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!

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