After watching the WiDS conference via livestream from Wisconsin, Sarah Dahl felt inspired and empowered to pivot her career to data science.
Tell us about your background.
I’m from Bayfield, a very small town (current pop 686) in northern Wisconsin. My main interest in school was music. I started out as a clarinet and voice major at Lawrence University, but ultimately graduated from the UW-Madison with a degree in Women’s Studies. My first job was as an administrator for a non-profit law firm, then I moved into HR, first for a grocery cooperative, then as a consultant and currently for a law firm. I’m a single mom with a 12-year-old daughter.
How did you get interested in data science?
I didn’t really know data science was a thing, I just knew there were coders and developers, and that I had a deep and strong affection for Excel. Working in Excel was my happy place. I taught myself compensation work as a consultant and made that one of my focuses in HR. In the last year or so, I started seeing things about data science pop up in my Facebook news feed. It resonated with some of what I was doing with employee surveys and compensation work. I also took a statistics class and loved it, so my interests and knowledge about this field started to merge recently.
What are you currently working on?
I am completing a Coursera course from Google on Data Analytics. I had initially taken an EdX course from MIT on Python that was a little too advanced for someone with literally no experience. This course is almost painfully slow, but I want to make sure I don’t miss any fundamentals about how to think about data, and it’s introducing me to programs like Tableau.
How did you first discover WiDS?
I recently took a leave of absence from my law firm job due to burnout, and knew I wanted to work less directly with people in crisis and more with data to solve problems. I searched Google for “Women in Data Science” because I wanted to find a community or potentially support from other women who had gone into this field. I clicked on the WiDS link, and lo and behold the national conference was happening within days. I was beyond thrilled that it was open to the public, free and online. This allowed me to listen in all day even from the Midwest and while caring for my daughter. I was extremely inspired by the encouraging, supportive nature of the presenters and messages of the conference, as well as the fact that the content wasn’t so esoteric as to be completely over my head. I felt like data science was something I really could learn to do and maybe even love my job. After being burned out for so long, I felt like a huge breath of fresh air came into my life and I felt compelled to share my gratitude with the organizers of the conference. It really meant so much to me.
How has WiDS made an impact on your life and/or work?
It has made a HUGE impact on my life. It feels like fate. I just finished reading the Alchemist, and there’s a repeated quote in there that when you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you. I felt like finding WiDS and especially the conference, helped seriously propel my conviction that data science is something I can do, even as a middle-aged, midwestern single mom.
What comes next for you? And what are your hopes for women in the data science in the future?
Next comes the scary work of planning a transition, going back to my day job while trying to learn everything I can to start a new career. I’m so excited by the possibilities and am trying to trust in the universe and the network of people who have come before me to help me find my footing. I just LOVE knowing there is a community of such strong, brilliant women in this field. I hope I can someday be an ambassador to help keep the spotlight on women in data science and make the contributions of women in this field more widely recognized.