My regular job is as a PhD student specialising in veterinary biology but this summer I have an amazing opportunity to be a data science intern at FreeAgent. If you are wondering why a biologist came to work at an accountancy software company, this is because of the particular branch of biology that I study: ‘epidemiology’. An epidemiologist typically uses data to understand ‘the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events’1 and the statistical techniques that they use are often also used by data scientists. For example, at university I use data about dogs to predict their health and at FreeAgent I will be using data about customers to predict their success with the software. Despite these similarities, I am still going to have so much to learn and when I arrived at FreeAgent I was really excited to get stuck into my new role.
Inductions and introductions
After a quick chat with Dr. Dave Evans (FreeAgent Analytics Team Lead – hereafter referred to as ‘Dave’), I was greeted by the other members of the data science team: David (a permanent member) and Hannah (another data science intern). I was delighted to find my very own FreeAgent branded hoodie, t-shirt, sweets, pen, notebook and stickers waiting for me. Then, I saw the view from my desk! Edinburgh Castle in the sunshine? What a start!
During the week, I attended various inductions: health and safety, office, sales, people operations, support, communications and about the company. I must admit, I normally find inductions boring but these were no average inductions. I got to meet the head of each department and Ed Molyneux, the CEO and founder of FreeAgent. Everyone presented their roles enthusiastically and it was genuinely interesting, inspiring and helped me understand the company.
Dave took me round and introduced me to everyone and although I am still struggling to remember many names, I’m pretty sure that at least 50% (trust me! I’m a data scientist) of the male employees are called David, which makes it slightly easier. During my travels around the two-floor office I also became familiar with Winston, the animated FreeAgent mascot! As I am guilty of being a crazy cat lady, I was very happy to find I would have a feline friend for the summer (watch out for him in my blog posts).
Food and drink featured as a large part of the week: South African wraps, ciabattas and salads from the many local food havens and various gins, beers and wines after work at the bars nearby. I had my first experience of the data science team’s Wednesday coffee at ‘The Counter’, a canal boat cafe. I don’t really drink coffee but the view itself was enough to float my boat! On Thursday morning, we had bagels and iced coffee on the balcony while we did a ‘stand up’ meeting. Stand up is a short meeting where everyone literally ‘stands up’ and says what they achieved the day before and what their goals are for the current day. It is a concept of the Agile Method which is commonly used in the project management of software development. Finally, I can’t forget the fantastic FreeAgent Friday catered lunch – a selection of gourmet salads did not fail to impress.
When I wasn’t meeting people, eating/drinking or generally being blown away by the company ethos I had time to do some background reading, learn more about my project and learn to use some new software and web tools such as.Google Drive/Docs/Slides/Sheets, Trello, Slack and Amazon Web Services/Redshift/SageMaker. Towards the end of the week, I was able to extract some customer attitudinal data from Redshift and begin data exploration and cleaning: the process of removing errors from data to ensure data quality. My first week mainly involved getting to grips with the software and data and planning what I would be doing in upcoming weeks, which I will share more about in future blog posts.
Town hall talks
My favourite part of the week was without doubt the company-wide ‘town hall’ meeting on Friday afternoon. We grabbed a beer/wine/soft drink from the fridge and listened to presentations from employees in different departments. What struck me most was the great atmosphere: everyone presented their work enthusiastically, listened intently, asked questions respectfully and chatted afterwards as friends. I feel privileged to get the chance to work with such a friendly bunch!
- WHO. 2018. Epidemiology. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/topics/epidemiology/en/. [Accessed 11/07/2018]