Forging New Professional Identities: From Data, ML, AI, Product To Leader, Coach, Solopreneur…

Forging New Professional Identities: From Data, ML, AI, Product, to Leader, Coach, Solopreneur, And Writer

I am marking a turning point in my career — redefining what “work” means to me, solidifying my learning, and letting go of what needs to be left behind to make space for new growth ahead of me.

2024 is a year of transformation for me in many ways — both professionally and personally. I decided to take a break from my corporate career to explore a new career as an executive and leadership coach in February, but over the last few months, I felt something was missing. Then I realized I hadn’t performed my ritual to jot down the journey, successes, and learnings from my role as Product Manager for the last 4 years before I moved on to the next thing.

So, this article is to follow my tradition of putting it all together every time I make a big change — capturing my raw and honest brain dump of what I learned from nine years of working with data, ML, and AI and building products on a global scale, why I chose what I chose to do all these years, and an opinion on identities and self-worth.

P.S.: You can find my ritualistic articles on previous transitions: learnings from applications of data science in performance marketing, learning from fraud prevention at scale, observations from ML optimized personalization, and understanding of Data Product Management.

What do I love about Data Science and Machine Learning?

I worked as a Data Scientist from 2015–2020 in companies of different sizes and capacities across continents. I went on to build more Data, ML, and AI products from 2021 to 2024. I don’t seem to get enough of it. Why? Because I never seemed to get bored of the variety of problems I got to solve, I always had something to learn, and the concepts could be applied across industries to solve many high-impact problems — the versatility and possibilities were really addictive:

I have built ML libraries by programming ML algorithms in C, Java, SQL, Scala, and Pyspark as a big data and Hadoop engineer. I wrote a recommender system using SQL queries and built text analytics tools and predictive models for a startup as the only Data Scientist on the team. I got to build ML-based fraud prevention, booking prediction, automated bidding, personalization, and even NLP products. I worked in B2B SaaS, e-commerce, travel, ad-tech, ed-tech, and data4good spaces.

The list is endless. There are still more spaces I want to work in, using data and ML-based optimization to solve some really challenging problems: supply chain, logistics and climate are top of mind spaces for me to explore. Someday.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

I had chances to build, mentor, and lead teams — sometimes even when I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities. I have mentored folks on hard skills such as SQL, ML basics, Python, automated workflows, and data pipelines. I coached people on soft skills such as communication, stakeholder management, organizational skills, and, interviewing skills. There was always so much to exchange and collaborate on.

Data Science has and will always have a special place in my heart — it is what I started my career with and what resonated the most with me — giving me the freedom and flexibility to explore the world of possibilities without having to introduce too many changes. ❤

What made me transition to Product Management at the peak of the Data Science Hype?

Coming from a highly technical background, I was always curious to learn the non-technical and business sides of things—as if to add the remaining half to me to be complete. I picked up some topics while working at the startup, and then, as a data scientist, I was placed in a marketing function that was obviously closer to the business than the product. Looking back, I am grateful for that placement because I started to appreciate how critical non-technical functions are to ensure a business’s success.

I decided to find a role at the intersection of data, tech, business, and leadership and found Product Management to be a good fit, satisfying most of my criteria. One of my managers poured so much heart and energy into my transition back then that I don’t think I would have been able to make the transition as smoothly and quickly as I did without his support! ❤

So, my curiosity to grow and stretch myself in more business areas and leadership pushed me to take on a product management role. And I am grateful for that choice—pushing myself beyond my comfort zone was a good challenge!

What am I taking with me from these two experiences?

I learned so much about not just product development, people, processes, and business strategy but also about myself! I learnt that I enjoy growing things from 1 to 10 instead of 0 to 1. I learned that I love collaborating with different roles across the organization, that I am really good at bringing structure to chaos, aligning cross-functional stakeholders, building long-term product visions, strategy, and roadmaps, and most interestingly, picking up things/projects no one else is picking! 🤷‍♀

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

I also learned that coming from a data background, I enjoy data and ML optimization problems A LOT MORE than the frontend/UX side of product management, that software engineering development is SO different from data science/ML development, that DATA WINS over politics, that I love working in collaborative environments more than competitive environments, and that we are STILL just getting started in the Data Product era.

I have tapped into different communities and built a stronger network among people in Data/ML/AI, Product and a combination of both — some of which I keep crossing paths once in a while over time! I have found incredible mentors and sponsors to keep moving me forward. In return, I mentored many who wanted to explore similar career trajectories.

I got a chance to put myself out there first as a data scientist and then as a product manager through panel discussions, conference talks, technical blogs, and workshops. I saw my products being launched and saw their fair share of failures and successes.

