Driven by Data: Kristen Kehrer

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Data Science has become very popular term in the world of technology careers. But what does this term really mean? How can you start shifting your skills to become a data scientist? Kristen Kehrer wants to help with that.

With a Bachelors in Mathematics and a Masters in Statistics, Kristen has worked in fields such as Health, Communications and eCommerce. Her roles have included analyzing data, conducting research and developing technical models as coder. When she started, she did not knew these were roles would be ascribed to a Data Scientist.

Today, as a founder of Data Moves Me, she focuses on teaching others about the field through online courses, speaking engagements and helping people build their resume towards a job in Data Science. She is also a Data Science instructor at UC Berkley Extension and EMERITUS Institute of Management.

In this interview she describes what Data Science is and shares some of the required skills to get into this career.

How do you describe Data Science and what you do?
This completely depends on the context and who I’m talking to. The definition I typically use for data science is: “It is the understanding and utilization of tools, data and methodologies that enable you to effectively solve problems utilizing data.” Someone who self identifies as a “data scientist” is often using machine learning and writing code, however the umbrella of the “data sciences” also involves analysts and other data wranglers.

It is certainly a multi-disciplinary field including a bit from programming, statistics, and business. There are no unicorns, everyone has their own strengths in the field and may be doing quite different tasks depending on industry.

What are some of most common misconceptions about it?
Again, the misconceptions depend on who you’re talking to. There are people who think everything is “AI”, there are the people who aren’t as data literate but still making decisions based on data, potentially the most dangerous (people). There are those who do not understand what the real pipeline looks like and only focus on machine learning.

I think there are a whole lot of misconceptions and it’s exacerbated by the “hotness” of the field. Lots of buzzwords and hype that make it difficult for people to fully grasp what the reality looks like. There is a huge focus on machine learning, but this is one tool.

I often hear people say “I need to hire a data scientist.” This is an incredibly broad statement. Think first about what you really need someone to help you with, nail down how they’ll contribute to strategy and what skills that will actually require, and then hire for those specific things, rather than listing the kitchen sink in terms of skills on a job description.

Why did you choose it as a career?
I definitely didn’t know that I was seeking out “data science.” The term wasn’t really being used when I started my career. I had finished a BS in Mathematics in 2004, realized I was in a dead-end job and decided to go back and pursue a MS in Statistics. I had seen that statisticians made good money. Then it was through a series of job changes and career moves that I really found myself in the data science space. It also involved some rebranding, as I considered myself a statistician who does “advanced analytics”. Then one day it was “oh wait, I’m a data scientist”.

Can you describe a project you worked on which you enjoyed or learned from?
The amazing thing about this field is that I’ve found most of the projects enjoyable. This industry requires continuous learning. Even after I’ve implemented an algorithm one way, the next time I go to do something similar there is probably a new library or package that makes data cleaning or model building easier, so I learn those.

One of my more favorite projects was using customer’s subscription data to find customers with seasonal usage patterns. So instead of saying “hey, these customers are using our product less and may be a retention risk,” I was able to say “hey, this customer has a seasonal business and we expect less usage from them in these months, we can use this information to speak to them differently and infer there needs.”

I used the TBATS algorithm to take these people as seasonal or non-seasonal. Although I’m very well versed in econometric time series analysis and forecasting, this was my first time researching this algorithm and the pros and cons that went along with it. It was also sort of an off-label use case for the algorithm. That is where I find the most enjoyment: developing a methodology that will work for a problem I haven’t solved before.

Because Data Science is so interdisciplinary, there are many competencies that transfer well from other careers if you position them for the Data Scientist role. I want to educate others to be able to use this to their advantage.

Kristen Kehrer

What drove you to focus on helping others with resume building?
I was laid-off in 2017 a week and half after returning from my second maternity leave. Although I was quite happy with my resume as is and was frequently getting calls from recruiters, I picked up some amazing additional tips from a career coach. I saw so many people trying to “rebrand” themselves or make a career change to data science. These people would ask me to review their resume and it was clear that they were highlighting the things they had done previously, but not how that would translate to them being an effective Data Scientist.

Because Data Science is so interdisciplinary, there are many competencies that transfer well from other careers if you position them for the Data Scientist role. I want to educate others to be able to use this to their advantage. People often bring fantastic skills to the table that they’re not highlighting to their full potential.

What trends do you see coming up in the field?
Well I hope that there will be more of a standardization between terminology, roles and responsibilities so that we can all use a common language and understand each other. I think as Data Science matures it will be clearer that it is a team sport and not a single person sport.

What are two of the absolute must-have tools you use in your day-to-day for your job?
I always say that SQL is a must. People often get distracted by shiny objects, learning new algorithms, etc. But on your first day as a data scientist you’ll most likely be told about your new job’s data warehouse. That is where you’ll extract your data from. Although you can do joins and connect to a database from R or Python, you’ll still need to understand relational databases to navigate the schema where your data lives to be effective.

