This Udacity student and mother of two found a passion for data science, enrolled in our Data Analyst Nanodegree program, and made a complete career change!

Anna Suszka - Career Change - Udacity

LIfelong learners come in all shapes and sizes, and from all corners of the earth. There are no age or experience limits to becoming one, and the only requirements are a passion for self-empowerment, and willingness to work towards your learning goals.

Anna Suszka is the epitome of a lifelong learner. She’d already built one great career, and could have easily rested on her laurels. Instead, she got really curious about another field, and opted to pursue her new passion. Once she’d made the decision, she didn’t waste any time. She enrolled in our Data Analyst Nanodegree program, and set about mastering the skills she’d need to build her new career.

Anna has done well in the program, and landed an exciting new role as a data analyst. This is an awesome accomplishment, and one rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that she made the leap while on maternity leave with her second child!

Anna’s story is for anyone worried that lifelong learning is something that other people do. It’s not. You can do it too.

Discovering Programming

Anna first considered a career change after moving to Switzerland with her family. She had taken a job as an academic experimental physicist—a role her PhD and subsequent academic work qualified her for—and had to start handling vast amounts of data. This required using computer programming skills, something she was doing for the first time. It proved to be the part she enjoyed the most.

“There was a moment when I realized it was the programming that was keeping me interested when I had to work in the evenings. I really liked looking at the data, thinking about the programming, and pointing people around the results.”

When talking about her new job with her husband and friends, she’d get most excited when discussing her programming duties. Her newfound passion was obvious, and she acknowledged it, but an actual career leap seemed a total impossibility, given her existing commitments. And after all, she already had a good career. Not to mention they had a second child on the way.

The Courage to Pursue Career Change

Maternity leave brought with it some time for self-reflection, but she felt more conflicted than ever. Still, with the support of family and friends, she decided to give data science a try.

“Being pregnant again, it felt like my responsibilities were multiplying, and the risks of a career change really seemed to be increasing. There was our financial situation to think about, childcare to consider. But my husband, my family, and my friends were really encouraging. They could see data science was something I was really interested in, and they gave me the courage to pursue it.”

A Daughter is Born

Anna’s daughter was born in December 2016, and Anna describes herself as having felt “like a walking ghost” through those first few months of sleepless nights. Even so, she was determined to make her career change happen. With the strong support of her husband, Anna told her manager she wouldn’t be returning to her job. Then she took a bold—if unorthodox—approach to ascertaining what she’d need to learn to qualify for the new roles she was interested in. She decided to just apply to them, knowing she wasn’t yet qualified.

“I was coming from a completely different world to data science, so I applied for some roles and had a couple of interviews. I didn’t expect to get those jobs. I just wanted to know what they were looking for. I learned I needed to focus on gaining practical data science experience, because I was being asked where I’d demonstrated my knowledge. I also learned far more about specific skills recruiters were seeking—like Python experience and data wrangling.”

This proved to be a brilliant strategy for Anna. After all, who better to learn from about hiring expectations than from those doing the hiring?

The Data Analyst Nanodegree Program

Equipped with this newfound knowledge, Anna started Udacity’s Data Analyst Nanodegree program in June. The flexibility to balance her studies with her family responsibilities was a key appeal, as her time was largely given over to parenting. Not to mention that she was perpetually short on sleep!

“I think that I only made so much progress by having a really strict routine. Sometimes, I would be breastfeeding my daughter and, with my free hand, trying to do a few lines of code. Otherwise, I would work in the evenings for a few hours when my toddler had gone to bed. Because my baby slept so badly, when it was my turn to settle her down, I’d often listen to courses and do data exercises while trying to get her back to sleep!”

Interviews

Anna maintained her self-discipline and made steady progress through the course. By September, she felt ready to start applying for data science roles again. Her now-employer invited her for interview, and the recruiters were particularly keen to hear about Anna’s personal engagement with data science. They asked to see examples of the work she had done, and her nighttime sessions working on machine learning and statistics projects gave her plenty of experience to talk about. The company was particularly impressed she’d managed to do it all while looking after her young family.

Hired

Anna landed her new role in December 2017. She now works in data analysis, and acquisition and provisioning.

“I love working with programming and data, so this job is exactly what I wanted. I’m using skills I built during the program, and I’m expanding my knowledge even further. I really love the shift from academia to business. There’s a sense that I’m contributing to projects that I’ll see in production in just a few years.”

Lifelong Learning: A Mechanism for Change

Anna says the tech industry—and Switzerland’s workforce as a whole—remains very male-oriented. She sees her approach to lifelong learning is a mechanism for changing this.

“Making a career change was absolutely the right decision for me, and I really think it’s important other women realize it’s possible to do. A lot of my friends with kids see what I did and are not sure they’d cope. Now obviously, it’s difficult with the demands of having kids to make a change, but it’s also possible! Women like me should know that there are great opportunities to gain skills and change careers that don’t involve sacrificing other parts of your life.”

Everyone here at Udacity has been so inspired by you Anna! You’re a true lifelong learner, and as we prepare for Intersect 2018—with its theme of celebrating lifelong learning—you can be sure your example will keep motivating us to deliver the most incredible Intersect yet!