Ecaterina Vidrascu joined the Data Lab MSc placement programme in May 2020, while undertaking her course in Data Science at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU). She did her placement as an Alexa Skill Developer at TL Tech – Smart Home Solutions.
It was so successful that TL Tech offered her a permanent position and she now works remotely for the company from her new home in Manchester. The project she worked on, which was to develop a voice application for assessing wellbeing, will soon be available in the Amazon Alexa Skills Store.
What made you decide to join The Data Lab MSc Programme?
My journey started when I moved to Scotland from Latvia at the beginning of 2019. This is when I first heard about The Data Lab as they organised the DataFest event, but I had no idea about the Data Lab MSc Programme at that time.
I completed my undergraduate studies at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, where I gained a BSc in Business and Economics. During my degree my favourite subjects were econometrics and statistics. Following university, I worked for around two years as a support analyst for a hedge fund portfolio management system, which involved a lot work with databases and SQL. In Aberdeen I took a position as a Data Analyst at an energy consulting company and there I got more exposure to data analysis and data visualisation and started to use tools like Power BI.
I soon realised that data science was the perfect field to advance my knowledge and develop my skills, as it is the perfect combination of analytical thinking and programming, so I decided to go back to university. I chose the Robert Gordon University (RGU) MSc in Data Science course and learned from its website that there was an opportunity to join the Data Lab MSc programme. After reading about The Data Lab and learning about the programme and all the other activities that The Data Lab organises and participates in, I was convinced that this was the perfect programme for me.
I think the combination of the university lectures, The Data Lab events and networking, and the opportunity to do an industry placement over summer are all together a great starting point for transitioning or starting a career in data science.
Tell us more about your placement
I did my placement as an Alexa Skill Developer at TL Tech – Smart Home Solutions. The company is a start-up which provides smart home solutions and installations across Scotland. TL Tech identified through their customers that there is a lot of support that can be offered to people at home, using voice assistants. They transformed this into a project to build their own voice skill that can assist wellbeing. Voice skills are voice applications that work on smart speakers and can be enabled by the user from the Amazon Alexa Skills Store.
From the beginning I knew that this was a different project, it was not the usual project where you work on a dataset or work on a data engineering problem. This was something completely new that I had to learn during the three months of the project. Overall, the project was very interesting, but also challenging as I had to learn new things about designing an Artificial Intelligence voice solution.
Building a voice application involved learning new data formats – like JSON, learning a bit of Node.JS programming language as well as familiarising myself with the Amazon Alexa Developer Console. Before starting the project, I took a few online courses to grasp the basics and understand the principles of work of an Alexa Voice Skill.
The whole project was performed remotely over multiple stages, and the skill was tested with real users at each stage so we could incorporate feedback. The two main functionalities of the developed voice skill include a wellbeing questionnaire and a collection of wellbeing tips that aim at supporting and improving wellbeing. Together with the industry supervisors, Thomas and Caroline we worked through designing and testing the skill. Their support during the project and the regular meetings helped ensure that I was making good progress and all the issues or design questions were discussed and addressed.
What are you doing now?
I moved to Manchester at the end of September and I’m starting to get used to the new city. TL Tech offered me a permanent position after the completion of the project, and I am working on developing and improving further the Alexa Skill. I am very grateful for this opportunity and the fact that I am working remotely allowed me to take on this position even when moving from Aberdeen down to Manchester.
One piece of exciting news is that the Alexa Skill will be available very soon in the Amazon Alexa Skills Store. We have recently completed the certification process, so now it is only a matter of arranging the launch of the skill and making it available to everyone who has an Amazon speaker.
Meanwhile, I’ve also decided to continue studying and extending my knowledge in data science via MOOC courses and DataCamp. I found that online data science courses were a great addition and preparation for the MSc course, and a great way to gain greater expertise in more specific topics in this ever-growing discipline.
Would you recommend The Data Lab MSc Programme?
The Data Lab MSc Programme is not only an MSc and a placement, it offers much more, and this makes a difference. The amount of work and effort provided by The Data Lab through events, networking, and career training to me and all other MSc students has been invaluable.
I would recommend the Data Lab MSc Programme to anyone looking for a career change or who wants to get into Data Science. The programme is comprehensive and the modules I completed at RGU were of very high quality, including the most in demand programming languages in data science such as Python, R, and SQL.
I am very thankful for the opportunity to study at RGU and to work at TL Tech and would like to thank the Data Lab and MBN Solutions for making it possible.
Caroline Laurenson, Managing Director of TL Tech – Smart Home Solutions, said:
When we approached The Data Lab to talk about potential student support we had spent the last few months looking at the way we support our customers and realised that the single most powerful device in the smart home is the voice assistant.
We were keen to explore how we could use this interface to help people better manage their wellbeing and self-care. The Data Lab’s placement delivery partner MBN Solutions did an amazing job helping to match us with a student. We reviewed a few CVs, but Ecaterina’s really jumped out at us as someone with a diverse skill set and the capability to learn new things and think creatively. We received excellent support from The Data Lab and also through the academic supervisor at Robert Gordon’s University.
If you have an idea for a project, we’d recommend talking it through with The Data Lab team, as we had initially thought our idea was too unusual to fit in with the programme, but I think the outcomes speak for themselves. As a start-up we have a very limited budget to do development and we wouldn’t have been able to progress our ideas without the support of The Data Lab.
The key to unlocking the value of the smart home is data, so we are super excited that Ecaterina is staying on with us to help launch the Alexa voice skill and to progress some of our other development ideas to visualise the data and integrate it with other systems.
Could your organisation benefit from the latest knowledge of data science, data engineering and AI technologies?
The Data Lab’s MSc placement programme is open for any Scottish organisation with an idea for a short data science project of 8-12 weeks. Our highly motivated data students are keen to put the technical skills learnt in their academic MSc courses to work in the real world, and can bring real benefits.
Find out more about Short Data Science Projects.