsive and helpful.

What is/are the main takeaways you learned from your mentoring experience?

1. Having a growth mindset is the key to success.
2. Learn to ask for help: Don’t be afraid to share with your groupmates and mentor if there is any unclear topic or if you are struggling so that they can help you back onto the right path. This is not only about bootcamp topics but also some personal aspects of your life.
3. Be open to ideas and feedback.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, clarifications, and share your ideas.
5. Be patient: Some models and processing might take a while to finish.
6. No man is an island: We need each other to grow.
7. Don’t forget to have fun and build friendships.

Rhey's mentor-mentee advice

What advice would you give to someone who is considering being mentored?

Good mentor-mentee relationships are a two-way street; consequently, if you want a good relationship with your mentor, become a good mentee. This requires a genuine interest in your mentor and a willingness to dedicate the time and energy necessary to be mentored properly. Establish an open communication; believe that “(There's) no such thing as a stupid question.” One person may know less than the others, and they should not be afraid to ask rather than pretend they already know. In many cases, multiple people may not know, but are too afraid to ask the “stupid question.” But the one who asks the question may in fact be doing a service to those around them.

Who do you think makes for a great mentor?

For me, a great mentor is someone who is committed to helping their mentees find success, and is someone who is tuned into the needs of the mentee. Someone willing to share his/her knowledge, experience, and empowers the mentee to develop their own strengths, beliefs, and personal attributes. Someone who makes his/her mentee comfortable to seek for advice, consultation, or validation for his or her points. Someone who provides useful and honest guidance while ensuring that your mentee takes the reins and makes his or her own decisions as to next steps or the best course of action.

Want to grow and learn with a data-driven community? Sign up for the Data Science Fellowship today.


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