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Where are they now? Ilana Zimmerman - MDS CL Class of 2020

As part of the first cohort of the UBC Master of Data Science in Computational Linguistics (MDS-CL) program, Ilana Zimmerman looks back in awe of all that was covered during the 10-month program.

“I am currently in a Natural Language Processing role focused on machine learning and more specifically deep learning,” said Zimmerman. “I feel extremely grateful to [the MDS teaching team] for covering both traditional and deep learning approaches to a variety of NLP problems.”

Ilana Zimmerman

She added that the capstone project allowed her to put all the skills she learned to work on a real-world task.

Prior to attending the MDS-CL program, Zimmerman obtained her Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Washington.

Soon after obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Zimmerman landed an internship with the Seattle Department of Transportation in its Traffic Operations Division. 

Eventually, Zimmerman moved to an Office Engineering role where she realized that a lot of her assigned tasks could be automated but didn’t have the skills at the time to do so. 

This led Zimmerman to take a Data Science certificate but knew “I had only skimmed the surface of
knowledge and skills required to work in industry.”

Zimmerman decided to switch gears and pursue a career in data science for the intellectual challenge and problem-solving aspect.

“As a Data Scientist I can work in any industry of my choosing and I most definitely will never get bored,” she added.

After researching several graduate data science programs, Zimmerman learned about the UBC MDS program from a friend who knew others that went through the program and loved it.

“The curriculum, location, staff, and the fact that it is a 1-year Master’s made the UBC MDS program my top choice,” Zimmerman explained.

After program’s completion, Zimmerman landed a position as an NLP/Deep Learning Engineer with ALEX -Alternative Experts, a small IT organization based out of Washington DC that consults for the US government. 

Zimmerman works on a team that specializes in natural language processing solutions.

Some of Zimmerman tasks include extracting and structuring text from various sources
including websites, Word Documents, or PDFs.

Other day-to-day tasks include Zimmerman occasionally giving presentations to clients to demonstrate our tools or findings.

One thing she likes best about her role is being encouraged to research and design approaches to new tasks as she sees fit 

Zimmerman added that the MDS-CL program did prepare her well for her new role in data science.

“The MDS program did an amazing job at teaching people from various backgrounds to be industry ready,” she said. “The early Python/R wrangling and data structures classes as well as the statistics and data visualization courses were not only great foundational skills to learn but are also necessary tools I use in my current position.”

One year after graduating, Zimmerman still can’t believe she got a role with Deep Learning Engineer in the title straight after the MDS-CL program. “I feel lucky to be working in my current role because I am actually using so many of the MDS skills I learned in the program, and then some!” 

Jobs tips for MDS students about to graduate:

•    The MDS alumni Slack has an active jobs channel where oftentimes it is an MDS alumni or staff posting the job on behalf of their company or someone they know. Having a connection with someone at the company is helpful.
•    Attend conferences like the Women in Data Science) or Meetups (even remote ones). 
•    Think of out-of-the-box ways to get your resume into a human’s hands. “I recently went rock climbing and met someone who works for a data science company based out of Vancouver. We started chatting and he said I should consider applying for a position they have open.

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