Diversity in Data Analytics forum 2020

Article Published by Geotab
Author: The Geotab Team.
https://www.geotab.com/blog/diversity-in-data-analytics/

Learn how four Geotabbers began working in data analytics.

Following International Women’s Day, Geotab hosted a Diversity in Data Analytics forum to discuss ways of widening access to the tech industry for talented candidates who might not otherwise have considered a career in data. Moderated by our Vice President, Human Resources, Lindy Theron, the panel featured four speakers from Geotab: Fiona Zhao (Team Lead, Data Engineering), Emilie Corcoran (Software Developer), Dena Krieger (Team Lead, Data) and Gordana Jekic Dzunic (Software Developer).

While the data analytics field is competitive, the women agreed that it is rewarding, and that everyone benefits from working alongside employees with diverse academic backgrounds and perspectives. Discussion topics ranged widely, from the advantages of entering this fast-paced industry to the specific challenges facing women in tech.

Here is a summary of the key takeaways:

Diversity promotes innovation

All speakers stressed that technology improves when it is designed and tested by people who have complementary academic specialties, professional experiences and personal interests.

“I can’t think of a time when diversity hasn’t helped a project,” Krieger said. “We’re all a product of our experiences...that can really help make the end result more complete and more approachable for people that might not have that same background.” To prove her point, she cited an upcoming project for Geotab Ignition. After presenting their product’s first iteration, her highly technical team received harsh feedback from someone with a non-technical business background. Krieger’s team ended up making their product more inclusive, resulting in a stronger solution for its intended users than if they had not consulted someone with a different outlook.

Dzunic agreed with this approach, saying “There are so many ways to solve a problem. Each person has their own problem-solving skills based on background, experience, personality and gender.” In other words, teams with diverse skill sets often find better solutions faster than teams made up of people with homogenous specialities.

Zhao, who studied computer science, explained how closely personality and technology are intertwined. Technology solutions, therefore, grow richer when they are built by people with different life experiences. “Using technology in a wise way is an art,” she said.

“You can really implement some of your personality into the system that you build, and that is the art. That mix of science and art gives me a lot of joy.”

The importance of early exposure to STEM

Not all of these Geotabbers saw themselves working in data analytics, or even studying STEM subjects, from a young age. Corcoran, for example, was opposed to a career in engineering until a high school teacher noticed her aptitude for science and technology. He pushed her to join the robotics team and AP math club, activities which informed her decision to study electrical engineering at university. This challenging degree gave her the intellectual flexibility needed to work in areas in which she had little practical experience. After two rewarding stints on Geotab’s Support and Security teams, she is now a key member of our Development department.

Krieger, meanwhile, took a “long and winding road” before taking a serious interest in technology. In high school, she preferred English and decided to study Psychology as an undergraduate, entering the technology industry only after completing her Master’s of Business Analytics. She later participated in a competition held by Geotab, which ultimately won her a job at the company.

“It seems very daunting moving from a non-technical role to a more technical one, but one thing that can help is some self-reflection on your transferable skills.” Along the way, she has been inspired by her parents, who are both doctors.

Dzunic believes we should encourage women to pursue STEM subjects purely because she finds her job so enjoyable. “If you’re interested in development, research, discovery and innovation, it really doesn’t matter what gender you are. A low percentage of women in STEM doesn’t mean anything. You should do a job you love and pursue your passion.”

While there are many routes to a career in data, the speakers agreed that outreach to younger students, as well as more hands-on workshops and project-based learning, would give those hesitating towards pursuing STEM subjects some clarity regarding the possibilities open to those with a science degree.

“Imposter syndrome”: limitation or motivation?

Imposter syndrome refers to “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success,” which is sometimes experienced by highly capable men and women. Several of the speakers expressed a lack of confidence at some point in their career, but have since found a way to combat such feelings and use them to their advantage.

Zhao, for instance, joked that if someone underestimates her, her performance only looks even more impressive, saying “Being a woman in technology is actually an advantage.”

Corcoran admits that when she joined Geotab, she was more nervous than she had hoped as she was assigned to an all-male team who worked on areas she was unfamiliar with. To banish self-doubt, she undertook three certifications on her own time in her first year at the company. Now, she challenges whether it is even desirable to lose all sense of insecurity, saying, “Everyone should have imposter syndrome in the field of technology, because technology is constantly changing, so you are technically an imposter if you don’t keep learning.”

At Geotab, independent study is not considered a remedial practice, but rather a way to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving field. Geotab encourages continuous learning, both formal and informal, and hosts a popular tuition program for employees needing (or wanting) to sharpen their skills for the future.

View open roles on the Geotab Data & Analytics Team