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It’s never too late to change your path: How I gave my career new life by embracing my passions

My career journey began some time ago. After receiving a Masters in Economics in 2005, I spent 12 years working in the financial sector. As finance became more and more detached from real life, with sophisticated financial instruments becoming abstract ideas not having any actual worth apart from the financial market, I realized that I was getting bored with what I was doing professionally. Furthermore, I saw many of my colleagues and friends go from being positive, friendly people to the exact opposite due to burnout. Seeing people that I truly cared about get mentally and physically destroyed by their day jobs prompted me to think about my options outside of finance, and more so how I could change my job in a way that was more meaningful for me.

As I was interested in programming for as long as I can remember, I decided to begin a whole new track of education in this domain – eventually getting a Bachelors in Computer Science. And it was during this time that I became much more aware of the fields of Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP). 

Upon getting this new degree, I actually came upon my first role at Applica by accident. At the time I was a self-taught Python programmer and was looking for a job in that field, but I had more skills in front end development, so when I was offered a role in that area I gladly accepted, front end programming still being a programming job. It was fortuitous when I realized Applica has a robust R&D department, with teams working in many of the other areas that I am deeply passionate about, such as ML.

As I decided early on that a role in ML was my ultimate goal, I started to look for ways to broaden my knowledge base and skills. I started with (probably) a million tutorials on Youtube and then one day came across a post about a scholarship for Udacity, which has a wide-variety of Nanodegrees in areas I am deeply passionate about. Despite a vast pool of 15,000 applicants for the scholarship, I am extremely grateful to be one of the 300 students chosen. This external validation helped keep me going as well. I kept thinking, “if they think I have what it takes, then it must be true.” Fast forward two years, and I have completed seven Nanodegrees at Udacity.

For me, the learning does become somewhat of an addiction, because there are always more courses of interest! But the practical application of such learnings is what truly motivates me. While I’ve received numerous degrees and certifications over the years, I don’t actually consider myself an academic. I have always been much more eager to apply my learnings to the real world. For instance, I started learning Python because I wanted to write my own game. My education journey has simply been a means to an end to practice what is most compelling to me.

Through my coursework over the past two years, I gained the necessary skills to move from front end development to a production team (the product side) at Applica – focusing on Python development and ML. On a simplistic level, what I do now is ensuring our state-of-the-art ML models are able to transition from the research team to our customer-facing platform – Applica Robotic Text Automation. I embrace this newish role wholeheartedly because I am a person that likes to see tangible results and apply technology to solve real world problems. And it gives me great satisfaction to know that these ML models are being used by our clients to solve often long-standing legacy automation obstacles.

While I’m one of those people that can’t fathom how others get bored, I realize not everyone is like me and that’s ok! My biggest issue right now is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and there is only so much I can fit in with a full-time job, as well as raising three children, continuing my studies, and enjoying other activities such as baking, decorating, and designing computer games. Regardless of whatever type of person you are, never forget to follow your passions and don’t let other discourage your dreams – it’s never too late to try something new. Do what you believe in and somehow all the pieces will come together.

If you have questions or comments, please connect with me on LinkedIn or via email.