I also like to stress the importance of communication skills. Give your deliverables love and care, think about how to best present to a non-technical audience. Your ability to build relationships where stakeholders trust your work and see you as a valued partner will be instrumental in your career.

What are some of the plans for near future?
I’m currently working on a book Mothers of Data Science with Kate Strachnyi. I expect the book to be available in 2020. I’m also teaching a course through UC Berkeley Extension called “Practical Data Science.” This is a foundations of Data Science course in R. I’m also currently consulting and offering in-office training for Analytics/Data Science teams that want to take their skills to the next level. I also intend to keep blogging at https://datamovesme.com.

What resources (books, podcast, websites, etc.), do you recommend which have helped you in your career?
I try to give useful tips on my personal blog https://datamovesme.com. I also think finding a community on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social platform helps you to keep up with the trends, new programming libraries that will make your life a little easier, and help you to gauge what might be most relevant to learn next. Because again, it is continuous lifelong learning as a Data Scientist that will help you stay relevant. You can also become involved in things like “Makeover Monday” or “Tidy Tuesday” and the community will give you feedback on your work. This is one of the greatest forms of visibility, and networking is diving right in and contributing.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Women Empowerment Podcasts

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Podcast junkies like myself always seek recommendations of what to listen to next. That is the beauty of podcasts. The enormous variety allows you to pick based on you interests. Plus, you can listen to them at any time, especially on the move. As you may infer from this blog, I love to learn from other people’s journeys through interviews. Therefore, interview podcasts are my favorite.

Working in an environment dominated by men, I look for stories of professional and successful women to find inspiration. Unfortunately, most of my favorites go-to podcast lack women as guests. Therefore, podcasts with an emphasis on interviewing successful women are a great choice to find fascinating stories and valuable lessons.

Here are some I listen to:

No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis – Journalist Rebecca Jarvis’ podcast features company executives, entrepreneurs and celebrities turned entrepreneurs. Her questions are insightful to elicit guests to share their stories and many times, unconventional path to success. At the end of each show, she highlights a listener who has launched their business and gives them the opportunity to pitch their product to the audience.

Wall Street Journal Secrets of Wealthy Women – Want to know how millionaires became financially successful? In this podcast you learned about their journeys. Host Veronica Dagher interviews successful women in top level jobs sharing ventures and most importantly money secrets related to investing. It also helps women lose fear in investing and take control of their own finances.

Girlboss– Former Nastygal CEO Sophia Amoruso was the subject of many headlines after her company went bankrupt. Instead of letting that experience shadow her efforts, she launched Girlboss Media. This is a business and lifestyle company producing content geared to millennial women. In her podcast, she attempts to redefine the definition of success as climbing a corporate ladder, and she interviews women in media, business, arts and many other industries. They share their stories and provide advice. Even if you are not a millennial (or a woman), there is great advice for entrepreneurs in every interview.

Latina to Latina– I started listening to this per recommendation from interviewee Univision’s Selymar Colon. In this podcast, journalist Alicia Menendez talks to many successful Latin women around the world about their challenges as minorities making it to the top. Anyone regardless of ethnicity and gender can take away valuable advice.

Have any other recommendations? Let me know!

Keeping Latinos Connected: Selymar Colon

By: Yadira Y. Caro

In the shifting news landscape, Univision’s news coverage continues gaining relevance. With a growing Hispanic population in the US and many watching from their own countries abroad, Univision’s journalistic team informs first, and second generation immigrants, and even those from later generations on stories relevant to issues in their region and the US. They also serve as advocates for the people.

Selymar Colon has been a driving force behind this continued growth in Univision telling the stories of the people while finding new ways to reach them. As VicePresident and Editor in Chief of News Digital, she has been a champion of digital integration since she started in Univision in 2006 after graduating college. She joined the news company as a field producer and continued rising through the ranks becoming a producer for Al Punto with Jorge Ramos. Her work has been awarded national and regional Emmys, named one of the Top 40 under 40 in latino Politics by Huffington Post and most recently, won along her team a World Press Photo Award.

In this interview, Selymar shared what drove her to journalism, the value of mentorship to advance professionally and how she stays informed.

Can you describe what you do?

I am a digital journalist in a newsroom where our main focus is the Hispanic Latino community in the United States. At Univision we have such a close relationship with our audience; that is extremely privileged. We cover the issues that matter to them, things that are happening in the United States that impact their lives, and headlines from the countries that would be of interest to them here as well. A big part of what we do is service journalism which is key to our audience to help them understand how the immigration system works in this country, how it impacts their lives. Obviously a big part of the audience is immigrant so this is information that it’s useful to them.

You studied journalism in your Bachelors (at Lynn University) and your Masters degree (at Florida International University). How did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

This is a little bit cliché, but the reality is I always wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I remember when hurricanes or major natural disasters would happen, the journalist felt kind of part of your family. They were the ones guiding you through the emergencies, through the news. I found that instant connection when I saw how much help they were bringing to the community and that’s what attracted me the most to the news: how can I be that guiding force, that guiding light in the community, how can we uplift voices that might not have anywhere to share their story, to get help. So that’s what interested me the most about the field of journalism.

