Alumni profile - Tola Alade
As a Data Scientist who is passionate about what she does on a day to day basis, I am able to share my passion with others with the hope of inspiring younger generations by sharing insights into how Mathematics can be used to build very cool applications to solve problems across a wide range of industries.
Why did you study Mathematics at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?
My decision to study Mathematics at Queen Mary was a strategic one and not a career driven one. At the time, I had no idea what career I wanted to go into so I decided to play to my strengths when I made the decision. Mathematics is a subject area in which I had consistently outperformed and had a genuine passion for. Interestingly, I began my undergraduate at City University London studying Mathematics with Computer Science. I added the Computer Science component for some diversity in my degree. After the first year, I identified the Computer Science modules as being my weakest area and did not want this to impact my overall degree grade. This led me to move to study a pure Mathematics degree at Queen Mary, a decision I am glad I made.
What did you enjoy most about studying Mathematics and were there any academics that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?
I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of my modules and all the aspects of studying at Queen Mary. I was very well equipped to be successful with the support from staff and lecturers. One lecturer worth a mention is Oscar Bandtlow; he made Introduction to Mathematical Finance a fun module and with his amazing support led me to do exceptionally well. I still use the knowledge gained from this module in my current role.
Were you a member of any societies or volunteering groups during your time at Queen Mary?
One of my regrets is not making enough time for social activities; I joined a couple of societies, but I was not an active member. One reason for this is that I was scared of taking the focus away from my studies as I wanted to give my degree more than 95% of my attention. If I could do it all over again, I would be more active in extra-curricular activities as societies are a great way to develop key soft skills while having fun and meeting new people!
It has become increasingly obvious to me recently how I have actually held myself back from success in various ways over the years. I used to believe that getting a job at certain organisations such as Hedge Funds as a black female from a non-Oxbridge University was a myth as I didn’t have the right background, social network or status to fit in.
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role as Data Scientist at AKO Capital LLP?
After graduating from Queen Mary, I began my career as a Data Analyst which involved using tools such as SQL and Microsoft Excel to extract and manipulate data to draw out valuable insights for senior management. I enjoyed working with data and wanted to challenge myself more which led me to move into the role of a Statistician. After a career break, my next focus was to move into a Data Science role which meant dedicating hours to improve my python programming skills and machine learning knowledge. This involved a lot of hours spent in the library on the weekends, studying after work and enrolling onto a 6 months Data Science bootcamp. I am very pleased that the hard work paid off as I have seen myself grow and develop as a Data Scientist. Life as a Data Scientist at AKO Capital is great as I get to take ownership of projects and deliver an end to end solution. Data Science is a field which is constantly evolving and offers continuous learning opportunities.
How did you get into Data Science and how does your job allow you to explore your passions?
I highly encourage students and professionals to network and talk to others as you never know what you might learn, and I say this based on my experience and how it has helped me. While backpacking in Australia, I met a stranger who spoke so passionately about his role as a Data Scientist and how he uses various mathematical concepts taught at school/college/university level to solve real world problems. Our discussion led me to research the field in more detail which made me motivated to get into the field myself and make a real difference using my key strength. As a Data Scientist who is passionate about what she does on a day to day basis, I am able to share my passion with others with the hope of inspiring younger generations by sharing insights into how Mathematics can be used to build very cool applications to solve problems across a wide range of industries.
Which aspects of your degree have remained relevant throughout your career and in your current role?
Most aspects of my degree have remained relevant throughout my career which I am very pleased about. This includes knowledge gained from modules such as Probability & Statistics, Linear Algebra, Calculus and Financial Mathematics. What I learned in lectures and seminars really did translate into the real, working world.
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying Mathematics at Queen Mary?
Mathematics is a degree which will help prepare you to be a suitable candidate for a plethora of roles after graduation and Queen Mary is a university which will provide you with the right level of support to achieve success in this degree. The School of Mathematics has exceptional and dedicated lecturers who are always open to answering your questions and to helping you improve your level of understanding of modules. I strongly encourage prospective students to think outside of the box during their actual studies and seek to understand how concepts they are being taught can be applied in the real world. This will help them visualise working in a variety of different roles and industries.
