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ARMLife Interview with Senior Data Scientist Tasha Webb

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ARMLife provides an inside look at the talented people who work at All Response Media. In this interview, we sat down with Senior Data Scientist Tasha Webb to explore how her passion for data developed, and how uprooting from South Africa and moving to the UK impacted her life.

Bobby Ghayouri: Tell us a little bit about yourself…

Tasha Webb: I am originally from Johannesburg, South Africa and I come from a small, creative family where my father is a pilot, my mother is an astrologer and my sister owns a beauty salon. Quite different from me! I completed my undergraduate degree in Economics and Finance at Wits University, where I at first wanted to be a banker. Soon thereafter I realised it was not for me and discovered my passion for Economics. This led me to get my Master’s degree in Economics and work as a lecturer and data collector at Wits University prior to completing my PhD in Economics Science at the University of Stellenbosch.

BG: When and why did you decide to move to the UK?

TW: We moved to the UK from South Africa in November because of the increasing political instability. As it continued to worsen, my husband and I agreed that we would not like to build our future or start a family in that type of environment. Luckily, moving here was not too difficult as my husband has family here and I was able to get an ancestral visa. Career wise, I knew I wanted to pursue data analysis and the UK is a huge hub for it.

I love the UK, I really do. There are a lot of similarities, but definitely some differences too. The little things catch me off guard, such as asking for a packet, instead of a bag at the Tesco checkout.
For me, the biggest difference between Johannesburg and the UK is how much freedom I now have. Here I am able to walk around and enjoy the city on my own, which is an activity that I could not do in South Africa.

BG: How did you first realise your passion for all things data?

TW: It started early in my career when my Master’s supervisor suggested I pursue a PhD in the subject. I initially came across a data scientist role that combined the act of interpreting data for business as an economist and the process of turning the output into something constructive for profit making. I got an introduction into the detailed computing side of things during my education and was amazed at the scope of it, such as with artificial intelligence to automatically analyse data. I was fascinated by it all and wanted to know more.

BG: How did you start working at ARM and what are your main responsibilities?

TW: I was approached by an internal recruiter and was comforted by the fact that most of the team had degrees in economics. When I interviewed with our Director of Technology, Waldu, I began to understand the depth of data analysis ARM implemented and I wanted to be a part of that. It was refreshing to see subjects I studied applied to marketing which in itself is such a creative environment. Economics is often only associated with finance and banking, so people tend to overlook how it can be applied to other industries.

As a Senior Data Scientist, my main focus is on client data analysis. Additionally, I have been helping to streamline many of our day-to-day econometric methodologies to improve efficiency. This will give us more time to extend our analysts’ expertise into the new and exciting techniques that are under development in the world of big data, such as machine learning.

I also help oversee professional development within the team. We started having regular research and development days where team come together and someone presents a new idea. Many have recently completed their post-graduate degrees so they are keen to implement new theories from their studies. I want to encourage everyone to bring an idea forward to try at any time. It does not matter if it doesn’t work; it is about the effort and confidence.

BG: What are your favourite things about working at ARM so far?

TW: The team is superb! We are always supporting each other, even when the workload hits its highest levels, which it naturally does. This type of environment makes a big difference.

At ARM as a whole, I love the ‘open door’ environment, because it allows for easy sharing of ideas across all levels. We are encouraged to be creative and if you are not challenged in your role, you can voice your opinion and grow from there.

Another great characteristic of ARM is its social nature and the humour that runs throughout each team. There is always such great energy and buzz around the office. I normally see myself as an introvert, but for some reason, at ARM I am naturally more extroverted as it is easy to joke and talk to people. There isn’t a strict hierarchy; you can have honest conversations with Directors at any time. It also helps to have a South African boss to help with homesickness!

BG: Where can people go to learn more about data in a less intimidating environment?

TW: I truly believe that no matter your role, we all should be aware how data applies to our careers and more importantly, not shy away from all the big, scary words that can be thrown around. A great and approachable resource is called DataCamp, which offers online tutorials. If people are interested, it is a great place to start!

BG: What is one thing no one knows about you?

TW: I really love archaeology and mythology! I have always been obsessed with the history behind various gods ranging from Nordic to Egyptian. If I had not studied data, I would have loved to be spending my days in faraway places, digging in the sand to find artefacts. That is another reason why I love the UK so much, I will be walking around and all of a sudden will be in an area with an archaeological importance that I just read about in a book.

BG: What excites you most about your future at ARM?

TW: I am most excited to develop more knowledge about SQL coding so those skills can become second nature to me. There is so much freedom in this position and I enjoy knowing there is always room to grow.

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