Are there any misconceptions about what you do or about journalism?

Right now it is a difficult time for journalists all over the world. 2018 was one of the toughest and bloodiest years of journalism in the Americas. Mexico has become the bloodiest and most dangerous country to be a journalist. The rhetoric the President of the United States uses against journalists does not help either.

I think in any democracy, keeping a healthy press is extremely important. Also, its important for its citizens to make their own conclusions to what is happening in the country and the laws that are being enacted and may affect them. So I think in general, right now the time it’s difficult, but at the same time, it’s interesting because you’re seeing more journalistic work that is excelling, just going beyond to what we were doing before. Its gaining even more purpose. There are more people that are backing the good journalism that helps them conduct their daily lives and keep democracies alive.

Selymar Colon behind cameras with Al Punto host Jorge Ramos.

Since you started over a decade ago in journalism, what are significant changes that you’ve see on either the way you perform your job or overall in the trends in journalism?
We usually say a good journalist is a good journalist regardless of the times. I think technology has helped journalism and it’s the key that, like in any other industry, has made the biggest changes. In journalism in particular, technology had helped journalists gather and analyze better data and information to provide better reports. On the other hand, it has also allowed journalists tell their stories in various formats that reach bigger audiences that are further from them. Probably five years ago, ten years ago, people were used to their local newspaper, and now they read them on an app, they read them on their desktop, on their smart TV.

Technology has made a big change for consumers on how they consume news and for journalists in helping us gather better information and analyze it. Probably in some cases, you don’t have to go physically to a location to gather the data, you can create that data even from various sources, analyze it and include it in a story.

How is a regular day for you? Do you have to be constantly connected?

Yes, it does come with the job to be almost all the time connected! I have push notifications from any and all major news organizations. There are some apps like Nozzle that do help you better see what’s trending, give you a sense of what people are sharing in your own network. So it’s through a combination of apps and social networks; and push notifications are key to stay connected at least on breaking news and announcements.

Do reach out, do find that mentor, and when you get that mentor, use their time smart and wisely. Know what you want to get of that relationship, and that’s going to help you tremendously in your career.

Selymar Colon

You’re leading a team of journalists. Is there any particular approach you have for management?
To communicate, to talk to people, to listen is really important. It’s something that even though if I keep a busy schedule, I try to do as much as I can to have one-on-ones, to listen to everybody in the meetings. Also I leave the journalism team some space if there are projects that they want to push forward. I think that’s really important because the day to day and the breaking news can consume you.

I think as a woman in this role, it’s also important to also leverage other female voices in the newsroom and not just the journalists. Also in the stories that we tell, and the voices we use as sources as well.

What advice do you have for women who either want to venture in technology or communications?

Get mentors, don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. If you see someone that you might think ‘Oh my God, this person has such a big title and so much responsibility,’ the worst you can get from that person is a ‘No.’ Then you move on and you find someone else you want to talk to. Do reach out, do find that mentor, and when you get that mentor, use their time smart and wisely as well. Know what you want to get of that relationship, and that’s going to help you tremendously in your career.

Sometimes it’s good to also keep a balance of who those mentors are. There might be people that are directly in your industry of preference, but there could also be someone who is not in your industry, but its in a field or in a position that you might want to get to, or from an interest that you gain in some point in your career. It’s also good to hear from everyone, from other people what their experiences are. More often than not, I would say that people would be open to meet you, to talk to you on the phone and share with you their stories, share with you some of their experiences. After you have that information, use it for your benefit, take from that conversation what you think suits you the best and apply it.

Are there any two or three resources, either podcast books or anything that have helped you throughout your career?

I would say one thing besides the mentorship, is continued education. There are fields where continued education is mandatory, there are some where it’s not. Even if it’s not, we should always pursue continued education. I’ve taken some executive education courses, and I’m always looking for more of those because those are good places to continue to grow, to continue to learn. Attending conferences it’s also really important, and if you can’t go physically at least follow them and read about them on blogs.

All of the podcast I listen to have nothing to do with my field. I do like a lot How I Built This, because of the inspiration it provides. This goes hand in hand with the mentorship and learning from people that are probably in another industry. It helps learning from their career paths and how they made it. I listen to another one called Latina to Latina from Alicia Menendez. Its really good and empowering because I discover a lot of new voices of powerful and interesting Latinas in the United States; their stories are just magical. I do like another one called the Washington Post Retro Pod, which gives you 5 minute history snippets. I’m a little bit of a history buff.

In the morning, morning podcasts are really important of course. Up First from NPR and The Daily are my two go-to podcast every morning. For reading, The Nieman Lab is really good, it’s a website that gives you new things that are happening from most organizations.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview?

Contact me!