“It’s Never Too Late to Pivot”: How Boot Camp Catapulted Caitlin Soane from Medical Student to Data Analyst at United Airlines

Recent college grad Caitlin (Cate) Soane was at a loss. Her life thus far had put her on track for a career in medicine. But mid-way through her senior year, she realized she was pursuing this path for the wrong reasons. She had a B.S. in psychology and no idea what to do with it.

Then a friend pointed her towards coding, an Caitlin (Cate) Soane was at a lossd she found the Northwestern Data Science Boot Camp. It was the perfect fit between her psychology degree and the technical skills she wanted to hone. The 24-week, part-time boot camp powered by Trilogy Education helped introduce her to the world of data science, develop the necessary skills, and create a network of professionals to aid in her career.

Here’s what Cate learned from her boot camp experience and how’s she’s using (and improving) her skills every day.

Why did you enroll in a data science boot camp?

In May 2017, I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.S. in psychology. I was on track to go to medical school (in fact, my whole life prepared me for this), but during my senior year, I realized I didn’t want to go down that path. So once I graduated, I felt lost.

A friend mentioned I should look into coding, so I started doing research and I came across the Northwestern Data Science Boot Camp.

What intrigued me most was that it was a perfect combination of my background in psych (doing research, using statistics, finding patterns and correlations), and getting my hands dirty with technical skills. But obviously, I lacked technical skills. With the structure and the curriculum, the boot camp program was the perfect fit.

What were some of the biggest challenges of the course?

It was really difficult to learn how to think like a computer: taking a complex problem and breaking it down into simple actionable steps that a computer can understand. Once I broke down the problem into pseudo code, it was a lot easier to tackle each step and figure out the syntax and functions needed to complete each task. This wasn’t something that came naturally at first, but once it clicked, programming got a lot easier.

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from the boot camp?

It’s never too late to pivot. Ever since elementary school, I had been on track to go to medical school, but I never questioned it. I never thought about if it was something I wanted to do or if it was something my parents were guiding me towards.

So everything I did up until senior year was for med school. I took pre-med classes, I worked as an EMT, I was an undergraduate research assistant, and I had an internship at the hospital in Oxford, England with the head of neurosurgery.

But I realized I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I looked around at my other classmates and didn’t have the same passion as my peers. So I made a change with the boot camp. The course taught me that it’s never too late to learn new skills or change your path.

How did you land your job, and how are you using the boot camp skills to excel in your day-to-day?

I work as an Audit Data Analyst at United Airlines. Before the boot camp even started, I was interested in working at the airline. Networking was the key. One of my boot camp classmates helped get me in the door and land interviews. The position is really perfect for me because it combines my passion for data and travel.

As an Audit Data Analyst, I’m using technical skills I learned from the boot camp—from Excel to machine learning and everything in between. I’ll help automate audit processes, query databases, and lead machine learning projects. I’m very excited to be able to use all the skills I learned and honed in class and apply them and perfect them in the real world.

And you’re also a boot camp TA! Why did you want to get involved?

I thought it would be a great way to give back to the students. I was just in their shoes and I know how challenging and time consuming the program can be. I didn’t have any prior programming experience and it was really intimidating. Being someone who made it through and found success after the boot camp, I feel I can give students hope and motivation. You don’t need to have a technical background to be successful during the program or after completion.

And on top of giving back, it’s also an opportunity for me to continue building on my knowledge of data science!

And what’s the biggest piece of advice you give students that you TA?

Utilize your classmates. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. No one knows everything, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and help others in return—and that goes beyond the class. Google is seriously your best friend.

As a programmer, you’re not expected to have everything memorized or know everything—especially since programming is constantly evolving. Knowing how to search for something is a very helpful tool to have. There are plenty of resources within and outside of the boot camp. I tell my students to use them as much as possible. That’s what we’re here for!

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