Data Entry to Data Science
As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, which this year asks us to #EmbraceEquity, Kirsty Gray, Senior Statistical Officer here at the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), reflects on her career journey and talks about development opportunities in a sector where women have historically been in a minority.
9 March 2023
When I left school in 1999, I certainly hadn’t considered working with data. Though that is what I started doing in a very limited fashion - I started working part-time at the then Prescription Processing Authority (PPA) while at university doing data entry on prescriptions and moved to full time when I left university. I had been one of three female students on the computing degree and every lecturer was a man – it wasn’t why I left but looking back I don’t think that it helped. I liked computers but didn’t want to write programs, but I didn’t know what I did want to do. When I went to the lecturer who was least hostile (he didn’t lock the door on late students) he advised if I dropped out now, I would get a partial tuition fee refund.
So I got a full-time job. I’m sure it’s not the recommended way to fall into a career - by job hopping because you get bored once you’ve learnt a job and always be looking for extra tasks but that’s what happened for me.
I fell into data analytics from being the person on the team who gets all the excel (or other assorted Microsoft office) questions. There used to be one in most teams or departments, but this might be focussed on a more modern tool these days. It helped that my old speciality used to be pulling together spreadsheets that would save time on manual jobs and that I liked learning about what I could do with the programs I had, and I eventually branched out.
My journey went from formulas to functions, to pivot tables, and then onto macros and Visual Basic for Application (VBA) - which could cut down regular tasks and make producing analysis in spreadsheets a little less labour intensive. From there I was given a development opportunity to learn some coding alongside the data analytics learning lab and moved on to actual coding using Structured Query Language (SQL) and later R. This turned into a permanent post in the Data Analytics Learning Lab (DALL) and then I moved into Official Statistical publications from there.
The underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) is a known issue and looking back on my career journey I can both feel fortunate that I’ve never felt my opportunities within the NHSBSA were limited and know that statistically, that makes me (and the NHSBSA) somewhat of an outlier. The Turing institute estimates that 20% of data professionals are women. Currently, 56% of the NHSBSA DALL and Official Statistics team are women.
But I shouldn’t have to feel fortunate because it worked out for me, perhaps due to timing and being in the right department. So, while this week we are looking at equity for women, there are always opportunities to find out if data science is the path for you, including the NHSBSA Data and Analytics Community now offering learning opportunities across the business with monthly coffee and coding and data byte topics as well as shadowing opportunities within the team. There are also initiatives out there focussing on coding for women and sponsoring their attendance at conferences and attempting to make STEM and data jobs more balanced. Lots to check out, I’ve shared links below to some I have experience with.
For more learning opportunities
Data learning opportunities for all:
Data learning opportunities for women: