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Dive into Data: A Career in Machine Learning

Next up in the context of our “Dive into Data” initiative, we aim to change the misconception about what it takes to break into and build a long-term career in Machine Learning.

In this part of the series, we’d like to feature the background and career journey of Dan Howarth, Senior Engineering Consultant at Altran, a brilliant example that shows how unconventional backgrounds can lead to dive into data as a career.

Our chat here, to feature a real life example. How to get into data and how a career path within Machine Learning can unfold….

ADLIB: To summarise, what are your main responsibilities as a Senior Engineering Consultant?

Dan Howarth:I am responsible for the successful delivery of projects. Altran Digital provides a range of digital capabilities that can benefit customers, so the projects are varied and include things like Industrial Internet of Things, simulation and machine learning.

‘Successful delivery’ really means being clear about what the customer wants and making sure we have the right team to deliver this. My focus is on the technical side of this, ensuring we understand the technical requirements, and that we can develop and deliver the right technical solution.

ADLIB: What’s your background, what has been your career journey so far leading you to where you are right now?

Dan Howarth:I actually started as a civil servant (quite a few years ago now…) and then moved to Rolls-Royce a little over three years ago in a Business Development role. I had a degree in Politics and was a Chartered Management Accountant. Not long after that, I decided to learn how to code, very much as a hobby and to try and understand what it was all about.

One of the courses I took featured some data analysis (using the pandas library on python) and that was the point that I started to take it more seriously – I’d gotten over the initial hump of learning code, so it was starting to make more sense, and I could see how it could be applied to business.

I went on to study machine learning and landed a role in the Rolls-Royce data science team. I also started to go meet-ups and meet people in the broader community. This led to involvement in some side projects and to teaching data science at a University of Oxford course, which was a great experience.

I then moved to my current role at Altran last October, and have been developing and delivering digital projects. I will continue to teach, and have some online opportunities lined up, which I hope to build on.

ADLIB: What attracted you to the Machine Learning aspect of Data?

Dan Howarth: At first, it was just curiosity. I had heard about machine learning and really just wanted to understand it more. I took a course to learn more, and applied to them some work problems.

I think the field is fascinating and ever-changing and can be applied to a number of different fields. I have more recently been focussing on deep learning and computer vision and how that can be applied to problems (a topic I presented on at a recent PyData meet-up when I looked at how deep learning might help parents of new babies, like myself).

ADLIB: What do you see as the top 3 skills it takes to become an Engineering Consultant?

Dan Howarth: I would say: technical competence (developing and implementing a technical solution); a delivery focus (understanding what the key tasks are and how to deliver them on time); and, being prepared to learn and implement new skills.

ADLIB: Any soft skills that are advantageous to this role in your opinion?

Dan Howarth: I think there are a lot of skills that are important no matter what role you are in. For example, being able to communicate with other people effectively, and to understand how other people might perceive a certain situation.

Other skills, like being able to understand and anticipate risks (and deal with them), understanding the business aspects of a project (what adds value to the customer and for our business), and leading and managing are all important too.

Thanks so much for sharing, Dan!