AI Insights

Building Soft Skills to Stand Out in your Job – By Computational Linguist, PhD, Anna Koroleva

October 6, 2022

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Anna Koroleva completed several Omdena projects and learned invaluable as well as surprising lessons and skills she now applies in her job.

What is your background, Anna? 

I live in the United Kingdom, I am a computational linguist / NLP specialist, and in 2021 I has started a new job at Relative Insight – a UK-based company specializing in comparative text analysis. Right after receiving the job offer and before starting the job, I came across Omdena and managed to complete my first project Using Machine Learning to Predict Future Infrastructure of Africa. So, why do I join a challenge when I’ve already got a job? I believe it supports me in my career! 

How did the Omdena experience help you with your job?

With Omdena, I had a chance to participate in a few technical tasks that were not involved in my everyday work: web scraping, topic modeling, sentiment analysis using various tools, and classification tasks that involve different word embeddings. Now, I use at my work some of the tools I learned with Omdena. But, technical experience is not the only thing I got at Omdena challenges, maybe not even the most important one. So, what is more, important than technical skills?  

Omdena projects are based on the principles of bottom-up collaboration and self-management. It means that no one gives you tasks, tells you what to do, or determines your work schedule. You are the one who comes up with ideas, does research, starts discussions, brings ideas to life, and seeks help when something’s not working. This does not sound like classic work experience, right? At work, you have a manager who gives you tasks, sets schedules for your work, and regularly oversees your progress.

Anna is working during a secondment at the UK EQUATOR Centre during her PhD.

Anna is working during a secondment at the UK EQUATOR Centre during her PhD.

What soft skills are essential?

Well, in fact, it’s not all that different. Self-management skills, promoted by Omdena, will be helpful in any data science or machine learning position. When you are assigned a task at work, your manager will not give you a step-by-step action plan. You will still need to get creative, do some research, and try a few different approaches to see what works best. And all that within a pretty short timeframe – just like in Omdena challenges where projects go all the way from conception to deployment in 8 weeks.

A related skill that I find very valuable is prioritizing which method to choose and how to divide your time between project stages. Opportunities for research in a given task can be endless and exciting. But in real life, you usually have limited time. You need to be realistic in assessing how long possible approaches are going to take, and how that relates to practical restrictions.

Probably the most important thing you learn at Omdena is asking questions. It sounds simple, but is there anyone who has never had doubts when she/he had to ask a “stupid” question? It often feels like we are expected to know and remember everything, and asking would show us off as incompetent (hello, imposter syndrome!). When you get stuck with a task, it’s worth trying to figure it out by yourself – that’s a good learning experience. But it’s important to think: will it take me days? Weeks? or months? Asking a question can save you a lot of time. Your colleagues will not look down on you, quite the opposite.

What skills could you improve? 

I still have a lot to learn on the technical side. Of course, I could spend days just listing it all. On the personal side, I believe it is always a bit of a challenge to establish good contact with people – at a new job, in a new project. Being quite introverted, I still find it hard to get out of my shell.

Did the experience give some other insights in your worldview?

The first answer that comes to my mind is related to my thoughts on the first question. When everyone stops being shy about asking questions, you get to learn a great thing: everyone’s experience is different and valuable. You might feel like you are the least experienced person on the project, but there are some topics in which you are qualified and can help others. And you should not be afraid to step forward and say – hey, I think I can help here.

The second insight that I got at Omdena is that everyone is very friendly and supportive, very willing to learn and help others learn. This probably sounds banal. Omdena projects are really about working together, not about competing and climbing on each others’ heads. This is the culture I am happy to be a part of, the one I want to build wherever I am.

At Agnietenkapel Amsterdam just before my PhD defense (those purple books are my thesis!)

At Agnietenkapel Amsterdam just before my PhD defense (those purple books are my thesis!)

“I hope that more people who want to get into data science will try Omdena’s projects because that’s a real way to advance your career.”

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