Written by: Gwendolyn Ang
Data science has been a buzzword in the tech industry lately, and there is a good reason why: “Data is the currency of the future,” says Amber Teng, a Filipina data analyst based in Columbus, Ohio. “… and just like how it is important to be literate in terms of reading and writing, I think that it’s important to be able to be data–literate: having the ability to think critically about data and analyze the stories that these pieces of information tell us.”
On creating social impact
For Amber, data science has been an avenue to fulfill her ambition of creating sustainable change. “I really love the problem solving aspect of my job!” she shares. As a quantitative risk analyst for Huntington National Bank, she works with a team to prevent possible dangers such as fraud, protecting the money of the bank as well as the clients. Among the many tools she uses are predictive models and machine learning methods, like decision trees and logistic regressions. “I’m really excited about data science, and even more excited about where its potential lies for the future. The industry changes so quickly, and having the opportunity to be a part of that change and to apply these concepts in my daily work is really invigorating.”
Alongside her many pursuits, Amber allots some of her time, energy, and significant amounts of passion for the Pangea.App, where she heads Product and Operations. The app, which is currently available on iOS and Android, is a digital marketplace where college student freelancers can offer their skills to their local community. “[Our goal] is to create a more connected world through peer-to-peer commerce,” she shares, working to cultivate a generation of hustlers who pursue their passions and create with a purpose.
On breaking into tech
Surprisingly, Amber didn’t always dabble with tech. Majoring in Economics and Archaeology, the Brown University graduate admits that it was a challenge entering the highly-competitive field. Besides lacking a tech background, her being a woman also meant having less awareness and accessibility to career paths like programming. “For a field as ubiquitous and pioneering as computer science, there existed even fewer role models for young women to look up to. Computer science was so far out of reach that I could not even fathom an application such as data science.”
Not letting this deter her, she took the initiative to learn data science concepts, applications and methods on her own. “It’s really those productive hours of just sitting down and focusing on learning that has been most helpful—whether this be through MOOCs, or YouTube videos, or through projects and textbooks.” Besides grit, mentorship is another avenue that has gotten Amber to where she is today. “Whether formally or informally, it is incredibly useful to have someone to discuss your ideas and share your goals with—and it’s even more helpful if they have experience in the field.”
On telling stories
Amber explained that she is still able to build connections between her non-traditional background and her present job. “Both the disciplines I studied in college… have not only taught me skills that are highly applicable to data science, but also domains wherein data science applications flourish.” After all, all three revolve around understanding people’s stories and their impact on the bigger picture; economics deals with how firms and households interact in the face of scarcity, and archaeology uses material culture to understand prehistoric life. What data science does is that it extracts meaningful insights from data obtained in these fields, paving the way for socially-impactful applications. In other words, “The true power of stories lies in basing them in tangible, material evidence: data” and in doing so, one is able to come up with solutions to social issues like cultural heritage, discrimination and medical conditions in a scale that hadn’t been possible before.
On catalyzing data literacy
When asked about the growth of the Philippine tech scene, Amber is optimistic. She cites the pool of talent and creativity already present as catalysts for more innovations in the future. In particular, she’s interested in frameworks being used by Southeast Asian businesses to examine and analyze their data. “I’d like to learn more about, and hopefully contribute to, the process of how [they] both preserve and creatively build upon existing data methods in accordance with increasing national and global demands,” she shared, adding: “It’s only a matter of time before this data literacy and critical thinking becomes industry standard.”
Amber is proof that whatever field you may be in, you have the ability to affect change in society by curating experiences or systems that are value-adding for others. Be it through programming, entrepreneurship or any other craft, Amber leaves aspiring change-makers with these words of wisdom: “Don’t be afraid to pursue a field that may seem “out of your depth” or that may initially intimidate you. Initially, you [may] have a hard time finding role models, [so] become one. Create your own opportunities instead of waiting for them. Taking the initiative to follow your dreams and create social impact… [because] through grit, tenacity, and courage you can achieve your dreams!”