Vanessa Contumelias Mendao | 30/05/2019

I am so excited about writing this article I don’t even know how to begin. Really, I am a journalist by trade but the last time I wrote for a newspaper was in 2010. Since then I have had many other jobs, but I haven’t felt the pressure of a deadline in a long time.

So, why am I writing this article then?

Well, someone suggested I write about my experience with She Loves Data events. I couldn’t say no. It was an excellent chance to flex my muscles as a writer.

Who was that person?

It was Jana Marlé-Zizková – founder of Meiro and She Loves Data, and proud owner of not one but two pairs of Wonder Woman shoes.

Let me tell you more…

The first time I saw Jana was at the Data is the new black event, back in March. I have to say my expectations for the event weren’t that great. I had been to many events “for women” where a few successful ladies give pep talks to an audience of mostly expat women who are looking for inspiration, validation and a purpose. What usually happens in these talks is that I leave feeling less inspired and even more frustrated. Why can they do it but I can’t? How can they be so fit and successful? When did they learn how to create their own businesses? How can they run their own business when I can’t even find a job?

Singapore can be very harsh to women, especially when we don’t work. Employers tend to assume we are bored women looking for something to keep us entertained, and not smart women with skills and something to bring to the table. I was asked several times in interviews what my husband does. I was also asked who would take care of my daughter if I started working. I was even told that my salary expectations were too high and that “I didn’t really need the money”.

To be asked these questions and to have these sorts of assumptions made about me is infuriating.

So, what am I still doing in Singapore?

Jana has a lot to do with it. See, I was totally wrong about the content of the event. The all-female panel shared struggles, talked about difficulties, explained how difficult life was at moments. They didn’t rub their success in the audience’s face. These women overcame obstacles, jumped through hoops and over hurdles to get where they are. They all had things in common: being women, incredibly bright, humble and working in the data field, whether by chance or by choice. I still wasn’t sure what data was about, but I was truly inspired and I needed to learn more. I went home and started researching, I read articles and watched videos. I learned about data visualization tools and realised that it all tied in really neatly with my background.

And what background is that?

I am Portuguese and left my home country fresh out of university, in 2004, to pursue my dream of being a journalist. I moved to Spain where I worked for several newspapers and magazines. But the economic crisis hit hard and many papers went bankrupt, including my main clients.

It was time to pack my bags and go back home. Obviously, after making a living from chasing stories, asking uncomfortable questions and writing for hours… after years of arriving home late and eating cold pizza in the morning, how was I going to get my kick of adrenaline? PR and event management didn’t really work so I started teaching.

What? How do you even go from A to B?

With bills to pay and putting to good use something I already knew. In my case, Spanish and English. I taught children, teenagers, adults, corporate, public schools, one-to-one, large groups, you name it. The adrenaline was back! Standing in from of people, teaching them a new skill, listening to their questions, thinking on my feet. When preparing my classes I always tried to add some humour and make things light and fun.

A year went by and I had to decide whether to renew for another year or move again as life was getting quite claustrophobic. In a turn of events that included the start of a new relationship I packed my bags again and went to the UK. I was going to keep on teaching but ended up working in an International School where I quickly went from Receptionist to Deputy Director of Studies. Soon there would be a restructure and I applied for a job in a university. I got it and in under a year I went from Administrative Assistant to Senior Officer. It was a great job: I led a student support team with 7 amazing women and about 8.000 students.

What does this all have to do with data?

Great question, as the politicians would say. At the time I didn’t know, but I was dealing with raw data and trying to make sense of it every single day. I dealt with students, modules, schedules, classes, allocations. It would’ve been a lot easier to do that with some specific software and a data analyst in the team. As a journalist, I had to read reports and write articles. I was the one deciding what information to use and knowing what mattered to my readers. This is also data analysis. Who knew?!

What was my next step?

I kept a close eye on this She Loves Data thing and as soon as they announced another event I signed up. The event was called “Introduction to Data Analytics” and it was only for women. About a hundred of us attended this all-day masterclass on the basics of Data Analysis.

How did it go?

It was awesome! I saw Jana again and confirmed that she is set in helping women find the best in themselves: to develop new skills and to find or confirm their worth. Right at the start, she showed everyone how to connect with each other on LinkedIn. On that day this network became interesting to me.

Jana then introduced Quinn Pham, from Meiro, and Steve Remington from Minerra. They spent hours teaching new terminology, showing software, breaking down things that seemed very complicated. We discussed data visualization and context. This was definitely not an event for techies… I am not one and enjoyed every minute of it. I learned that interpreting data is no different from translating from one language to another. I also learned that pie charts make Steve’s cats sad. Trust me on this one, after hearing Steve talk about pie charts you will not see them in the same way again.

Who else was there?

Asides from the dozens of women from all sorts of backgrounds and industries, many of whom I had the pleasure of talking to during and after the event, the She Loves Data team brought some heavy-weights to share their professional journeys: Katrien Bollen from Google, Melissa Ries from Tibco, Stephanie Chin from HP. Down to earth women who have been where some of us are: suffering from imposter syndrome, feeling like we are not worthy of a seat at the table. Let me tell you that the seat at the table is not Thor’s hammer. You don’t have to be worthy… you just need to want it.

What happened after the workshop?

I approached Jana, Quinn and Steve. I told them how much I had enjoyed the event and how friendly the environment was. I also liked how the trainers were not patronising or condescending.
We shared contacts and I got in touch with Jana and asked if I could join her, Pavel, Quinn, Steve, Nelya, Patricia, Alex and many other volunteers who are making the world a better place by including and welcoming women into a field that traditionally is difficult for us to access.

And???

Well, now I finished writing my first article as Content Producer for SLD. Soon I’ll start co-managing the newsletter with the help and support of some incredibly bright and friendly people. I am proud to say I have found my #DataTribe.

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