I observed many leaders across organizations, different seniority levels, and different functions and watched their leadership styles in different situations. Most importantly, I cherrypicked their best skills for me to replicate — communication, strategic thinking, handling conflicts, change management, dealing with black swan events(aka Covid pandemic), process efficiency, stakeholder management, developing people, managing upwards, fostering collaboration, approaching problems with a beginner’s mindset, decision-making frameworks, owning responsibilities, drawing boundaries and so on.

I also learned how NOT to lead in some situations, either through observations or through people’s feedback on my working style. Overall, it was a good experience to explore and experiment to find my own authentic leadership style!

In retrospect, the most fulfilling part of both roles for me was the people I worked with — they made it as fun as it was — even through challenging times, especially through challenging times! I knew then that whatever I do in my work has to be centered around people — not the business, not the product, but those who make it real, daily. Sure, the product and business would be there to bring problem statements to collaborate on, but as long as there’s collaboration with amazing people — I found myself happy and having fun at work!

What made me take a break from my PM career when AI Product Managers were all the hype?

Quite honestly, I was pretty burnt out. I have been studying and working nonstop without a break for 15 years since 2009. All the while, I moved countries, transitioned my career twice, worked in 5 companies, and tried starting up and shutting it down—it was time for me to take a break from the corporate job, have some more flexibility in my schedule, and have some space to re-invest in myself in both personal and professional directions.

Having worked in the Data/ML/AI space for almost a decade, I know it’s not going anywhere — that if I were to come back in a year, it wouldn’t be so hard to catch up — it might actually be better for me to be away in this time where things haven’t settled down in this space, given that I don’t particularly enjoy 0-to-1 projects that much. This chain of thought gave me a lot more comfort than the FOMO of not being involved so actively in building the next genAI products for the market.

In the meantime, I decided to pick up a new skill that has more to do with people than technology. And I love it—it’s stretching me in all new dimensions that I barely paid attention to, making me a lot more empathetic, resilient, and experimental. It’s bringing me a lot of joy and fulfillment, the excitement to be new and raw at something again, and the challenge of bringing it to a substantial level.

Photo by Julien de Salaberry on Unsplash

I decided to expand on one of the leadership and people skills I enjoyed a lot in all these years: Coaching! It has opened a whole new world for me, introduced me to an amazing community of like-minded people, all in service of growing others, and has given me the opportunity to impact individuals directly and deeply. It is also a new challenge for me to put together all the product, business, communication, marketing, and leadership skills I have gained over time to build a decent business out of it.

I have chosen to coach new leaders to find their own authentic leadership style, to step into their roles more confidently, and to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity with their hard-earned wisdom rather than self-doubt. I have also chosen to support big career transitioners like me because I recognize that it’s not easy and it takes courage to leap — I don’t like watching people hold themselves back from something amazing they are capable of because of their fears and limiting beliefs — be it switching industries or moving to entrepreneurship.

P.S.: If any of these resonates with you, and you would like to explore working with a coach, you know where to find me. 😉

What does the professional identity(s) mean to me?

That brings me to this million-dollar question of identity and self-worth and how people these days attach so much of it to their job role or employer brand. I did, too. I didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to me.

And as long as I was attached to my identity as a data scientist, it was hard for me to switch to product management. But at some point, I had to let it go — however, working on the data products still, I had space for my ex-data scientist to come out once in a while until my teams politely reminded me that that’s not my job anymore.

So, as long as I was attached to my identity as this tech worker, I had an even harder time switching to an entirely non-tech role of a Coach, no matter how much I loved it! It was only when I stepped into a new possibility of multiple identities coexisting that I could allow myself to choose among them intentionally — like pillars of a greek temple — all supporting me in different ways. The more I thought about it, the more identities emerged — some well-developed, some screaming for attention.

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

So, in 2024, I decided to detach myself from just one professional identity to allow my further growth and learning and have the possibility of mixing multiple identities to make something entirely new in the future — like LEGO blocks! Professionally, I choose to focus on developing my Coach, Writer, Solopreneur, Community Leader, and Speaker identities this year! Personally, I am focusing on my health and fitness, developing dancing as a serious hobby and integrating more into the German language and culture.

And I keep my mind open for whatever shows up for me for the upcoming years!

I write about Career, Growth, Self-development, Leadership, and Coaching. If you would like to read along with my learning journey, you can follow me on medium or LinkedIn. I am also publishing self-growth articles on substack. If you would like to explore working with a coach for your goals, you can reach out to me either on LinkedIn or through this form.

Forging New Professional Identities: From Data, ML, AI, Product To Leader, Coach, Solopreneur… was originally published in Towards Data Science on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Unlock the power of our talent network. Partner with QAT Global for your staffing needs and experience the difference of having a dedicated team of experts supporting your enterprise’s growth.

Explore Articles from QAT Global