A Career 360 During Maternity Leave | A Mother’s Day Interview with Kaggler Parul Pandey

Parul and her son, Agrim

Wendy: What can you tell us about your academic and professional background? Did you code in school or at your previous job?

Parul: Academically, I’m an electrical engineer. I did quite a bit of coding as a part of my curriculum but also enjoyed it as a hobby during my undergraduate years. Professionally, I worked in the power distribution industry as a technical analyst before getting immersed in Data Science. My job entailed less coding and more of using tools, but I would still dabble in little programming activities as a side project during my free time.

What motivated you to learn machine learning? How did you pick up data science and machine learning? Did you start with the courses?

Since I was already into data analytics, machine learning was a natural choice for me. However, what really pushed me into the game was the movie Moneyball. I was fascinated by the analytics and data-based approaches that were used to build an entire baseball team. A few years ago, in 2012, severe power blackouts affected most of northern and eastern India — nearly 400 million people! Since my department was responsible for the analysis and planning of the power distribution network in Indian cities, I wondered if the same analytical principles could be applied to avoid similar incidents. The quest for the answers began, and that is how it all got started.

You’ve mentioned that maternity leave was a significant milestone in your professional career. Can you tell us more about this journey?

I actually reinvented my whole career during my maternity leave! I had a decent job but felt that my career was stagnating. Before maternity leave, I hardly had time to ponder over, but the break gave me a chance to reflect on my life and career, and if I was actually enjoying what I was doing.

How did you learn about Kaggle?

Kaggle gets its fair share of mention in every MOOC, and I also got a first hang of it through one of the online courses that I was doing at that time. An algorithm implementation was being shown, and the instructor pointed to a website called Kaggle to download the dataset. I hopped on to the website and created a profile. I often visited the site to look for datasets and would end up scrolling through the notebooks. However, it took me some time to actually start participating.

That’s good to hear!

How did you manage your time learning new technical skills while being a new mom at the same time? How do you stay motivated in your journey to keep learning?

Being a first-time-mom is both challenging and overwhelming primarily because you have no idea what you are doing. ;) There is suddenly so much going on in your life that you start losing track of things.

Agrim, at 2 years old

Did your husband or family play a significant role in your career switch?

Having a support system is vital when you decide to make a career switch. Having family or friends who believe in your decision is a significant confidence boost.

That’s awesome.

Curious, what inspired you to start writing a blog?

While I was doing the data science courses, I used to document everything in the form of notes. This helped me to better understand the topic at hand, and I could also revisit the concepts when needed. In 2018, I came to know about the Medium.com and how easy it was to publish an article here. So, I just started publishing my notes as blog posts on Medium. Of course, I didn’t get much traction at first, but putting it out into the world felt really good.

How did you know you were ready to transition from DS hobbyist to professional?

Data science is a continuously growing and evolving field, and as a result, you always have the feeling that you need to know more. I always felt that I needed to learn more before I began applying for jobs in Data Science, lest I was rejected.

Why did you start the Women in ML/DS community in Hyderabad?

During a meetup I conducted, I recognized that female participation was very low, and this continued in other meetups and conferences. I also observed that the female participants, if any, hardly asked any questions, instead they preferred asking questions personally than in the gathering. It was then I thought that why not have a separate meetup group for females interested in machine learning and data science?

A WiMLDS Hyderabad event in action.

Do you believe having a women-specific community helps more women to join the field?

I definitely feel so. Female communities help to create a supportive space for other women. Women feel more comfortable speaking up, thereby motivating other women. However, even though such communities are thriving, it requires a collaborative effort from society to make diversity and inclusion a vital part of the ecosystem.

You did well (top 1%!) in the WiDS competition. Do you like these women-focused competitions?

The WiDS Datathon 2020 was a remarkable experience for me both in terms of learning and collaborating.

Does being a mother change you in the way you work? Does it change the kind of job you look for?

I feel I’ve become better and more efficient in managing things now. Most importantly, I can manage with very less sleep too! I’ve started valuing and better prioritizing my time more since it’s so limited now.

Did you ever fear that you might have to choose between having children and having a career?

Becoming a mother is a personal choice, and when a female decides to become a mother, she shouldn’t be made to choose between a career or a child. Unfortunately, this does happen all too often. I’ve seen women are denied promotions or projects because they would be going on maternity leave. Exceptions do exist, but this is still a fairly common phenomenon, and this makes me so sad. When I decided to become a mom, my focus was on having a healthy baby rather than a healthy career.

Agrim, 5 years old

This Mother’s Day, do you have anything to say to other mothers and mothers-to-be?

Motherhood is a transition, and it’s common to feel angry, depressed, confused, and so many other emotions. Your life will change, but it’ll change for the better. Having a baby is having all of life’s most bittersweet moments come at you one after the other. Cherish and enjoy the moments with your kids, for they grow up very fast.

Indeed they do.

Thank you so much for your time, and for sharing your inspiring story with all of us. And of course, happy Mother’s Day!

Did you enjoy this interview? Let us know by adding your ‘Claps’ to the article. Read our 2019 Mother’s Day interview with Nicole Finnie



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