Being a Data Science Intern at FreeAgent: The first month

Posted by on July 10, 2019

As the end of my second year at university was approaching I knew I needed to get some real-world experience to help me get a clearer vision of what career path I want to follow in the future. The best way of achieving this was getting a summer internship. After reading some blog posts of past Interns at FreeAgent (who knew I would be writing one myself a few months later!), the company stood out to me among the plethora of opportunities on offer (which Edinburgh has a lot of with its thriving tech scene). So, without hesitation I submitted my CV, put together a short cover letter and applied. The application process was very straightforward. All it took was solving a short practical problem and then having a video interview with Dave and Owen.

Working at FreeAgent

I was part of the largest ever batch of new joiners to join the company. 13 new people joined the company on that day! I was impressed with the friendly and laid-back atmosphere at FreeAgent, which immediately made me feel welcome and part of the company. After attending some inductions in the morning, I went upstairs to my desk and met the team I would be spending the summer with and was shown around FreeAgent’s stunning office which boasts magnificent views of the castle and Edinburgh’s city centre. Most importantly, Dave made sure I knew where the biscuit cupboard is!

FreeAgent’s office is located right next to the Union Canal

Getting Analytical

The first few days were spent getting familiar with all the different tools used by FreeAgent and the analytics team. A working day at the analytics team starts with a stand-up meeting – a brief gathering of the team where the plan for the day is set. The meetings are informal but productive and everyone shows genuine interest to your opinions, even as an intern. This is not your typical internship where you just spend your day completing mundane tasks and working on unimportant projects that everyone will forget shortly after their completion. The projects Lea (the other Data Science Intern) and I have been assigned are projects that will have a real impact in the company. I was surprised by how many people across the company were genuinely interested in the outcomes of our projects and by how much feedback they provided.

Predicting Subscriptions

My project is to setup machine learning to calculate the probability of subscription of a customer after the end of the 30-day free trial. Before starting the project I met with various stakeholders to get a clear idea of what they saw as a successful project outcome. The comms team run a range of different advertising campaigns (for example through Google Ads). Currently the ways they can assess the performance of a campaign are either through the number of sign-ups (however, not all sign-ups will lead to subscriptions) or wait 45 days to measure the number of companies which subscribed.

I’m using data from the first 3 days of the free trial to train a machine learning model to calculate the probability of subscription, which will then be used to estimate the conversion rate yielded by a certain advertising campaign – it will help us better understand our customers.

Among the different parameters that influence the probability of subscription there were two that stood out:

  • The greater the range of features a customer interacts with during the first 3 days, the greater the probability of subscription. This shows that customers who explore the FreeAgent application more, can see more of its benefits which increases the likelihood they will convert to paid subscribers. 
  • Customers who have any interaction with the support team are significantly more likely to subscribe compared to those who don’t, which shows the positive impact of providing good support to customers. The support team are the face (or maybe, the sound) of FreeAgent.

In the coming weeks I will work on building a pipeline to automate the training – predicting process. I will also experiment with Unsupervised Learning algorithms for customer segmentation. The results of the segmentation can then be used as predictor variables in the subscription prediction model.

FreeAgent holds weekly Town Halls where people from across the company enthusiastically present in front of everyone what they are working on. There are also weekly Engineering Forums which are similar to the Town Halls but are more focused on the technical side of things. By the end of my 3rd week I had already presented the work I had done in both the Town Hall and the Engineering Forum. It was a great experience to show people what I had been up to early on, answer questions and receive feedback.

Settling in for summer: my data science internship

Posted by on July 3, 2019

The application process

After having the fantastic and inevitable university-student-in-their-penultimate-year realisation that I’m almost one year away from graduation and do not feel adequately prepared, I decided that an internship could be a great way to up my experience and knowledge before my final year. Data science, specifically, is what I was looking for as I’m interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and I thought a data science internship could be the best way to see the application of data and algorithms in day-to-day work. I came across FreeAgent’s internship position online and from reading about the previous intern’s projects in their blogs, it seemed perfect. The job description was enticing – I was intrigued, so I applied.

A couple of months later and a few stages down the process I had my interview with Dave and Owen – two members of the data science team. Speaking to them was really interesting and felt very natural – not like stressful interviews I’ve had in the past, and if I wasn’t sure about the internship before, I was definitely sold on it after speaking to them (and that’s not just because of the weekly bagels). One week later I got a call from Dave (the team lead) and I was thrilled to find out that I’d got the internship.

Settling in

I really didn’t know what to expect from my first day at FreeAgent! I started with 12 other people in my induction (the company’s biggest start day to date), got a few fun freebies and an interesting introduction into how things work at FreeAgent by the People Operations team. I was amazed by the friendly vibe of the company and was excited to spend my summer working here. After a very sociable lunch with the other new starts, I was taken up to my desk (which has a stunning view of Edinburgh, pictured above!) with the other data science intern, Dimitris, and then my internship began. The first week mostly consisted of getting to grips with everything and learning about how the company and my team worked. 

My project

The preconception of internships that I had in my head consisted of the interns being dished out an irrelevant project to work on that has absolutely no impact on the company (as well as making the occasional coffee). That is not how things go down at FreeAgent. Much to my surprise and delight, we were given projects relevant to what is happening in the company now. My project is focused on gaining insights into the accountancy practices who use FreeAgent, continuing one of the previous intern’s projects from last summer. As it is an important company goal at the moment to improve FreeAgent’s relationship with practices, my project gained a lot of interest. In my first couple of weeks, I had multiple meetings with different stakeholders from different departments. It was a great opportunity to meet lots of different people and learn more about the different teams and their needs. I even got to meet an accountant from one of the accountancy practices, and tell them about my project and get their thoughts on my work.

Currently, I am one month into the internship and I have created some dashboards showing insights into our practices using our business intelligence tool – Looker. I am in the process of getting feedback from the different departments that I spoke with at the beginning of my internship on the visualisations that I have created, so that I can continue to improve them. The feedback so far has been very positive which is really empowering and it’s incredibly exciting to think that the things I have done over the course of my internship will actually be used by people within the company.  It is a big confidence boost to hear that people are excited about my work. I hope that my dashboards will be able to help the teams who work closely with FreeAgent’s accountancy practices.

The social side

If you’ve read any blog posts by other FreeAgent interns, then you will have already read about ‘town halls’, a weekly meet-up for the entire company at 4pm on Friday, where different people throughout the company give talks on what they’ve been up to.  I got the opportunity to give my own town hall talk in my second week to introduce myself and my project. Was it daunting to get up and talk in front of the entire company in my second week? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely. The reception from everyone was so welcoming when I gave my talk, people even came up to me afterwards to tell me they enjoyed it and that they were excited to see where the project goes. I am planning to give another talk at the end of my internship to present some (hopefully!) interesting results to everyone.

Everyone here at FreeAgent is so welcoming. Even in the morning while I wait by the coffee machine for my first daily dose of caffeine, someone who I’ve not yet spoken to, who’s in a different department on the other side of the building will happily strike up a friendly conversation with me. On top of this, there have been no situations where I don’t feel comfortable sitting down at a random table at lunch and joining in with the lunchtime chat.

What’s next?

I can’t believe that I’m going into my fifth week already, it really has flown by! I’m approaching the second stage of my project now which involves building unsupervised machine learning models that create behavioural segments to be used as predictor variables. In other words, I will be looking closely at the behaviour of accountancy practice clients and trying to cluster similar behaviours together to predict behaviours of future accountancy practice clients with the same attributes. I am looking forward to seeing where this project goes, and will no doubt be back here to talk about my results in a month or two, so if you love accountancy insights – be sure to watch this space!