Cold calls, side projects and a lot of ambition – That's how USAA employee, Mounica U. carved her own path to break into a career field she fell in love with.
“I always enjoyed STEM while I was growing up," recalls Mounica, data scientist. “I was very lucky to have great teachers who made it a fun experience for everyone, but, even with that, I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue a STEM field when I went to college."
It wasn't until Mounica took a networking class as a sophomore in college that her interest in STEM was solidified.
“I learned about the hardware behind computers and how the internet works – that's what opened my eyes to how cool computers are and how much we take them for granted," says Mounica. “From there, I took more and more classes until I realized I was passionate about data analytics and data science specifically. Just the idea that you can teach computers to find patterns that people can't is interesting to me."
Her interest in this field continued to grow, even after she began her first job at USAA as a software developer – a role unrelated to data science. Although she enjoyed the work she was doing, she knew it wasn't the career she wanted to be in.
“I went back to school and used Educational Assistance to get my master's in data science," says Mounica. “That taught me a lot of the skills I needed for my current position and gave me the minimum requirements I needed in terms of knowledge to become a data scientist."
In addition to pursuing her master's degree, she talked to her manager about wanting to get into the data science field.
“I explained to them the skills I needed to gain and asked what I could do to get that type of career development," says Mounica. “They put me on a project where I started learning the skills I use now as a data scientist. I'm thankful for how they helped me get started in that career – they found a space for me and helped me transition."
Mounica says she's had many mentors throughout her career be her advocate, and now she's a mentor for others – both employees who have recently transitioned into data science and those who would like to break in.
“Along the way there were people who helped me – they knew my goals and helped me achieve them," says Mounica. “They were willing to advocate for me. When I applied to be a data scientist, I only had an academic view of what that meant, but my current team took a chance on me and let me prove that this was something I'm good at."
Recently, Mounica was featured as one of IPSoft's Women in AI (Artificial Intelligence). Mounica says mentoring the younger generation is important so they know that STEM-related fields are an option, especially young women, since data science is a male-dominated field.
“I definitely remember being only one of two girls in a STEM class," says Mounica. “Women have made a lot of strides as far as representation in STEM."
Her biggest piece of advice for anyone interested in career advancement or switching fields is to be your own advocate and be driven.
“Advocate for yourself, tell people what you want to achieve and share with them the steps you want to take to reach your goal," says Mounica. “When I was trying to make the transition, I cold called data scientists to learn about their job and get my name out there. Find things you can do to show that you are capable of whatever job you want. Be driven and be an advocate for yourself."