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Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Adrian Lievano. I’m 26 years old and a graduate with my Master’s and Bachelors from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. After graduating, I raised angel-money and ran a startup based out of Kenya for nearly 2.5 years. I decided to step away from the experience to move away from Kenya and reenter the tech-industry, driving to San Francisco from Miami in four days with my brother and dog. Once I arrived, I accepted an offer to work at a biotechnology company as a research bioengineer.
You run a startup in Kenya for nearly 2.5 years. Tell us something about it.
I managed an international team from the US and Kenya, spanning across sales, operations, marketing, finance, and engineering. At our peak, we were around 10 employees and distributed products all around Kenya. Our product sold water filtration systems on a mobile eCommerce website. Customers would ‘Venmo’ money, using finch technologies like M-PESA, and we would directly distribute our products using a network of motorcyclists. We raised over $600k, but would later find that it was difficult to grow our businesses in Kenya and decided to close shop. Fun fact: our supply chain spanned across China, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Kenya 🙂
What challenges did you face in re-entering the workforce after your entrepreneurial stint?
An ex-founder has potentially positive and negative qualities in the workplace depending on who is viewing your profile. Because I wanted a technical position as a data scientist, most of them scrutinized my previous experience and checked if I ever spent time as a data scientist — or if I had the skills developed on my own through side-projects, etc. I didn’t have any strong technical skills beyond the math and physics I took as a mechanical engineer. It had been 2.5 years since I practiced engineering and I knew I needed to reinvent my skillsets, fast, or else I would later find myself struggling to find jobs.
Why did you enroll for your first Udacity Nanodegree program?
I BOMBED every interview before I started looking into Nanodegree programs. But, I know I did something right because I was getting phone calls. I still needed to sharpen my skills, so I enrolled in my first Udacity Nanodegree program hoping to learn what I needed on my own schedule and without going into $30k of debt from a Bootcamp. I couldn’t afford to leave my job to pursue the bootcamps for 6 months with no guarantee of employment, and I saw that the content Udacity offered was top notch. I wanted to develop a skill set that leveraged my engineering training but was also in high demand, meaning that multiple industries were paying top-notch and hiring. Although I enjoy software engineering, I knew I fit better as a data scientist/ml engineer because of the amount of analytics, math, and statistics that go into solving these problems.
After graduating from Deep Learning Nanodegree program, you completed 4 more Nanodegree programs and you are currently enrolled in as many as 5 Nanodegree programs. What keeps you motivated and what is your strategy? How do you make time for this?
It was so hard. There were times where I went 4 weeks without even logging onto Udacity from being so dejected and disappointed in my job hunt progress. But, there were also times when I finished 50% of a Nanodegree program in 2 weeks. I stayed motivated because (i) I did enjoy the content and was generally interested in learning more, (ii) once Udacity launched the focused tracks, I knew exactly which courses I needed to take to have the foundational skillsets to do the job, (iii) the career coaching program gave me the confidence that I was ready to apply, and (iv) my friends and family supported me.
To date, what kept me motivated was being focused. When I lost focus, I lost momentum and it slowed me down. So, I did two things: (i) set a laser-focused goal with a series of mini-milestones, and (ii) set a reward system and keep a positive mindset throughout the way. So, whenever I finished a major project, I made sure to go buy myself something for dinner that I really wanted or take a cool short trip somewhere nearby. I know that’s not feasible for everyone, but I kept telling myself that what I’m trying to do is HARD: changing careers and trying to get a top-notch job in Silicon Valley is a challenge.
I made time by sticking to a realistic schedule: I was tired throughout the week, so I aimed to do 2-3 hours during the weekdays except for Friday. I made sure I kept working out to stay fit (I swam most days because I find it meditative). On the weekends, I devoted either a full morning and afternoon or at least 1 full day. I went to coffee shops to get out of my house and got myself my favorite latte. My motto: if you’re doing something really hard and you’re making progress, invest in yourself. Buy the latte you want, get the supplemental material book you need, or take a break if you need to. But, stay focused.
You have recently got a job as a Data Scientist at Confluent. Tell us something about your job profile and the growth that you have received.
In terms of raw numbers, it’s much higher (total comp, salary, equity, benefits, growth opportunity, etc.). But, it’s at the upper end of the market rate for mid-to-senior level data scientists in the Bay Area. I did really well in my interviews, so that helped me a lot.
Anything you would like to add
Udacity changed the outlook of my career. I didn’t have time to go back to school or even wait for graduate programs to accept my application. I didn’t want to do a Bootcamp because they were teaching things I could learn online. But, I knew I didn’t want to haphazardly learn material for free online without any structure or support. And, I didn’t want to break the bank. Udacity provided the perfect product: flexible scheduling, incredible instructors, projects, and content, a support system of career counselors and mentors, and affordable education. The future will continue to change at a faster pace: traditional education systems are not built to support the demand of the workplace for these new skill-sets. I’m no longer worried about where I will go if I need to learn new skills in my current or future job.
There’s a lot of supporting material I used to prepare for interviews. This is a skillset in itself and Udacity should consider a focused interview track for each role based on Silicon Valley norms (case studies, SQL questions, machine learning case studies, etc.). The interviews for data science varied greatly, but I generally saw that companies beyond a size of 500 seeking data scientists had a lot in common during the interview process.