Life as a Data Scientist at AKO Capital is great as I get to take ownership of projects and deliver an end to end solution. Data Science is a field which is constantly evolving and offers continuous learning opportunities.
Since graduating you have volunteered at a variety of careers and Maths specific events and participated in QMentoring to inspire current students. What messages or advice do you have for current students?
My key advice to current students is to attend networking events (there are so many of them which take place, especially in London), be curious, ask the right questions and do your own in depth research to find out more about a specific role or industry of interest. For those interested in the analytical field, it is never too early to start exploring data and understanding how it can be manipulated to extract value.
Have you faced any discrimination as a black woman working in Data Science?
It has become increasingly obvious to me recently how I have actually held myself back from success in various ways over the years. I used to believe that getting a job at certain organisations such as Hedge Funds as a black female from a non-Oxbridge University was a myth as I didn’t have the right background, social network or status to fit in. For this reason, I never applied to specific organisations as I was scared of what I refer to as ‘epic rejection’. Fortunately, a train journey which led me to my current role at a Hedge Fund has made me realise how far from the truth my thoughts and fears were. I work for an organisation which makes me feel like I am part of a family and is very supportive of my personal development. My main takeaway has been to believe in myself and my abilities more as this is the main tool to keep succeeding in life.
You are an advocate for the empowerment of women and girls in STEM. Why do you think it is important for women and girls to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in these sectors?
Studies have shown that females are more likely to suffer from self-doubt and shy away from situations in which they do not think they will be successful. For this reason and more, we have historically observed a low percentage of females in STEM subjects and roles. It makes me happy to observe that this has improved over the last few years as I have met more and more exceptional females in STEM roles, and I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their journey into STEM. However, there is still more work to be done to inspire more young females in STEM roles and careers by providing them with the support to help with their confidence and belief in their abilities. One way of achieving this is by having more visible female role models in STEM mentoring and inspiring the younger generation. I am aware of the bias when I say STEM roles are awesome, enjoyable and provide you with opportunities to truly make a difference, but we need to make more young women aware of this.
And why do you think it is important for young girls and women to see themselves reflected in positions of power in these sectors?
Seeing women making a difference and succeeding within STEM is so inspiring and in turn empowers other women, making them believe it is possible for them and hence keeping them motivated to keep working hard to achieve their goals.
I am aware of the bias when I say STEM roles are awesome, enjoyable and provide you with opportunities to truly make a difference, but we need to make more young women aware of this.
Two years after you graduated, you took a 9-month career break to go travelling, why did you decide to travel at this stage of your life and did it change your perspective on life and work when you returned to establish your career again?
After working for a couple of years, I had enough money to either buy a property or go travelling. These were the options I made available to myself on how my funds should be allocated. After a lot of thinking, research, and discussions with others (and myself) I decided to go travelling alone and I am pleased I did as it was truly one of the best experiences of my life so far. This experience presented me with so many learnings about myself and others and one important takeaway was that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone more often than I stayed in it, as this is when the best things happen. I returned to the UK a more driven and motivated individual working on being the best version of myself and wanting to make a difference in life no matter how small.
What are your future aspirations in terms of your career and life?
This is an interesting question which I often struggle to find the right answer to. I am constantly working on developing myself as an individual and as a Data Scientist. One of my main focuses at the moment is to gain a couple of cloud certifications before the end of the year as I am using this more and more in my current role and taking ownership of solution deployments. My plan is to continue to develop myself and grow within AKO Capital over the next few years.
Finally, what do you do to unwind outside of work?
I am an obsessive runner who runs between 50km-60km per week. Recently, I began training for a half marathon which I really hope goes ahead in October. I also love travelling as I like learning about different cultures and having new and interesting experiences. My dream country for a working lifestyle is Australia (specifically in Sydney), my dream country for a chilled lifestyle is Thailand (with Vietnam coming close second) and the most interesting country that I have been to is South Africa!
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Tola or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.