Meghan White: From academic to determined data engineer

Meghan White

Saffron Wildbore

~ 4min read

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~ 4min read

After achieving a masters degree in math, with a focus on mathematical physics, Meghan was unsure what she wanted to do in her career. 

With a father who's a physicist she explored a career in academia, but struggled to find her place. This led to her decision to become a Data Engineer at a global investment bank. For International Women’s Day, we spoke to Meghan about her journey into tech and the advice she’d give to other women following her footsteps.

> From academia to data

Meghan had a little programming experience, but she had many friends who were already working in the data world. After being encouraged by her friends, Meghan joined the Wiley Edge graduate program and began working as a data engineer, using her extensive academic knowledge to help herself excel in the workplace.

“I’d taken one course in my undergrad where I’d learned Java. I found it quite natural to go from math to programming, because it’s really not so different in terms of the analytical skills you’re using. 

You’re finding ways to define useful objects and using them in a step-by-step, logical manner to get you to some endpoint. At the same time, it really helps to think about things in a creative and non-linear way. Something I really like about programming is that it's not too different from writing a mathematical proof. At the end you can run it and you can actually see things come up on the console, giving you much more immediate feedback.”

> Excelling at work with her many skills

Meghan’s job is essential, it’s a role where she is looking after data that is fundamental to the business. “I work on a team that maintains a database. What I do day-to-day is collecting and transforming data. We have all these sources of data and it’s our job to transform it into standard tables so we can load it into the database. I use a lot of SQL, the standard language for querying databases. 

A lot of the time it’s figuring out how to write a query, or ask a very structured question in order to produce a table that would be the answer. It’s a lot of visualizing data.” 

Meghan believes that with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) it’s important to be able to visualize the data, something that machines can’t do. “There’s a real need for people who are creative, analytical and imaginative.” 

Despite only being in her role for a short time, Meghan is already achieving great things. When asked what her greatest achievement so far was, Meghan said “One thing I found really satisfying. When I was being onboarded I was given jobs to get me started. I was given a task to work out why a specific field wasn’t populating and no one really had any ideas. I was able to do some detective work with the code and figure out what it was and make a case for it. 

It was satisfying because no one else had any solutions. It made me really enthusiastic about my abilities.”

> Great plans for the future

“I'm working in this data engineering role for now, but the plan is eventually for me to join a team that's doing more analytics. They're using machine learning models and there's even somebody who's pushing to use more like quantum machine learning. I am really excited to eventually go work in that area. I'm really happy that I've been getting this experience with data. 

I think it's super important to actually understand where the data is coming from. Ultimately I'm really excited to use my math background even more heavily to go and work on these machine learning models and see what kind of analytics we can come up with because I think that also will be a really wonderful use of my analytical skills and creativity.”

> Working in tech as a woman

There’s been a gender imbalance in the world of tech for a while, but things are vastly changing with companies encouraging women to join the workforce. Meghan said, “The gender imbalance has definitely been a thing throughout my university career and now in the workforce, so I’m used to it. 

Despite this, I think I’ve always just decided to be myself. I tried not to worry too much, develop relationships with my peers, be brave and push through it. I do have generalized anxiety disorder and I can find it quite intimidating to be working with all these smart people. Especially interacting with my supervisors, who are mainly men. 

I realized that I have to just move forward anyway, put myself out there and talk to people.”

> Taking inspiration from her female colleagues

“Since I’ve started working there is one female colleague that I really value. She’s someone who comes from a software engineering background and has been on the team a couple of years already. 

I really felt like she wanted to see me acclimate well and was always there for me to help me integrate into the team and and always there to talk about the work that we're doing with the team members, the team dynamics and also just the technical aspects of the project. And so she's been really amazing and I'm really grateful for her. I feel like she's just been a really great ally for me and has really inspired me to feel like I have a place in the software world.”

> Advice for others and embracing equity in life

“My advice for other women would be to follow your interests. Trust that there’s a place for you, that’s what I did. It’s a big, scary world but if you really focus on your interests there’s a niche out there for you and you’ll succeed.”

With the theme for International Women’s Day this year being ‘embrace equity’, we asked Meghan what this phrase means to her. “Equality is different to equity. Equity doesn’t mean that everyone gets treated the same way, or has the same needs. Equity is finding a way to really accommodate everyone. 

We all have different needs, different abilities. We need to treat everyone as individuals, I think that’s the only way to create that fairness and inclusiveness.” 

Saffron Wildbore is a Senior Marketing Executive at mthree. She has worked in marketing, specialising in creating content for over 4 years. Saffron focuses on writing tips for graduates, Alumni interviews and more!


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