The UC Berkeley I School is proud to support women in data science. This series highlights alumna and students at the school working in data science.
Anna Jacobson is currently a student in the Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) program. She works as a Senior Preconstruction Manager at Morley Builders.
What influenced you to pursue a career in data science?
I started my career as a structural engineer but quickly realized that my true calling was in construction management — I thrived on the energy of the job site, helping buildings come into the world right in front of me. The single-minded focus of engineering was not nearly as compelling to me as the fast-paced, complex, multidisciplinary world of construction management, which at its core is professional problem-solving. On any given day, my job requires that I effectively combine math and finance, data analysis, research, technical writing, business acumen, legal knowledge, and persuasive communication. After 18 years in the field, I still find the process of creating a work of architecture to be challenging, fascinating, and exhilarating.
For the past seven years, the focus of my career has shifted from on-site project management to project planning, in a new role that I helped to create in my company. This emphasis has illuminated for me the potential that data has to fundamentally transform the way we deliver projects in the future, increasing not only productivity and overall efficiency, but also the quality of the built environment around us. Through my work, I have developed a clear vision for how this transformation can happen, with rigorous analysis in the early stages of design and planning, when good choices can be leveraged powerfully to the entire project life-cycle.
There are many other who share in this vision, and I believe that my industry is rapidly approaching an inflection point in its trajectory where the traditional, instinct-driven decision-making processes will give way to more data-informed, analysis-based approaches. I applied to UC Berkeley’s Masters of Information and Data Science program because I want to help lead my industry through the exciting changes that I see coming.
MIDS is giving me the opportunity to develop practical skills to synthesize large data sets, find relationships within and between them, and use them to inform processes and decisions.
Leadership derives its strength from many sources; I firmly believe that one key source is a foundation of hands-on knowledge and technical skills. As a supervisor, it has always been crucial to me to know how to do the work myself before teaching and managing others in its execution. MIDS is giving me the opportunity to develop practical skills to synthesize large data sets, find relationships within and between them, and use them to inform processes and decisions. Armed with these skills, I believe that I will be well-positioned to lead the development of the innovations that will be required in order to collect and interpret data, derive insights from it, and effectively communicate my findings to a diverse audience.
Can you tell me about the work you are doing now?
I am finishing the fifth of my nine courses in MIDS, Applied Machine Learning. In that class, I am currently working on a project to develop an ML algorithm that can differentiate between “fake news” tweets and tweets from legitimate news outlets.
I almost always have a few independent projects underway at any given time as well. In the last few months I have been focused on honing my data visualization skills. I also have become very interested in the intersection between data science and ethics and policy; I recently published an article about fairness and bias in ML algorithms.
How did what you learned at the School of Information develop your skills and further your career goals?
Data science is an incredibly rich field, with so many smart people doing amazing work. MIDS has given me a framework to explore this field — a vocabulary with which to talk about it, tools with which to create in it, and a community with which to share it. MIDS has also given me the confidence that I belong in this field.
Who inspired you when you were young?
My mother. Like so many mothers, she was the heart of my family, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back I can see how extraordinary it was that she managed to balance her busy professional life as a tenured university professor (and eventually, department chair) with raising three children. She read to us, helped us with our homework, drove us to lessons and practices, taught us to bake and cook, took us hiking and to museums and concerts, and traveled with us. Most importantly, she instilled in us a desire to be excellent in everything we did.
What advice do you have for young women who want to work in the field of data science?
My advice for young women and young men is the same — always be on the lookout for things that fascinate you, that spark your curiosity, that inspire delight. When you find these things, pursue them with all of your energy.
Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves to you, and don’t wait until you think you’re ready — find your own opportunities, and seize them as soon you do.
Watch Anna’s Tech Talk for WiDS Berkeley.