“I kept a project management board on my refrigerator”: the real story of a radical change in profession
Life in IT after forty is just beginning. Olga Bykhovtsova’s example proves that it is never too late to start realizing a dream. She lost her job at a bank, but did not despair. Instead, Olga pivoted into IT: the path was not easy, but it was worth it. Today she is a Data Quality Engineer in a large international company, and she shares her success story below in her own words.
How did it all begin?
— A few years ago, I lost my job in a bank. I am over 40, I have three children, I live in the province. This was a disaster. Spinning in my head were phrases like “after 35 it is impossible to find a job”, and “at 40, people are unteachable.” But I decided not to give up. I remembered that I had long dreamed of IT. At school, I was very fond of computer science, and I remembered how everything developed and appealed to me. Plus, a good friend changed her life and went on to learn Java, which inspired me. So, I opened the training.by page. I already knew about this resource, but I did not yet understand what I wanted to do. I saw that there was a recruitment for a training in Data Engineering, I looked at the requirements: databases and experience in a bank. I took a chance and signed up.
What was your plan?
— The plan was that even if I failed at the work, at least I would develop my brain. So, I applied to EPAM Data Lab for the Data and analytics online trainings course. The first interview was in English, and I passed. They said that there would also be a technical interview, and that I needed to learn SQL. I began to study SQL and databases, read books, prepared. I practiced for 6 hours every day.
The first two months were easy. The only thing that caused stress was that once a week they gave a task online, you had to write code in SQL and you had to get the desired result. Everything had to be correct, not just completed. During the course, we were taught to look for and find solutions on our own. This came in handy moving forward. Of course, this approach is not without difficulties. The first challenge is to admit that you are not the smartest, and don’t know everything, so you need to ask for help. But don't give up. It helped to chat with fellow students. I could complain to them about fatigue; they understood and supported me.
My family also helped. At the lab, we had a project management course. I created tasks and assigned them to my husband and children. I kept a project management board for household chores on the refrigerator. I will say that during this time, I fell out of my life. I focused on work and home - I did not meet with friends or do other activities. If there was a rare day off, then it was a holiday - just to breathe and relax in nature.
New friends developed on the Lab. We understood each other and got along very well. Our chat was a salvation for me: we discussed everything, joked.
What is Data Quality?
— As a rule, any large company has a huge amount of accumulated data: about purchases, customers, research and much more. Information is collected from different internal departments and may also be available from external free resources or purchased from special providers. Before using this data, it is necessary to verify its quality, integrity, and compliance with business requirements.
Today, the profession of Data Quality Engineer is popular because there is so much data available. To use it for any purpose, it needs to be checked first. For example, in order to “feed” it into a data science algorithm, you first need to make sure that you are providing the information that you really need.
A Data Quality Engineer doesn’t have to be able to program, but it will be an advantage. Somewhere, you will benefit from a custom-made framework or tool.
How can you get into IT?
— I had an ideal entry into IT. It all started with an interview with the head of Data Science EPAM in Canada. He told me about a project, and asked what I was doing on the Lab. I explained everything in English. He asked: "When are you free?" I replied: "Tomorrow." His response: "Well, let's start on Monday." He did not interrogate me and did not give me assignments, because he already had information about my knowledge and success during my Lab experience. We had a great team, and we successfully completed the project in 4 months.
Things continued to move forward for me from there. From a complex lab to a complex project with BigData + ML. We had Databricks and PySpark. I worked with the author of a book on PySpark. I had to urgently learn Python. SQL was not as useful as I would have hoped. On the next project, I again had Databricks, but they hired me to replace a colleague. She didn’t like Python, and wrote everything in Scala, so I had to quickly learn Scala. Now, I have experience with the three most important languages for a Data Quality engineer - Python, Scala, and Java.
Of course, there were also difficult moments. It can feel as though you constantly walk along a sinusoid. You swing from successfully completing a difficult task and flying high as a result, to facing an unfamiliar and challenging new task and feeling sure that you will never understand how to do it. So, you flounder, but everything turns out!
What is the difference between working in a bank and working in IT?
— This is my favorite question. There are many differences:
- In the bank, you could meet the director at 8 am and he checks the time of your arrival. In IT, you are at a distance, and no one tracks your time. You appreciate that your desire to work is greater when you are simply trusted. Even with this strong desire, however, when you want to do so, you can take a break to go outside, but you can also work in the evenings, because there are tasks that you need to complete.
- During a shift at the bank, it was impossible to look at my phone, but now, I can use any tool that is available — I just have to solve the problem.
- Culture: here, everyone is respected, praised, appreciated. As soon as I started working, my work was recognized and praised.
- I love that IT is all about you and your results. In the bank, everything was very formal and official, but less effective.
- There is no hierarchy here. Even if you are a junior, if you have ideas, you can tell them to top managers. No one will tell you: "Sit down and don't get out of line, let the leaders have their say first." In the bank, I sat in one position for quite a long time. I was silent about the work, and about the salary increases, which never arrived — 10% in 5 years was expected by the entire department.
Everything is more comfortable when you work in IT. The work is very challenging, but there is a completely different attitude towards you as a person, and a completely different atmosphere.
What suggestions do you have for those who want to change their profession?
- If you want to work with data — learn SQL.
- If you want to program — learn Python, although everyone advises learning Java.
- If you want to get into our Lab, then learn databases, normalization, and relational databases. English also needs to be learned, but do not worry if you don’t have deep English experience, you can quickly learn enough to do what is needed. The main thing is not to be afraid to speak up, because everyone speaks with accents, that is certainly not a problem.
- And if you don’t know where to go in the IT field, Data Quality is in great demand right now.
Everyone who reached the end of the Lab got a job, regardless of their age and number of children. Everything is possible!