A day in the life of a Data Scientist in the Technology Associate Programme
What comes to mind when you hear “Data Scientist”? Someone staring at numbers on a screen all day? Someone making fancy visualisations? Or perhaps building ultra-complicated prediction machines based on artificial intelligence?
I’m Jovi Loo, an Associate Data Scientist at GovTech, and I’m here to tell you that I start my workday by talking.
Find out how Jovi spends a typical day as a Tech Associate at GovTech. PHOTO: GOVTECH
Yes, human interaction – not computers or machines – is the first order of the day. First thing in the morning, my team leader heads a team update, where she updates everyone on the key happenings of the week. Occasionally, we discuss broader topics such as data strategy, and governance. I find these discussions useful as it allows us to see how our work as individual contributors fit into the larger context of using data to benefit Singapore.
Data science grounded in the real world
After all, solving real-world issues that affect the workings of government, and by extension, Singaporeans, is what drew me to GovTech in the first place. I first got to know of the organisation through a blogpost on identifying the Circle Line rogue train. As I learnt more about cool projects such as the Jarvis information system, I was increasingly drawn to GovTech. And I was fortunate enough to join the Technology Associate Programme (TAP), a 2-year leadership-trainee programme for aspiring public sector tech leaders, kicking off my tech career after graduation.
But before I go on further, I’ll let you know more about how my day unfolds. Following the team update, we have a sharing session by one of our colleagues (the hot seat is rotated every session) on something he or she is working on or a particular data science topic. These sharings not only level up my technical knowledge but also keep me informed about what the rest of the team is up to.
On the same page with stakeholders
Before I know it, the morning is up and it’s off to lunch with my colleagues. My early afternoon is then occupied by a conference call with partner government agencies that we are working with on data projects. These interactions are important because the work that we do in data science does not exist in a silo. Ultimately, we use data to improve processes and alleviate pain points for our clients (in this case, the agency we are working with). These stakeholders, who are the subject matter experts, focus our work by suggesting lines of inquiries, validate our findings and share their domain knowledge to ground our work.
Some of my friends mistakenly think that I spend all my time building models, performing feature engineering, tuning parameters, or other technical work. You may think that as someone who works in technology, I may find all these meetings a poor use of my time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Instead, I recognise that I sit at the intersection of data science and public policy, and hence I have to spend the necessary time speaking to stakeholders to understand their concerns and scope out how data can solve their problem. Only when scoping is done right, can we harness the full potential of data.
When the conference call ends, the team does an internal sync to ensure we’re all on the same page and brainstorm ideas to tackle the problem at hand, often by sketching out our ideas on a whiteboard.
As you can see, a Tech Associate has responsibilities beyond pure technical work. Sometimes you may even be involved in strategy or community engagement or staffing work. This is par for the course given that the programme aims to develop technology leaders and accelerate our career development. I find this exposure useful to understand the broader picture – on what GovTech stands for as an organisation, and the value that we bring to our stakeholders – the citizens and businesses in Singapore.
Time for technical work
The final hours of the workday are reserved for deep technical work. Depending on the project stage that I’m at, I could be doing exploratory data analysis, data cleaning, feature engineering, model fitting, setting up data pipelines, or preparing presentation materials.
As mentioned earlier, I’m a conduit between data science and business, and this requires me to switch contexts often. While this is necessary, it can also harm my productivity if I’m not deliberate about segmenting my time and devoting my full attention to either the business or the technical side of things. Hence, I prefer to immerse myself fully in the technical process and block off other distractions until it’s time to call it a day.
Aspiring to be a tech leader
I enjoy the hybrid nature of my work and being plugged intensely into both the business and technical aspects. This means I have to constantly improve and refresh my domain knowledge and apply it to my choice of techniques, data, and problem formulation. Interacting with stakeholders also reminds me of the potential impact of my work on Singaporeans. I like how I’m given many opportunities to deepen my technical capabilities while learning new ones.
In fact, one of my proudest moments of my career so far is seeing the technology my team developed being used in the fight against Covid-19, helping Singapore regain some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy.
Tech is one of the hottest sectors right now and the industry is hungry for talent. If you dream of a meaningful and challenging career that make lives better and contribute to the public good through technology, then GovTech is the place for you.
The Technology Associate Programme (TAP) is a two-year leadership-trainee programme, designed to sharpen and develop your technical knowledge and professional skills, giving you a strong head start in your tech career. Final-year students or fresh graduates with a passion for building #TechforPublicGood and up for a good challenge, are welcome to apply! Applications are open from 1 May 2021 to 31 July 2021.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-data-scientist-in-tap