Data science fellowship helps companies and emerging data scientists flourish

Last August, Cybera’s Data Science For Albertans (DSFA) team wrapped up its 2021 industry fellowship. This was the third year we offered the program, which provides an opportunity for emerging data scientists to get real-world experience, while assisting local organizations along their data science adoption journey.

Five industry partners, from a variety of sectors, participated in this year’s program. They included: The United Way Capital Region, a not-for-profit social services group; Applied Optimal, an early stage energy market startup; Deep Surface AI, a medical startup; IronSight, an industrial logistics support company; and Actionable Insights, a student-athlete advisory that is building a Hockey AI tool to help with the recruitment and development of student-athletes. 

These companies, located across Alberta, were each remotely paired with teams of three to four emerging data scientists (Fellows) who received continuous mentorship from Cybera’s data science team. Under normal circumstances, this program would have operated out of in-person hubs in Calgary and Edmonton, however with safety top of mind (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), a remote setup was employed this summer.

The 17 Fellows primarily came from academic backgrounds, including Master’s and PhD graduates and candidates. However, in some cases, the Fellows were mid-career professionals looking to re-tool. This was the case for Ovo Okpubuluku, who was laid off from his job in oil and gas in late March 2020when COVID-19 hit North America and the price of oil fell into negative digits.

But even prior to the oil price fall, Ovo had been contemplating pivoting into a field that would be more stable. “I was kind of having this feeling of dissatisfaction that I wasn’t advancing as quickly as I’d like,” says Ovo. “I was getting tired of driving to the middle of nowhere, and I had a family I needed to spend more time with, so I [knew that I] needed to improve my skills.” 

After some research, Ovo recognized that he had substantial skills in math, statistics, and coding, and he landed on data science as a future career path. He began taking part in several boot camps remotely from across North America, including at Bow Valley College.

For Ovo, the Fellowship provided him the opportunity to work with an industry partner on a data science project, and exposed him to new project management techniques. As he was finishing the Fellowship, Ovo landed two offers for a data scientist role.

Platform Calgary delivers an overview of services available for entrepreneurs. This was one of two workshops they supported during the fellowship.

Teaching in-depth skills

During the recent Fellowship program, Cybera worked with the Fellows to help them polish their hard and soft skills. Workshops on cloud computing, version control, and data workflows were complemented by seminars on resume writing and entrepreneurship provided by Startup Calgary through Platform Calgary.

Over a six-week period, the teams of Fellows worked closely with representatives from their industry partners to understand the scope of their project and specificities of their industry. This also allowed the industry partner to get to know the Fellows’ skill sets, leading to two of the industry partners hiring their Fellows immediately after the program ended — avoiding the added time and cost that would come from onboarding new talent.

For the last three years, Cybera’s Fellowship program has provided real-world work integrated learning opportunities for emerging data scientists and students that align strongly with the Government of Alberta’s Alberta 2030 Building Skills for Jobs initiative. The DSFA Fellowship program is open to anyone residing in Alberta, and the industry portion is open to any organisations based in Alberta that lack data science capacity.

One of the “Fellow” begins the demo of their final proof of concept.

What’s Next

Cybera’s Data Science Fellowship program has been consistently oversubscribed for both the Fellows and company partners, leading many to apply multiple times. In Ovo’s case, he had applied the year prior before being accepted this year. Actionable Insight, a 2021 Fellowship industry partner, had applied two years prior, but were previously not deemed ready for a team of data scientists to start working on their business problem. To better support those individuals and companies who did not get immediately accepted to the 2021 program, Cybera began offering individuals and organizations who applied extra support. 

For any aspiring data scientist, Cybera offers training workshops and hackathon opportunities to help them improve their hard skills and resumes. For companies, Cybera provides resource sessions that introduce and connect them to data science and AI ecosystem service providers across Alberta. Cybera also offers one-on-one consultations with companies that are considering the adoption of data science projects, but don’t know how or where to start. 

Cybera is currently looking at hosting future Fellowships. If you would like to learn more, visit the Cybera Data Science for Albertans website

To learn more about this year’s participating organizations and Fellows, visit the 2021 Data Science for Albertans fellowship profile page.

This Fellowship was supported by Alberta Innovates Regional Innovation Network, through the Calgary Innovation Coalition