Pushing Past Challenges: Heshuang’s Career Change Story

Today we’re highlighting the story of Heshuang, a Udacity Data Analyst Nanodegree Plus graduate. Heshuang has been working to transform her five+ years in Urban Planning into a career in Data Science. Along the way she’s had to learn a new industry, build up work experience, and redefine her expectations. Adaptability, persistence, and social support have been essential to overcoming the hurdles she’s faced, and in this interview, she shares her insights about career transformation, and discusses her new role at Upwork!

Q: We’re so excited to learn about your career journey. How did you get started with data science?

Before working in the data field, I was a research analyst at a non-profit transportation think tank in Washington DC. While I did a lot of research there, I didn’t use programming very often. I did, however, become interested in analyzing data to draw insights. Later, I moved to California with my family and took a break from work, allowing me to decide if I wanted to pivot my career. I was really curious about data science, so I decided to follow my heart! I knew that if I didn’t try to learn data science, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

Q: So you did it! That’s wonderful! But, I understand the process wasn’t that easy?

The whole process was… not smooth! The first challenge, which showed up in my early interviews, was overcoming my lack of industry understanding.

Q: What do you mean by ‘industry understanding’?

What I mean by “industry understanding” is real-world knowledge of what a company really wants from a data analyst. Through my early interviews, I learned employers want to hear about how you can turn data into useful information and actionable business tasks.

Q: So it sounds like interviews served multiple purposes, including teaching you about the industry?

Yes! My extended job search played a big role in enhancing industry understanding. Even though I didn’t get a full-time job instantly, the extra time taught me about common interview questions, how to present myself, the industry, and where I fit best.

If your search is taking longer than you expected, just know it’s ok to go through a lot of interviews! Doing so helped me figure out what I liked and what I wasn’t a good fit for. Reflect on each interview or application because you can learn so much from each experience. Also, attending meetups, talking to people in the industry, and scheduling informational interviews can be helpful ways to increase your industry knowledge.

Q: So beyond a lack of industry understanding, what other challenges did you face?

When I graduated Udacity, I still faced the hurdle of minimal relevant work experience.

I knew that I just needed to get started, so I decided that even small contract projects would be helpful! I did research and found Upwork, which is a freelancer platform for people to post jobs and assignments. I applied and got an opportunity to work as freelancer/contractor for Upwork.

Q: Was freelancing always a part of your career change strategy?

Not exactly… when I started as a freelancer, I didn’t expect it to lead to anything, but it ultimately helped me with other interviews and opportunities. Now I am getting more work with the company and am more involved with their internal projects.

Q: It sounds like your expectations were redefined. What did you learn through this?

I learned opportunity and progress can come in unexpected forms. Because it takes time to build work experience, freelancer/contractor work not only helped me build a portfolio, but it also opened doors in ways I didn’t expect. I learned it’s good to be adaptive and there is more than one path to achieve your goals.

Q: You have a very positive attitude about career change. What helps you stay optimistic?

I think having faith in yourself and surrounding yourself with supportive family, friends, and your professional network is really important!

Q: Yes! Can you tell us more about the network you’ve cultivated??

In addition to my family and friends, I got extra support when I joined the group Women Who Code, who organized different events. It’s wonderful to have a bunch of women supporting each other and helping each other excel professionally. I think that as a woman and a mother it can feel challenging to enter a male-dominated field.

Q: Does networking come easy to you?

Well, I can be very shy, so networking can actually be very hard for me! However, many of the people who have contacted me about opportunities have come from my alumni network. This reminds me that networking is extremely helpful, and it helps me push past the shyness!

Q: Any final thoughts or advice for individuals looking to transform their careers?

Even though you will probably have frustrated moments during your job hunt, keep going! Get started as soon as possible to see what you can do to learn, build your network, and organize yourself to show that you are great candidate. Find social support and find confidence in yourself. Just keep going and keep pushing!

Sincere gratitude to Heshuang for sharing her career journey with us! We think this story is so helpful because it shows that changing careers not only takes time and hard work, but it requires a learning mindset, social support, and believing in yourself. We hope Heshaung’s story inspires you to keep working towards your goals, no matter how big the obstacles may be.