Overcoming Obstacles - Career Change

Today we are very pleased to share with you our interview with Kiyoko, a Machine Learning Nanodegree Plus graduate who transitioned into data science from a 10+ year career in semiconductor processing. Like many students, Kiyoko’s journey was full of obstacles. As you’ll see from her story, however, her adaptive mindset, self-care, and professional support networks made all the difference in overcoming these obstacles and achieving her goals. Kiyoko now works as a Data Scientist at Western Digital, and we are very grateful she’s sharing her story with us today!

Q: Kiyoko, we’d’d love to start by learning more about what inspired your career change. Could you tell us about this?

After 10+ years of working in semiconductor processing, I was laid off. Many of these jobs were being outsourced, so I decided I wanted a career with a future. Data science and machine learning have a lot of growth potential and I had enjoyed the coding and data analysis I did in my previous job, so I decided to take the jump and complete the Machine Learning Nanodegree Plus program with Udacity. After a challenging three-month period, 30+ job applications, two sets of in-person interviews, and many other obstacles, I found an opportunity to do data science at a semiconductor company.

Q: What was the first obstacle you faced?  

The first obstacle I faced was a lack of industry knowledge, which can be a challenge in many ways. Not only did I feel I wasn’t qualified for certain jobs, but I also wasn’t sure of where to start my search.  This made my job search really unfocused. Since I didn’t know what to expect, my strategy was to hit everything and anything to get a response. I remember thinking, “I don’t care, I’ll start out with an internship role!” Unfortunately, no jobs came to me and I found that most employers weren’t looking for complete beginners.  

Q: How did you navigate this challenge?

After no results, I decided I had to change my strategy and become more focused in my applications. Rather than applying to beginner roles, I decided I should leverage my existing semiconductor expertise, and look for a data science-related role in the field I already had experience in. Previously, I didn’t realize the semiconducting industry had a machine learning path. Now I am building my data and machine learning skills, while contributing my semiconductor knowledge to my team.

Q: It sounds like changing your approach to job applications was crucial. Any other lessons learned?

Yes, adapting my approach to job applications and narrowing my focus was really important for me. I also learned it’s so important to research the industry, ask questions, and investigate where particular skills are being applied.  Having a good understanding of where I fit into the industry was a learning process for me, but now that I have stronger sense of my niche, I can be more efficient as I continue to develop my career.

Q: Job hunting is definitely a learning process all on its own! Were there other challenges involved in your learning process?

As time passed, frustration was a challenge I had to work through. After a few months I was at a low point—I had two interviews and so many resume submissions … but no job offers. I was starting to feel really drained.

Q: How did you bounce back from frustration?

Self-care helped me a lot! I learned that when I start to feel down about myself, it is important to take a little break and recharge. For example, I interviewed for my current job early on and didn’t hear back from them for an entire two months. Self-care helped me be patient with the process. For me, self-care means reading a novel, or simply taking a break from machine learning. But, you can recharge in a lot of different ways—being with friends, going out of town, or simply doing something that brings you joy.

Q: Where there other sources of support for your career journey?

Since I think a career journey never stops, the people I work with have been very helpful in supporting my continued growth! I’m very lucky to have a manager who is positive, willing to take chances on me, and teach me things. It’s so important to work with a team who has the capacity and willingness to train people!

Q: Exactly! Professional support networks and mentoring opportunities are essential. Any other pieces of advice to individuals working hard to change their careers?

Yes… two things come to mind.

First, be adaptive! Once I realized that there were many different paths into machine learning, I found my niche and realized I could evolve, rather than completely reinvent myself.

Second, believe in yourself! The long job application process was tough, but committing to making progress (even small) helped me move forward with my career. It is a tough process, but it is possible and worth the reward of making positive change in your life!

Kiyoko - Overcoming Challenges - Career ChangeImmense gratitude to Kiyoko for sharing her story with us! Starting a new career is no easy feat, but Kiyoko’s story shows that sometimes the greatest tools to overcome lack of experience and frustration are an adaptive mindset, self-care, and believing in yourself! We hope this story reminds you to stay persistent, seek positivity, and let go of preconceptions in order to be truly open to new opportunities.