Meet Tessa Ickx, Data Scientist

Tessa Ickx

Name: Tessa Ickx
Title: Data Scientist
Education: Master of Science in Information Engineering Technology

Book(s): Women in Tech - Laurence Jacobs
Tv show(s): Atypical

Personal fun fact: I have a **really** big collection of Tic Tac boxes

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Hello, I’m Tessa and I was born and raised in Belgium. Ever since I was a small child, I was glued to electronic devices. At 16 years old, I began to teach myself how to code in Python. Over the years, I experimented with electronics like Arduinos and participated in various IT related contests. I studied information engineering technology at Ghent university, after which I started working as a Data Scientist in 2022.

What is your job and what does a typical day look like for you?

Tessa all dressed up, at an event for the European Leadership Academy

I work as a Data Scientist at Cegeka, so I am a programmer surrounded by data. You can often find me programming in Python to clean data, process it, build insights, and build various solutions. However, I do have multiple projects so my job tasks can vary a lot from day to day. I have about one or two meetings a day to discuss current projects with colleagues. Occasionally, I get the opportunity to do knowledge sharing, both internally and externally. I have given demonstrations at both live events and webinars.

Usually, I work two days at the office in Ghent and three days remotely. I am the kind of person to roll out of bed a few minutes before my workday when working remotely. Often I start working around 8:30 and end my workday around 17:30, with small breaks in between.

What kind of project(s) are you currently working on?

Currently I am focusing on the development of various chatbots that make use of specific company data. The chatbots are very ChatGPT-like, but they do have knowledge of internal data that ChatGPT doesn't have. There is a lot of data engineering involved too, since it rarely happens that companies can deliver clean data that is ready to use immediately. Overall, these are fun projects that leverage the powers of current LLM models such as GPT-4.
More information about these type of chatbots can be found in a blogpost I recently wrote or in the webinar my colleagues and I recently gave.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

I don’t give myself a lot of time to pursue any hobbies. On Saturdays, I teach children aged 8 to 15 how to code at CodeFever. I teach different coding languages, such as Scratch, JavaScript and Python. I have been engaged in teaching STEM subjects to children since I was 18. I started out volunteering at Coderdojo, then had a student job at a local Fablab and now I am a teacher at CodeFever.

Occasionally, I work on personal projects. One of them was an educational game that teaches children about logic gates. This game can be played on the web, but I also made an unplugged version to test out during a summer camp. You can see me demonstrating it in the picture below.

When I do find some free time after working hours, I love to go for a walk, ride my longboard or go skateboarding. But more often than not, I will be glued to my computer once again to play video games.

Tessa teaching logic gates to children
Lego analogy of data

How would you explain what the field of data science is, to an 8-year-old ?

I like to relate data to Lego. You can have a whole bunch of data (Lego blocks) in different shapes and sizes. We try things out with them and try to filter out the ones we need. But most importantly, we use these pieces to build things that help companies and people do really cool and useful stuff.

I really like this picture that illustrates it:

From your experience teaching STEM to children, what is one effective method for generating interest in the subject that parents, siblings, or relatives can employ with their own young learners ?

Based on my experience in STEM education, there isn’t just one single method that works best. I believe it is more like a combination of things. One thing people sometimes forget is to make learning really enjoyable. To do this, it is important to relate the subject to things in the child’s everyday life, like current games or trends.

Another aspect of making learning fun is making sure that the children can discover things on their own and letting them take pride in what they created. The sparkle in their eyes when they can proudly say “I made this!” is what keeps them engaged in that subject. So to generate interest in the subject, relate it to current interests and let them be creators in that subject.

You mentioned creating an educational game about logic gates. What is, in your opinion, the impact of gamification in education and how do you see it influencing the future of STEM learning ?

As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, it is very important to keep learning fun and enjoyable. Educational games are a great way to achieve this. Gamification has proven to be beneficial for both the learning outcomes and the motivation levels. I believe we could see more things become “gamified”, so also in STEM learning, in the coming years.

What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?

I got into coding and tech because as a child I have always been fascinated by electronic gadgets and computers. I was very fortunate to have my own PC and have unlimited screen time for as long as I could remember. Unavoidably, I once downloaded a virus and because I didn’t want to tell my parents, I turned into my own tech support.

I discovered the Belgian Olympiad in informatics at 16. This sparked my interest, and I went on a discovery. I found out about Coderdojo and started attending, while simultaneously teaching myself Python through an online website. I discovered Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and 3D-printing before I turned 18. My university education further solidified my path into the tech industry.

Tessa and her sister glued to the computer

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

If I’m honest, it still feels like I am just starting out, and I am very happy with my path so far. Some advice I always give to my pupils and colleagues who are just starting, is to seek help without hesitation. By asking questions and looking for assistance, you can learn more and move faster. Everyone is stuck on something once in a while, but letting others support you is the key to moving forward.

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

While I unfortunately didn’t have specific women in tech role models during my teenage years, I am continuously getting inspired by the many women in tech breaking barriers today. I’m always looking forward to the ICT Woman and lady of the year prizes by Datanews to see even more inspiring stories appear in the media. This year I am participating in the young potential boostcamp, where I also have met so many inspiring women.

This picture was taken at the Summer School for Female Leadership in the Digital Age. Here Tessa was working on a group project, and she could connect with a lot of bright and like-minded young women.

Your journey involved both self-study and formal education. How do you believe these two aspects of your learning path complemented each other and contributed to shaping your profile ?

I started to self-study mainly because I did not know where else I could be educated in technology at 16 years old. In high school we had very limited tech-related classes, so during the lunch break I went to the computer room to teach myself how to code in Python, and I explored electronics at home too. This self-study gave me a great advantage when I later pursued my engineering studies.

After my formal education, my learning approach has now shifted towards learning from practical experience, often through projects. After working for over a year now and having done multiple side projects, I believe that the most effective way to learn is with some hand-on practice too.

What made you join the women.code(be) community?

I joined the community to connect with like-minded individuals and participate in great events. It’s also important for me to find new role models in tech and to get inspired by them.

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

I believe it all starts from a very young age. I think it is so important to introduce kids to STEM subjects early, while showing them it is for everyone. This year I have 40 pupils in my coding classes, of which only two are girls. We should make more efforts to introduce those pupils to tech in school, where all girls are still on board. And while doing that, we should make sure we create a wider variety of tech role models.

We hope you enjoyed Tessa Ickx's story, feel free to share this article with your network. ❤️

You can find Tessa on instagram and LinkedIn.

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