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Marsha Castello: from International Business and Development to Data Analyst

Social media handle(s): LinkedIn

A few words about me:

Hello! My name is Marsha and I am a Pilates and Kettlebell loving multi-award nominated Data, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (AI&ML), Cloud, and Software Engineering Professional.

I currently work as a Data Analyst for the UK Civil Service where I translate data into meaningful insights. I also champion wellbeing within the workplace through web published articles and my work and different initiatives as a Mental Health First Aider.

I have recently renewed my love for data through an intensive 6-week, 60 hours + Advanced Data Analyst Bootcamp, with Fast Futures. On this programme, I have advanced my skills in forecasting with Python, AI & ML, as well as soft skills such as Negotiation, Presentation & Public Speaking, Business Writing, and Stress Management.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

I was headhunted to work in private office with some of the most senior and leading government ministers. This was a very positive and exciting learning experience. I had the honour of attending Parliamentary Question's (PQ's), and seeing the Parliament in action as they defended and made decisions on policies that would have a direct impact on society. To be up close with officials I had only previously witnessed through the media was fascinating.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

I have a non-STEM educational background and both a non-STEM and STEM career path. I was originally working within policy departments, saw an advertisement for a role in performance analysis and applied. I was chuffed to be the top candidate for the position, which then led to me working in reporting and data analysis today.

Where did your professional journey start?

I actually have a Master’s in International Business and Development from The University of London. I have a great many passions and had always been interested in technology, but it had never been as accessible as it is now.

My other passions centre around international development, sustainability, and ethical practices, used to create positive social impact, resolutions, and change. I used to work for the Department for International Development, which is now the FCDO, and they are involved with overseas projects to reduce the effects of climate change and empower the world’s poor.

It has been incredible to discover the many ways in which ever-evolving technological innovation continues to be used to power sustainable and ethical efforts to create a better world and society. For example, Artificial Intelligence is being used to design and control specialised drones loaded with engineered seed pods to replenish diminishing forests. Each drone can plant over 40,000 seed pods per day, and fly autonomously, therefore combating deforestation and biodiversity loss 25 times faster, and 80 per cent cheaper than traditional techniques. Mobile phone technology is being utilised to empower smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia, and the autonomy they have over their banking, supply chains and routes to market overcoming infrastructure failures, improving their lives and those of their families and communities - an area in which I completed my Master’s dissertation. I find this so impactful and would love to be a part of such positive social change through technology in the future.

Tech courses, once very dry, obscure and the traditional domain of men, are now being made engaging and accessible to everyone through highly publicised, abundant, free, enjoyable, and comprehensive government skills bootcamps like Firebrand, Avado Fast Futures and organisations like Code First Girls each of whom I'm a proud patron of. Such initiatives offer a variety of free high-quality tech training and the opportunity to up skill in several areas in a very rapid space of time. I am now knowledgeable of advanced Data Analysis and Data Science techniques, Cloud technologies, Python, SQL, AI & Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP) Sentiment Analysis, and will be shortly refreshing my knowledge of JavaScript, React, HTML and CSS.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

I have always loved tech; it powers everything we do. I realised that if I was going to progress my career in this field, and with technology rapidly evolving like it does, that I would need to upskill and continue to do so. The pandemic, although a very tragic time for many, including myself, offered several ways and the perfect climate in which to do just that. New initiatives were being launched and better publicised. This year while completing the Advanced Data Analyst Bootcamp, I also successfully completed two evening courses with Code First Girls Introduction to Python and Apps, and Introduction to Data and SQL, while working full time.

Prior to this period of learning I had completed an intensive 14-week Python Software Engineering government skills bootcamp with Firebrand training. It is here I developed my love for Python and cloud computing, achieved my Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals, sat taught classes and completed the labs for Microsoft Developer Associate, developed fundamental knowledge in and achieved the uCertify IT specialist certificate of completion in Python. I had initially started my coding journey in the summer of 2021, by learning JavaScript, HTML and CSS but did not stick with it. I did not take to it as swiftly as I have done with Python.

I restarted my levelling up in tech journey with vigour from June just over 6 months ago. I think everyone has their favourite programming language. Python is mine, and it has even helped me to understand other coding languages such as SQL much better, which is why I plan to revisit JavaScript, HTML and CSS shortly, as well as expand my knowledge of Software Engineering and DevOps.

Python is such a versatile and logical coding language, and the prime language used in my passion area of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning. It is used by Software Developers to develop websites, applications, and games, and by Machine Learning Engineers to access Machine-Learning frameworks when working with and developing AI.

I am also finding while building projects that Data Scientists and Engineers employ Python for processing large volumes of data, extracting data from large databases and libraries, and producing some stunning and beautiful data visualisations, such as pair plots, box plots, decision trees, heat maps and more, all of which I have recreated in my projects.

Very recently I have completed the Code First Girl MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and have been building my own Python, AI & ML, Data, Azure and DevOps projects. I have developed a renewed love for data and aspire to develop my career in Data Engineering / Science and DevOps areas, using cloud technologies and AI. With the rise in digital tools and applications, and the data trails these leave, every organisation and eventually every role will be shaped by data insights and analysis to process the abundance of data created. (We are generating approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day!). Data skills will always be invaluable which is why I have chosen to also continue my learning in this field.

To quote The Economist, " The world's most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data."

