Reading the Signals: How this Radio Engineer Boosted His Career from Boring to Big Data Boss with a Data Science Boot Camp

When Michael Toriello earned his electrical and computer engineering degree, he thought he was taking the first step in an exciting and rewarding career. Just two years in, however, Michael realized he wanted a lot more than his current role could offer.

“I started out as an engineering consultant for telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T—mostly working with antenna arrays,” Michael said. “But I quickly found out that I wanted to use more modern technology on these jobs.”

As Michael became increasingly fascinated with SQL and Python, he knew he needed more advanced training to help him shift careers.

“In 2017, I started learning Python on my own, and I fell in love with it,” Michael said. “But after a year of online, part-time learning, I knew I had to invest in myself if I really wanted to master it.”

Despite a hectic traveling schedule at work, Michael enrolled in the Rutgers Data Science Boot Camp. It turned out to be not only one of the best decisions he’d ever made but also one of the most timely.

Silver linings

“I was actually laid off from my job on the very first day of the boot camp,” Michael said. “It was bittersweet.”

While Michael didn’t have the stability of his former position, he now had an even bigger incentive to pursue a new career. He decided to focus solely on the positive side of his new situation.

“Losing my old job meant I had even more at stake—more to work towards—but it also gave me a lot more time to invest in the boot camp,” said Michael. “The added effort let me do really well in the course.”

Michael had every reason to be optimistic. He’d initially signed up for the boot camp on the recommendation of a recent graduate and close friend, who was already working in their new field.

“I signed up for the Rutgers Data Science Boot Camp because a friend who took the web developer course at Rutgers recommended it. He was even a TA during my program,” said Michael. “It was almost meant to be.”

Real-world skills from an actual classroom

As Michael progressed through the program he gathered more confidence in his new career path, thanks in large part to the focus on real-world skill-building.

“They eased us in with Excel and got our feet wet with data science. But around week four, we started learning the kind of Python that Excel just can’t do. The big data stuff with thousands of cells and rows,” Michael said. “That’s when I really started to see the real value of the boot camp.”

That practical understanding of the true power of data science only continued with a number of group assignments that used real-world databases to construct professional portfolio projects.

In fact, Michael hosted several projects on his personal site, including The Artilyzer, a Spotify analysis engine that generates visualizations of top-artist attributes.

According to Michael, though, one of the biggest advantages of the boot camp wasn’t the rigorous classwork—it was the ability to speak intelligently with other developers and analysts.

Learning the lingo

A big part of coding and data science boot camps is preparing students for real-world interviews, networking events, and, of course, jobs in their field. It can be a challenging journey even for the best students.

“At my first meet-up, I didn’t know the difference between a data engineer and a data scientist,” said Michael. “But when I constantly engaged with the material, it fast-tracked my ability to have intelligent conversations with people who work in machine learning. I learned the lingo.”

Michael stressed the importance of building a strong network of peers during your time in the boot camp.

“I was constantly impressed by the instructors, TAs, and other students. Having discussions and learning from everyone’s stories was a really valuable experience,” said Michael.

That comfort and intimate expertise helped Michael land a six-month contract position as a junior software engineer at Express Scripts shortly after graduation. Immediately, the job felt very different from his old one, in more ways than one.

“Right from the start, I could tell I was working on my career,” Michael said.

Finally in the right place at the right time

Forging a new career from scratch can be daunting. But according to Michael, even “good” jobs in the wrong field aren’t worth clinging onto—especially if they’re in an industry that is in decline.

“My old job as a ‘radio frequency engineer’ was a good position. The problem is that there wasn’t any chance for growth because I wasn’t in a thriving industry,” Michael said. “And unfortunately, when there’s no chance for growth, work environments can get pretty toxic.”

Not only is Michael’s new job in an industry that’s only getting bigger, but the work environment is truly setting him up for success.

“This new job is a total 180,” Michael said. “I have a helpful manager and everyone is willing to help me succeed and get me trained up on the new materials. When you work with a million and a half lines of code, you see how amazing and powerful this stuff really is!”

Michael plans to continue “getting his hands dirty with data” over the next few years, aiming to work with Python, Hadoop, SQL, and whatever else will help him solve core problems for the company.

His advice for anyone thinking about the data science boot camp is fundamental but incredibly important.

“You have to be passionate about this,” Michael said. “The boot camp is an investment in your future, and my passion for big data is what drove me to learn all these tough technical skills.”

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