How this Immigrant from Africa with No Experience Cracked a Data Scientist position @ IBM
Adeola Adesoba from Nigeria, an immigrant student in the US, faced several challenges — inadequate access to opportunities, lack of role models, not enough jobs in her country and not knowing anyone who would give her a break and help her succeed in the US… Despite it all, she took up the challenge and got an internship as a Data Scientist with IBM. Read on to learn how she did it!
What was your motivation to move to the USA?
My motivation to move to the US was ambition-driven and future-oriented. I came from a humble background in Nigeria where I faced several challenges ranging from inadequate access to opportunities, lack of role models, not having enough jobs in my country, and not knowing anyone who would give me a break and help me succeed.
I have an undergraduate degree in Statistics and always wanted to study abroad for my higher education after working for a few years in my home country, Nigeria. However, in spite of having a degree, it took a full year before I could secure a full-time job. I was lucky to get a job in one year. Most of my colleagues haven’t been able to secure a job since we left the University because if you don’t know someone who knows someone, it’s like a needle passing through a horse’s eye. It was that difficult.
I was determined to make something out of my life and give myself a fair chance to access opportunities that my home country couldn’t provide. The opportunity came at the right time to move as my then-fiance (now husband) had an educational opportunity to come to the US. In order to start our family, we decided to move here.
How did you decide what education/career to pursue as an immigrant?
Deciding on an education/career path requires a lot of reflection, research, personal assessment and also identifying one’s passion, purpose, interest, and goal.
When I arrived here, all the advice I received from people was to go do a degree in Nursing because they said, it would provide me an opportunity to secure a legal residency quickly as well as increase my earning potential. And, I was seriously considering it! Haha. It’s funny when I look back on how much I would have regretted it if I did nursing as I had NO interest nor a passion for that field. Imagine working in a field you have no interest in and that too being in charge of taking care of people who need it the most (better left to your imagination).
As an immigrant, while following the low-hanging fruit and easy way route is important, one should do an assessment of current skills and future career goals and interests and then identify steps on getting there. This may/may not require going back to school full time, this can be done by doing a short program/internship, finding mentors, enrolling in a Bootcamp… the list is endless. The idea is to do an assessment of where you are and where you want to be, then take steps towards it.
What are the top strategies that worked for you to secure an internship?
1. START EARLY
My top strategy was to start early! When I mean early, I mean start doing your research now! Don’t wait until you are at the end of your program before you start. I knew I wanted a career in Data Science. The first thing I did was to research steps to secure a Data Science internship.
Start with industry research and career mapping —
- Which industry/company do you want to work with, and then which roles are you most interested in?
- How do your current skills match the industry you are considering?
- Do you have soft skills or technical skills that are transferable to the new career you want to pivot in?
Quick Hacks— I joined Student groups online and offline. Student groups like RTC (Rewriting the Code), WWCode (Women Who Code), SWE (Society of Women Engineers), and NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) are great places to start.
2. UPSKILL, UPSKILL, UPSKILL
I knew I was lacking Data Science skills so I spent a whole summer learning all I could. You need to take responsibility for your own development. I also sought out opportunities that would challenge me to grow my technical skills and was not afraid to leave my comfort zone. While I waited to get a full-time job in Nigeria, I spent time developing employable skills through volunteering and short-term jobs which were transferable to subsequent positions I applied for in the US.
Because of that — technical + employable skills (soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, communication, etc.), I was able to secure a competitive research position on campus, which helped to strengthen my data science skills. I went on to do two internships later — as a DevOps Engineer with nClouds Inc. and most recently as a Data Scientist with IBM.
Quick Hacks —
- I started by checking online for job opportunities like ‘Data Analyst’, ‘Data Scientist’ and checking for the top skills employers want.
- After identifying those, I started learning the skills like Python, R, and SQL including teaming up with people I met on platforms like WWCode (Women Who Code) to work on projects that could showcase those skills.
- While I waited to get a full-time job in Nigeria, I spent time developing employable skills (communication, team work, coordination, project management, etc.) through volunteering and short-term jobs which were transferable to subsequent positions I applied for in the US.
Skills above bolster your resume to attract recruiters and secure you an interview and eventually an offer. Remember, there is no shortcut to success, it took me 2 years since 2018 to effectively say I am ready and by 2021 I was able to land a Data Science internship as a Graduate Student with IBM.
3. LINKEDIN TO THE RESCUE!
I can’t stress that enough. Reach out to people on LinkedIn who are on the current track you want to be in, ask questions, and don’t be afraid of rejection!
Quick Hacks for LinkedIn visibility —
- On LinkedIn, what helped me the most in terms of visibility is to find those who have shared career goals as well as mutual interests and engage with them either through their posts or comments.
- I also share updates on what I am learning currently, what I hope to learn, and things that help other people learn more about me.
- Cold emails/messaging a recruiter or sending a LinkedIn connection has earned me interviews, referrals, and even job offers especially for internships.
Sometimes, vulnerability is good and it has helped me in several ways like getting referrals, recruiters viewing my profile, and hiring managers reaching out to me. I am not saying put your life on social media but having a great profile picture, summary, and being value-driven can make a major difference.
Another way to use LinkedIn is to cold email/message a recruiter or a LinkedIn connection and doing that has earned me interviews, referrals, and even job offers especially for internships. There will be a lot of rejections and successes. My success rate when cold emailing people was, 7 out of 10 times people responded. This is a good number so it never hurts to try.
Quick Hacks for cold emails/messages —
- Be straight to the point
- Highlight what skill and value you are bringing to the table
- Write a few lines on the research you did on the company/person to show you have an idea of what you are doing
This customized approach depending on the person, role and company is an effective approach compared to automated copy-paste scripts.
4. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Attend Career fairs and student programs where you can network with your peers, industry professionals, and recruiters alike. Some of the referrals, interviews and job offers I received were from reaching out on LinkedIn after attending career fairs and networking events.
Quick Networking Hacks — Career Fairs such as Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), AfroTech, NSBE Conference, SWE Conference, RTC Career Summit, HBCU Connect Platforms, and company-specific recruiting events are a great places for in-person and online networking.
5. MENTORSHIP IS KEY
Find mentors and provide value to them as well. Just as my mentors have helped me with advice, career strategy, referrals, etc., I have also connected them with opportunities, people, and insights. Most times, I was just being curious and interested in their ideas, thoughts, and vision.
Quick Hack — You can stand out by using your LinkedIn profile to engage in conversations of interest by putting your name out there, LISTENING, and telling people what you want to achieve and you will find people reaching out to help you achieve your goals.
What advice would you give your younger self today?
Stop worrying too much! Everything is eventually working out. I am more than my circumstances and I believe in myself and my abilities today more than ever!
This blog post is written by Adeola Adesoba, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Information Science Program with a focus on Data Governance/Data Science. She comes from a humble background in Nigeria where she had to face several challenges ranging from inadequate access to opportunities, lack of role models, not enough jobs in her home country and not knowing anyone in the US who could give her a break and help her succeed.
Despite all those trials as an immigrant from an emerging world, she took up the challenge and gained internship positions first as a DevOps Engineer with nClouds Inc. and then as a Data Scientist with IBM.
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