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

I have faced challenges and stereotypes throughout and in all areas of my life. I think most people, who look like me have. As a Black woman you deal with the everyday challenges that life can throw at you, and then racial and gender biases, micro-aggressions and adversities on top of that.

I feel the key is to seek out work environments and networks that encourage and nurture you. Reach out to people who have succeeded in your area of interest. Community is an extremely important place of mutual nurturing and restoration, keeping you resilient and buoyant during challenging times. Remember why you began your journey in the first place - allow what motivated you, to continue to do so.

I am happy to say that working with my current team is an enjoyable experience. Our organisation now has a variety of supportive networks which I am a part of and actively contribute to, though I think all organisations could always strive to do better, otherwise there would not be the same sustained gender and diversity gaps persisting in virtually every industry today. I hope that in continuing to shine and elevate with confidence, despite challenges, I inspire others to do the same.

"... it's never too late or too anything, step out of your comfort zone, go for it and take up space! Your shinning bright encourages others to do the same."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

I have learnt that when attending a new training course, planning, organisation, and study prep is essential and makes everything far easier! Tech programmes, especially bootcamps are fast paced and intense requiring and thus developing a high degree of resilience and robustness, so self-care is a must.

This is why I love both Pilates and Kettlebell workouts which are great strength training and restoration for both body and mind. In warmer months I have also enjoyed outdoor early morning bootcamps - a great way to charge up your endorphins and connect with other fitness and wellbeing fans from all walks of life.

I now complete preparatory study of the syllabus and create my own planning, productivity and note taking tools using multimedia platforms Notion, and Trello, as chronicled on my LinkedIn. I have also increased my productivity using the 'Pomodoro' technique. Discovering that I am a fast yet visual and practical learner, and therefore benefit from consolidating my learning with YouTube videos, webinars and best of all - by building projects has been a game changer!

Learning anything new is hard and there will be moments that you feel discouraged, but learning is like strength training for the brain. It becomes increasingly easier and second nature to execute, once you build that muscle. The keys are practice, commitment and consistency. I have also learnt that many will be incredibly supportive and encouraging when you reach out or share your journey, and some will not. It's potluck.

Don't let this discourage you, keep going. It is not a reflection on you, maybe they do not have the spare capacity, or it could be a reflection of a society which teaches people to be competitive over levelling up together. Regardless, stay true to yourself and your own values. Treat others with empathy, seek to help and encourage others, and make genuine connections. Lead by example and keep rising.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

Python and Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning! Just look at the way Chat-GPT is taking off, which I first learnt about with Avado Fast Futures, and now it is everywhere! The possibilities of both Python and AI & ML are seemingly limitless, and hopefully will be continue to be used to massively improve all areas of people’s lives and mitigate the damage done to our planet.

I am also now at a point in my journey where I can and have applied to mentor others, and share my knowledge, experience and insights to drive social mobility. I have been recently nominated for awards such as ‘WeAreTheCity’ Rising Stars Award! Which is truly amazing!!! I am looking forward to the public vote opens on 9 May 2023, but mostly just honoured and humbled to be nominated.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

The recent mass layoffs by big tech and the manner in which this has been conducted have been both very daunting and disappointing. Along with the persisting gender and diversity disparities in equity and representation. I believe all people should always be treated with great empathy, care and equity.

What I do love though, is that despite all of this, tech is dynamic and vast. Tech skills are also so transferable, future-proof and resilient, that there are always sectors within tech that are growing and in demand of new talent.

"Remember why you began your journey in the first place - allow what motivated you, to continue to do so."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

I have really enjoyed meeting and forming lasting nurturing friendships with a variety of highly talented, motivated, and entertaining characters in the tech space. I used to think of networking as a dirty word. I never wanted anyone to feel used in an interaction with me. Now I realise that it's all in your intention and that networking should really be just getting to know people and the ways in which you can help each other, even if it's just from drawing motivation from one another’s path.

I have really loved witnessing the extent of my own capabilities and learning more about myself on what has been an incredible journey. I have only been upskilling consistently for just over 6 months and have already learnt and achieved so much. I have built projects using Python, AI & Machine Learning, Decision Trees, OpenCV Image reading, writing and editing, Natural Language Processing (NLP) Sentiment Analysis, SQL, Advanced Excel, PowerPivot, Excel Data Models, Power Query, Tableau and Azure and strengthened several soft skills such as problem solving, resilience, time management, prioritisation, leadership, communication and collaboration.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

The key things I have learnt on this journey are, that it's never too late or too anything, step out of your comfort zone, go for it and take up space! Your shinning bright encourages others to do the same. Build relationships. Secure a great mentor or team of mentors. People who will guide you and help you to navigate the vast world of tech and find your superpower/ niche.

Continuously expand and cultivate a network of mutually supportive and inspiring sponsors, people who will champion you in all the right rooms, signpost you to opportunities and whom you can be continuously inspired by as well as inspire. I am a part of several communities including Code First Girls, Avado Fast Futures, and Firebrand, and continue to join more, making lasting connections.

I also had the honour of being selected for the prestigious Cajigo 100 Women in Tech 2022 mentoring and networking programme, powered by BT, EPAM, Goldman Sachs, AstraZeneca and M&S, which includes one-to-one mentoring, peer mentoring, expert talks and master classes!

You do yourself an injustice when playing small, show up as your whole self and leverage your many strengths. The world is waiting for your unique combination of gifts and the potential you hold within you to be given life. Mostly, enjoy the journey!


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