MDS Spotlight: Meet Nathan Smith, MDS Okanagan, Class of 2021

As a senior water resources engineer, Nathan Smith has been working with data his entire career.

Prior to joining UBCO’s Master of Data Science program, Smith plied his trade at an engineering consulting firm, first collecting stream flow data in the BC Coastal Mountains before moving onto data analysis and modelling, along with managing data collection programs. 

Nathan Smith MDS Okanagan

“I started using interactive data analysis tools and machine learning to support my work,” Smith said. “Much of the data science aspects that I had been incorporating in my work were learned during evenings and weekends. I felt that I wasn’t going to get where I wanted to be without diving into a program. I had been considering a Master’s degree for a few years and the MDS program seemed like a great fit.”

So after over 10 years working as a water resources engineer, Smith, who graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Civil Engineering from UBC Vancouver, decided it was time to explore data science programs that would provide him with the skills and knowledge he desired.

After investigating his options, Smith narrowed his choices down to three programs, even being accepted into UBC Vancouver’s Master of Data Science (MDS) program. But Smith ultimately chose the Okanagan program.

“I decided the MDS Okanagan program was a better fit,” Smith explained. “I live in Squamish and have a young family, so the commute to the Vancouver campus wouldn’t have worked. We ended up staying in Squamish for the majority of the program but the pre-COVID plan was to stay with family in the Okanagan located close to the campus. Additionally, one of the strengths of the MDS Okanagan program is the smaller cohort size, which was also a draw.”

To help prepare for the MDS-O program, Smith brushed up on calculus and linear algebra. Smith also took a course in Python and began using Python in addition to R at work to become more comfortable using the technology.

Now that the program has come to an end, Smith was quick to point out the benefits of being engrossed in the 10-month, intensive full-time program.

“The program was able to quickly get me to a point that would have taken much longer working away on my own time. It provided a stronger understanding in areas I was already familiar with and also exposed me to new concepts,” Smith said. “There will always be new tools to learn but having the solid understanding of data science fundamentals is important.”

And Smith doesn’t just think the program was right for him, he highly recommends the MDS-O program to anyone who asks.

“The MDS provides a good grounding in data science but it is also an intensive program. If the program aligns with what you are looking for and you are able to commit to it, I think it is a great choice.”

Nathan’s Top 3 Tips on Succeeding in the MDS-O Program:

  1. Prepare for the program ahead of time.
  2. Stay on top of assignments early in each block.
  3. Get comfortable reading documentation and using resources outside of the provided class materials in order to solve problems. 

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