Key Learnings from the Next Generation of Analytics Practitioners

Aline Frenzel, Senior Recruiter, Christopher McGrillen, Engagement Manager, Merel Theisen, Software Engineer, QuantumBlack

The importance of representation in the analytics industry cannot be understated. As AI-powered technologies become ever more integrated in our daily lives, we need to ensure that models and algorithms are built with fairness and ethics front of mind. Ensuring the teams creating these solutions are reflective of society will be crucial if we’re to avoid replicating existing biases as advanced analytics becomes more prevalent.

QuantumBlack is committed to promoting a diverse workforce and equal access to the advanced analytics industry, regardless of background. As part of a joint initiative with the UK Government’s Office for AI, this year we sponsored five students to study a Masters in Artificial Intelligence, covering tuition fees and expenses, before offering a three-month internship towards the end of their studies.

We’re proud to say that our 2020 cohort recently completed their placement programme at our London offices. They represent the next generation of analytics leaders and later in their careers will likely work with technology which is currently in its infancy — or even inconceivable now. With this in mind, we spoke to them about their views on where the analytics industry is heading, their intern experience and advice for others hoping to pursue a career in data science.

Looking Ahead

It’s often difficult to map the future of AI and machine learning, given how quickly the industry moves. Much of the technology that was seen as cutting edge a few years ago is now regarded as outdated — but this rapid acceleration is often an attractive prospect for newcomers. “Already some of the tools and architectures I used over the course of my degree are becoming obsolete and I only expect the sector to move more quickly over the next five years,” explains Ahdra Merali. “There’s so much potential, it’ll be fun to see how and where it evolves.”

Some of the most exciting automation opportunities currently in development are those that compliment or enhance human experience. As Izunna Aneke describes: “​For me, AI and Machine Learning is all about assisting humans to achieve more with the data we have. A vast proportion of humans rely on vehicles, however whilst driving we are unable to do anything else. Self-driving cars, and implicitly machine learning, can enable us to travel safely whilst using the time we get back to solve more interesting problems.”

Our cohort were incredibly excited about the far-reaching impact AI is set to have across all industries, particularly on two central pillars of our society: healthcare and financial services. “Both sectors can benefit heavily from a more optimised workflow and reduce risk when dealing with patients or clients,” says Anasthasia Manu. “The predictive power of AI in these fields can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life, from supporting doctors to assess whether a patient requires life-saving treatment to approving a loan application from a small family-owned business.”

As Sajid Alam summarises: “AI, like medical advancements before it, has the potential to increase the quality of life for millions of people.”

Practices That Resonate With Tomorrow’s Talent

As the next generation of analytics practitioners, we were keen to understand which elements of the internship our cohort most enjoyed. Competition for skilled talent will only intensify in the coming years, and organisations will need to adopt working practices and culture that resonate with candidates, if they’re to attract and retain staff.

Our interns certainly valued an interdisciplinary model and an emphasis on collaboration across teams. “Some companies operate with a ‘siloed’ working model, which can make communication hard. You find a team of Data Scientists here, a team of Software Engineers somewhere else and may lose the value of collaboration when it comes to working on complex code.” says Yousuf Mohamed-Ahmed. “QuantumBlack operates very differently and this means you find yourself developing new skills you may never have learned otherwise.”

There was also a keen interest to understand and observe how data science impacts in the real world. There was an appreciation for the sheer impact that their work would have across different industries — and although this can be daunting, it’s often one of the most attractive elements of real-world data science. “Some of the more exciting aspects of this internship involve the scale of the projects I’ve been working on,” explains Ahdra Merali. “My previous projects have been smaller and the vast difference in scale can be a little scary, but in the best of ways.”

Advice For Others

We appreciate that some readers may also be considering a future in analytics. Our Office for AI cohort offered a range of guidance and practical tips for those eager to take their first steps in the industry:

Izunna Aneke: “My advice would be to immerse yourself in AI and Machine Learning, as most data-driven jobs in the foreseeable future will involve aspects of it in some meaningful way.”

Anasthasia Manu: “Practice on mini simple projects which you can explain well and that provide one or two interesting developments within them. Understand the core concepts and use them as building blocks to create something more complex and be sure to write up your process and share your knowledge on a blog or social site. My main tip would be to keep practicing and keep reading, as the industry is constantly changing!”

Sajid Alam: “The most challenging thing I have faced is the vast amount of information to take in. It can be overwhelming at times, but I find breaking this information up into manageable parts helps massively.”

Yousuf Mohamed-Ahmed: “Get your hands dirty! There are so many datasets on the internet and not enough people to find useful insights from them. Find a problem domain that fascinates you and you can truly make a difference.”

Ahdra Merali: “Find your reason for getting up in the morning. These fields are incredibly exciting but they come with plenty of challenges, so motivation is what will push you through. I’m driven by the growth that comes with the challenge and the opportunity to learn something new. Your motivations may differ but whatever they are, hold on to them and the rest will follow.”

We’ve been delighted with the progress our Office for AI cohort has made across their studies and during their time with us. We’d like to thank them for the dedication and passion they’ve displayed and we look forward to following their careers in this exciting industry. We’re also grateful for the insights and lessons they’ve left us with.

We look forward to repeating the programme next year with a fresh wave of candidates. Data projects thrive best when they include a diverse range of perspectives and while progress has been made in improving representation in the data industry, there is still much more to be done.

If you’d like to discuss the MSc Artificial Intelligence and MSc Computer Science programme, as well as other opportunities with QuantumBlack, please visit our careers page or alternatively reach out directly to a member of our team — we’re always eager to offer more information or advice.

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An advanced analytics firm operating at the intersection of strategy, technology and design. www.quantumblack.com @quantumblack

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QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey

An advanced analytics firm operating at the intersection of strategy, technology and design. www.quantumblack.com @quantumblack