The Data Science World | Faculty in Focus with Patty Delafuente

The data science world is complex, engaging, and always changing. Almost every industry sector is looking for new hires with data science skills. That includes industries like finance and insurance, manufacturing, public administration, healthcare, transportation, trade and more. The opportunities are vast, and graduate faculty member, Patty Delafuente understands this and is excited to be part of her students’ journey to a rewarding career in the data science industry. We sat down and talked with her about her career path and what led her to UMBC. We also talked about the unique benefits of UMBC’s Data Science graduate program.

The Data Science World

Can you tell us a little about your career path and how that led you to UMBC?

I’ve been in the IT industry for at least twenty years. My career started out as a registered nurse. I later found my passion resided in programming and technology. I’m a long-time C# and database programmer. I worked as a database engineer in a data center for many years. Then, seeking more work-life balance, I went into the federal government. During that time, my interest in business intelligence and data analytics grew. I already had a bachelor’s and master’s in information systems at that point. So, I decided to pursue a master’s in analytics, which turned into a rewarding experience. I truly love data science and machine learning. I work on robotics and machine learning at home.

In addition to pursuing these hobbies, I work as a data scientist for the federal government. I also teach at UMBC. What I love about this industry is that I get to work with the coolest technology around machine learning and robotic solutions. I get to do these awesome predictive models and get paid pretty well to do it. But, the pay is a small thing. I really enjoy waking up and going to work on this stuff. It’s a lot of fun for me, and it doesn’t feel like work.

Working in the data science world is my passion, and I’m happy to transfer that knowledge to students.

What is unique about UMBC’s Data Science graduate program?

The most valuable thing about UMBC’s data science program is that students can focus their studies and electives based on interest and on the work that they’re doing or plan to do. Also, their instructors have real-world experience. So, they can pick their brains. The instructors give examples of the work that they’re doing, and students can apply that knowledge in useful ways.

What can students expect out of the program?

What students can expect from this program is the best in the industry and best-in-class learning course materials. They’ll have instructors who have practical real-world experience. This real-world instruction helps make the technology and techniques learned useful to students when they enter the data science world.

Can you tell us about the course you teach?

I’m teaching an advanced data management course. In the data science industry, there’s so much room for growth. Technology is constantly changing because there’s still a lot of work we need to do to improve the way we manage data. We still need to figure out how to improve security around that data. Also, we still need to figure out how to improve data integrity. Some of these big data technologies that exist to solve the storage issues still have a lot of weaknesses. These weaknesses reside around the use of data for systems that protect the identity and integrity of the data. This graduate degree would just be a starting point for many students. We hope that they take the knowledge and build on it to become the next leaders and founders of the next emerging technology. Technology that will truly solve the issues and challenges that we have today.

What does the ideal student look like?

Our students come from various backgrounds.

For students in general, and especially for women and minorities, I would say don’t be afraid to enroll if you don’t have a technical background in programming or statistics. The biggest litmus test in determining if the program is right for you is whether you have a passion for technology. If you have that interest, you can survive this program. We are willing to meet you halfway if you are. We want you to succeed. If you meet us halfway, you will be successful. Nothing can substitute passion and interest. At the end of the day, it’s the interest and the willingness you have to exert effort into the program that’s going to predict how successful you will be in the data science world.

How much classroom interaction can a student expect?

UMBC teaches you how to work with your teammates and leverage their skill sets to make your projects successful. Most of the students are excited about what they’re learning. They’re all about meeting the challenges of the program and the courses. They’re enthused and very helpful with each other. I constantly hear them chiming up to each other on which are the best tools to use. They even provide instructors with critical feedback. It’s a truly interactive process where we adjust our materials based on feedback that we get from students.

Can you talk about the current need for data scientists?

So the current outlook in the data science world is emerging. This is a great time to be in data science. If you’re interested in research, you could be the next founder of technology like Hadoop. In fact, they’re constantly working to improve it. So, you could be the next person to help improve how it works. You could be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. There’s so much opportunity and still so much to learn. If you want something that’s challenging and not boring and you’re constantly learning, exploring, and doing research and development this is the right field for you.

How does the program prepare students for the real world?

At the graduate level, we expect that you’re going to go out and do some advanced management challenges. We expect you’ll take on some big projects. So, we do more than just give you the basic tools. We also help you grow professionally. And, particularly in the courses that I teach, you will have group projects to hone in on your skills. I’m going to coach you on your presentation skills so that you can also learn how to speak the data science speak. You’ll learn to speak it in a way that the person who doesn’t have that expertise will be able to understand it. At the end of the day, when you need money and funding for your projects, you need to be able to sell it to your managers. If you just throw a lot of jargon at them, they’re not going to understand what you’re saying and understand how valuable it will be to them.

What is the value of this degree?

I can’t say enough how important education is in developing your potential to resolve conflicts. It’s not just about the core foundations of the technology. Anybody can take a course and learn how to program. To get the whole well-rounded experience of presenting that technology to management and making it useful, we tie instruction into best practices at UMBC. We use instructors with real-world experience and lots of expertise from the data science world. We give you examples of ways to make technology useful and apply it in a way that you can use it when you leave here. The value is in the way we teach you the skills necessary for you to be a valuable commodity for your employer.

Ready to Claim Your Future? We’re here to help.

According to Burning Glass data, among over 6,000 jobs in the data science field, 3,248 requested a bachelor’s degree and 2,179 requested a master’s degree. Just under 900 requested a doctoral degree. A degree might require the biggest investment, but the average salary for these jobs is $120K per year.

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