Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in Saratov (Russia) and I am living in Belgium since +5 years already. I started with getting a bachelor (specialist) degree in Saratov, followed by a masters degree in Bergen (Norway). During my masters I specialised in numerical modeling of fluids in porous media. In 2016 I came to Belgium to get a PhD in civil engineering and applied mathematics. The topic of my PhD is "Accelerated carbonation in cracked cement pastes". However, I am still in the progress with my thesis and planning to finalize it very soon.
What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?
I work as a Data Scientist at OTA Insight - which is my first job after my PhD - where I work together with Joanna. It has already been 1 year since I started working there and as I mentioned above, I found the job listed on the women.code(be) member platform :-)
Last year was difficult because of Covid, my first months were remote and it was hard to get to know new people because of that. But I managed to survive :) We still work from home most of the time. The benefit of it is that I can start working in 30 minutes after I wake up, and still have some extra time for my morning coffee. We always start our day with daily stand-ups and then move on to different tasks.
What are you working on?
The tasks often vary. It can be analyzing a new dataset (data exploration, statistical analysis) together with preparing data, making visualizations, writing reports. Or developing product-related features that require additional data processing. I really love that I can use mathematics and programming, so the time at university was well-spent.
Your job as a Data Scientist is probably very different from the work you would do as a civil engineer. Was this something that came natural or did you set out for a completely different occupation?
My PhD in civil engineering combined 3 things: experimental work, analysis of the experimental results and mathematical modeling of the chemical reactions and transport inside the cementitious material.
Indeed, now I don't have anything to do with experimental work and reactive transport modeling but the 2nd component has much in common with a Data Science job. First of all, analyzing the experimental results requires skills in data cleaning and exploration. Second, statistical analysis and data modeling are used to derive conclusions. Basically I learned the basic data science principles during my PhD thanks to SCK-CEN Academy and KU Leuven and this is also how I discovered that I love working with data.
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
Yeah, there are pretty many things that I like to do depending on my mood. I like to go hiking and biking when the weather allows it. Last year didn't seem to have many sunny days, so I really hope 2022 will be better. During winter I prefer to stay home reading while listening to indie groups, knitting, painting and cooking. I must say I have improved my cooking skills a lot since I got married :D Also, when I just came to Belgium I lived with students from many other countries and I was really inspired by all the local dishes they cooked.
What's your favourite dish so far?
When I came to Belgium I discovered the taste of witloof (chicory or endives in english) which I found so unique. I never knew any dishes made with it before and now I enjoy eating creamy endives with bacon from time to time.
I even bought a cookbook called "The Taste of Belgium" that contains 250 (!) recipes of Belgian cuisine. Since all ingredients are available in almost every supermarket, I can explore more local dishes. But I mostly cook simple food or something I used to eat since I was a child.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
I have always loved mathematics, technology and natural sciences. And nowadays you simply can't do any research without coding. I assume that 90% of students who study math and physics become software engineers or work close to this field in the end, but each of their paths is unique.
When did you first learn how to code and what did you learn?
C++ was my first programming language at university. Then I used Matlab a lot for my bachelor and master's thesis. During my PhD I learned Python and R. (I don't count Pascal that was teached to us at school because I can't really say that I learned it consciously that time).
"Say yes to all opportunities, stop doing things that do not inspire and continue searching for what is yours. And enjoy every moment of life"
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
Say yes to all opportunities, stop doing things that do not inspire and continue searching for what is yours. And enjoy every moment of life :D
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
I was looking for new friends and soulmates when I found the community through Meetup and was very curious to join. Also, once I was talking to a friend who was complaining that there are only a few women in the IT company where she works. Then later, I noticed that this is a common situation throughout other companies in Belgium as well. Interestingly, there are much more women in tech in Russia and Eastern Europe than here and I don't really know how to explain that. So it is good to have a community where you can meet people with similar jobs and interests.
What could be the reason behind the difference of gender balance in tech in Belgium and other places you've lived?
Most people in Belgium seem to blame the way most parents bring up their kids (gender based from the start), how the school system works and our culture in general. Passing on outdated mindsets from generation to generation.
I think it comes mostly from university, not really sure about schools. The faculty where I studied was called "Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty" and girls represented half of the students. For some reason many girls preferred to study Mathematics (even in the past this has always been the case as I heard from our professors), while more boys preferred studying Physics and Mechanics. Meanwhile programming became another essential subject, so we had to learn it anyway during our studies.
The last 20 years the tech market has been growing fast, many companies invited students to do internships and it was relatively easy to get into tech. In addition, there were economical reasons as well. In Russia salaries in tech usually were and are probably still higher than the average salaries of the most common professions. It is sad to admit that, for example, teachers or doctors are paid much less than software engineers. So in my opinion, this economical factor has a very big effect there.
So, how exactly did you find a job via our community?
I saw the job description on the women.code(be) member space, in the "job-board" channel. The description matched my personal requirements from the job and I just reached out directly. She replied almost immediately and we had a call in discord. After that I had a talk with HR, followed by receiving a task to evaluate my knowledge and skills before the technical interview. And before I knew, I was hired.
Anna is also one of our guest bloggers, check out her tutorial on How to make a blog with R blogdown and GitHub Pages.
We hope you enjoyed Anna Varzina's story, feel free to share this article with your network. ❤️