The only woman in a team of 6 data scientists

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hannah Oosterhuis is data scientist at Axians. She works as a consultant, solving her clients’ specific problems by using their data to create models to predict the future.

What did you study?

I wanted to become a neuropsychologist. But during my psychology studies, I discovered that working in a clinic or hospital did not appeal to me. As a result, I started to focus my studies on methodology and statistics, and I even did a Ph.D. in this field, because it sounded like a great offer. But after four years I got tired of working at a university and I started to wonder which job in the business world would fit my strange collection of skills and knowledge.

And how did you end up becoming a data scientist?

I knew I was good with statistics. I love how statistics are concrete and less vague than psychology. A friend of mine was running a data start-up and a partnering company was looking for people who would want to switch to data science. I got enthusiastic, told them I was willing to learn everything I could about this field and got the job.

Here I learned a lot about data science. But switching to Axians was a great opportunity for me, because the company gives me the chance to work for interesting clients as part of a diverse team.   

What do you like about working with data?

What I like about data science is that it is such a new field, which is constantly developing and improving. There is no standard answer, so I am always searching for new solutions for every single client. When I receive data, I like to pull it apart and analyse it. Then, I think about what we can do with this data and I create a model to predict the future. Even though I chose to work in business, I still feel like a scientist.

What is it like, working as a woman in a man’s world?

I am the only woman in a team with 6 data scientists. I don’t mind. But as a woman, working in this field, you have to work harder to prove yourself. My clients are usually surprised when I show up, because they have certain expectations about data scientists. But there are also advantages for women, such as having the chance to be a binding factor in the team. Male data scientists can quickly become pragmatic; they interact differently when a woman is part of their team.

What are the opportunities for young girls wanting to pursue a similar career?

In the past, tons of programmers were needed for pure technical work. Now, companies are looking for employees that not only know about technique, but someone who is also social and able to collaborate with clients.

I believe women are better in dealing with social situations. So my advice for girls who don’t want to get lost in technique but do want to pursue a career in digital technology, is to find a role that combines technique with soft skills. And my last advice? Make silly jokes and you can wrap the guys in your team around your little finger!