by Corey J Sinnott
My career path has been a winding road. After spending my early twenties in the military and working defense contracts, and trying to fit classes in between, I finished a BS in chemistry. I went on to work in research for the USDA, manage a food testing lab, and work as a researcher in environmental engineering. Despite being rewarding and challenging jobs, the average time I spent in each was only eight months. In every position, the stress of finances, lack of healthcare, and lack of opportunity to remedy those conflicts loomed and kept me on indeed.com looking for the next best gig.
After chemistry, I spent a few years as an entrepreneur while looking for new positions. Finally, I was offered a role that was totally unexpected: IT project manager for a pharmaceutical company. I thought of it as a big break into a new field with better opportunity. It took a few months to catch on to corporate lingo, learn the software I was deploying, and learn how to effectively manage a team. This was also my first position through a staffing agency, and although I was used to being an hourly employee, having to track and bill every second of the day was new. All while loving the idea of this new job, it felt flimsy and unreliable. This ended up being somewhat true, as after finishing all of my assigned projects ahead of schedule, I was left without any work to bill for, and was asked to turn in my security badge and laptop that same day. It was an unceremonious end, but I was excited to see what was next.
After 10 months of searching, hundreds of applications, full days of phone screens and interviews, I started as a contractor managing IT projects for a major airline. There was talk in the news about cases of a new virus finally reaching the US, and I was concerned with how this would affect air travel, but I was assured that the funding for my position was secured.
On my first day, before I was even issued a laptop, I was tasked with creating three project documents and a technical manual. There was no on-boarding, HR briefings, introduction to company culture, or even training. On my second day, I managed to track down another contract IT project manager from another section that I would be working with. She only had minutes to spare, as every minute was tracked and billed for, but she warned me to stay busy or my time there wouldn’t be long. This only added to my concerns that this position might not be the breakthrough I had hoped.
My first week was stressful, but productive. I took on four projects, created project documents for them, met with all of the developers and analysts, and was in the swing of meetings and emails. Monday of my second week, this new virus was becoming more of a concern for everyone. The train was empty on the way to work, and lunch was quiet because half of the office was working from home; everyone except the contractors. The next day, my seventh day of work, I had a meeting at 8am for my biggest project. The tone from the start sounded off, and the host was reluctant to start. I could see across cubicles my boss was on the same call. The call started right off with the bad news, funding was being cut to my biggest project. Before I could consider the implications, my boss was at my cubicle. He let me know that he was very sorry, but that he was going to have to let me go.
Working only seven days at a new job isn’t just hard financially, it’s hard on your confidence in your career choices. It made me realize I was on a path that went more in a circle than toward a goal. I knew on the empty train ride home that day that I needed to make a change.
One of the first things I did when I got home, after signing up for Instacart and wondering if it was still safe to go to the gym, was make a chart of new, and old, career options. I listed everything I had done before, and everything I was interested in, and rated each in categories like cost of education, experience, fulfillment, etc., on a scale of 1–10. Ironically, as I enjoyed putting together the data and visualizing it, I didn’t consider working with data as a career. Instead, I was left with a chart of careers that made me realize I was going to have to look outside the box, or in this case, chart.
After a few months of eating takeout, starting a couple of drop-ship companies, and doing career research, I finally found a career path that combined many of my passions: data science. It had the challenge of learning programming, the use of math and creative problem solving, the organization, and the prospect that I might someday land a job that isn’t 99% WebEx meetings. Soon after, I began watching YouTube Python tutorials and looking for formalized education. I decided General Assembly’s Data Science Immersive program was the best fit for my future, and I am excited to see what that future holds.