Cybera helps oil and gas workers find a new start in data science

When Cybera launched its Data Science Industry Fellowship program, we were amazed by how oversubscribed it quickly became. We expected many post-secondary students or recent grads to apply for the program, which was certainly the case for most of the applicants from Edmonton. What stood out in Calgary was the number of individuals re-tooling their skills from previous roles in oil and gas.

Nicole Woodland spent 11 years as a geological engineer, carrying out explorations across western Canada. After surviving seven rounds of layoffs at her company, she was let go in 2018. “We had a lot of talent on our engineering team,” says Nicole. In fact, her  peers were able to produce so much exploratory inventory, which is still used today by companies, that were unable to do muchmore exploration.

Nicole Woodland (right) is one of 24 fellows participating in Cybera’s Data Science Fellowship Program

“I asked myself, what do I love?” she says. “How can that add value to an organization? What am I meant to do, and how am I meant to help?”

Data science has been a natural fit for her. After she was laid off, Nicole took a crash course in data analytics through RoboGarden. Over the course of two and a half months, she developed her data science capabilities , sometimes pushing 60 hour workweeks.

Using skills that she learned from her previous role, like analysis and model creation, Nicole was able to adapt her knowledge set to the growing field of data science. She says there are aspects of data science that are similar to what she enjoyed most about being a geologist. “What drew me to geology was that it was an empowering decision-making tool. I like being able to influence decision makers with knowledge that they can trust, and data science is very similar, just with a different subject matter.”

Mingyu Zhang, another participant in the Data Science Industry Fellowship program, has a similar story. After finishing his masters degree in geophysics in 2006 from the University of Alberta, he worked in oil and gas. After being laid off in 2016 and then again in 2018, he decided to explore new opportunities and broaden his skillset, particularly since he had begun to notice a changing trend in the industry. “Oil and gas is now being influenced by machine learning,” he says, citing how AI is changing the way the industry pinpoints and extracts oil and gas.

Mingyu spent nearly half a year re-tooling his tech skills through a program run by Manpower, which is helping oil and gas workers transfer their skills into data science and machine learning. In this program, he learned how to program in Python, C+ and JavaScript. He also began volunteering with organizations like Data for Good, to leverage his skillset to contribute positively to his community.

He was looking to gain commercial experience when he heard about the Data Science Industry Fellowship program. “They give you a hands-on data science project, which allows me to know what skillsets I have [in order to work] on a data science program.” says Zhang. He says he is amazed to see how diverse the ecosystem is becoming, with people of all ages and backgrounds contributing to the data science field.

This growth of data science and machine learning is, in turn, creating many new opportunities in the Alberta marketplace, including manufacturing, marketing, and even the medical sectors.

Mingyu’s advice for others looking to switch from oil and gas to data science is to utilize as much as possible previous experiences, but also recognize that  “there are many things you need to learn”.

Both Mingyu and Nicole are open to returning to oil and gas, but say they are also intrigued by the idea of giving back to the community, and contributing to Alberta’s growing business climate. “At the end of the day, I like helping people make decisions,” says Woodland, “that’s what I loved about geology, and that’s what I love about data science.”

Nicole Woodland and Mingyu Zhang are part of 24 fellows who have taken advantage of the Cybera Data Science for Albertans Fellowship program. This free program has paired emerging data scientist with small and medium-size enterprises leveraging data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. For more information and to stay up to date with future opportunities visit the Data Science for Albertans web page.

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