Data for Social Good: Why I Chose To Learn Data Analytics (and How the Edie Windsor Scholarship Made It Possible)

Meet Brittany: A social worker who recently completed the CareerFoundry Data Analytics Program. With the help of the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship, Brittany was able to turn a passion for data into a new set of skills. In this interview, she shares how she plans to apply them to the field of mental health.

by Emily Stevens on 3 June 2021

Brittany Anderson-Freese, Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship recipient and CareerFoundry graduate
Hi Brittany! Thanks for speaking with me today. Would you mind telling me a bit about yourself?

Hi! Sure. So I’m a social worker, and I’ve been in the mental health and substance abuse field for 13 years. I’ve spent the last eight years as a manager of various programs, including grant programs and revenue generating programs that bill insurance. I also have a private practice where I see clients directly for mental health counseling. I am originally from Ohio, but I lived in New York City for seven years, and that really shaped a lot of my experiences and who I am today. Then I moved back to Ohio because family was important at that point.

In general, I consider myself an advocate and I try to be an activist. A lot has gone on in the past year-and-a-half or so as far as social justice goes, so I’ve been trying to do better with micro activism. I work individually with people so I can help on that level, but there’s so much more that can be done.

Exactly. So my bachelor’s degree is in psychology and I have a master’s degree in social work. Human behavior fascinates me, and I try to apply my knowledge in that area to the work that I do. Humans can be both predictable and unpredictable!

Absolutely! So what piqued your interest in data analytics?

In the United States, social workers and people who work in mental health don’t necessarily get paid a lot. The only way for me to really get better pay is to be a manager. I became a manager young and I love it, but I’m also getting a little burned out. I’m a middle manager, so I’m doing the direct work while helping my staff do the direct work, and also answering to everyone above and trying to fight for change when I have very little influence myself, you know? And so I guess this made me think to myself, what do I want to do? I was thinking about what I could do to make more money but also still make a difference in the world. I saw that some bootcamps were starting to offer data analytics programs, and I thought, well, this is something I can apply to my current field. That’s what inspired me in the end: feeling a little burned out and not knowing where to go, and deciding that a bootcamp would be a better return on investment than going back to do a master’s program.

You ended up getting a scholarship for the CareerFoundry Data Analytics Program—the Edie Windsor Scholarship offered by Lesbians Who Tech. What made you apply for the scholarship?

So I was in a period of “What should I do with my life?” I was burned out, I wanted to take a bootcamp for financial reasons, but I was still worried about the cost. I have a lot of student loans right now and I didn’t want to add to that. I started googling “women in tech scholarships” and came across the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship. That was amazing, and I found it at just the right time—the application was due very soon after I found it. It’s a scholarship for LGBTQ women and non-binary people. I saw it and thought, this sounds great! Lesbians Who Tech also offer lots of additional support, which makes the prospect of jumping into a new field feel less intimidating. I also felt like I was leaving it up to fate: I wasn’t sure whether or not to do a bootcamp, but I knew I’d go for it if I got a scholarship. And it all worked out!

That’s definitely a sign! What was the application process for the scholarship like?

There were essay questions on why I wanted to make a career change and what I wanted to do with the bootcamp experience once I graduate. It was all about being able to demonstrate that you will actually follow through with it—they want people to succeed, not just dabble in it and then quit. There was also an interview via Zoom where they were evaluating if I was ready for such a program, but it was very casual. That also made it easier to take the leap.

Once you got the scholarship, how did you go about choosing a bootcamp?

Lesbians Who Tech have partnerships with a few different bootcamps, and they were also open to partnering with additional schools. I was actually looking at a local school here in Cleveland—I was really nervous about doing a bootcamp online, and wanted to do it in-person—but this was right before the United States shut down as a result of the pandemic. So, in a pre-pandemic world, Lesbians Who Tech may have partnered with that local school, but this wasn’t an option once Covid-19 came about. I ended up having to choose an online bootcamp, so I did my research and came across CareerFoundry.

What made you choose CareerFoundry in the end?

The biggest thing was the flexibility and that it was self-paced. I was working full-time throughout the program, so it was ideal not having to show up for lectures at certain times. I was a little nervous that data analytics was new at CareerFoundry, but it seemed like there was a lot of support on offer with the dual mentorship model.

Having support from real people definitely makes a huge difference! Can you tell me a bit more about your mentor and tutor?

My tutor was the one who graded pretty much all my work, except for the final project of each module. He was always there to troubleshoot with me when I got stuck, and we developed a good online relationship. I also really liked my mentor because we had a very similar background in the healthcare field. That was really awesome! I had to switch mentors very close to the end as she got sick, but she has always said that I can reach out to her whenever I like, and we still have that relationship where she’s there for me if I need her or need a connection. I also have my tutor on LinkedIn and sometimes we email.

Did you have some experience with data analytics prior to the CareerFoundry program?

I’ve been working with data for all of the eight years that I’ve been a manager, and I’ve seen how having data and knowing how to analyze it can really improve outcomes for the programs we offer and the clients that we serve. I also found that my team members actually really appreciate the data because it gives them direction and helps to set expectations. So I kind of geeked out on data, you know? I wanted to take it to the next level. Excel and Tableau have so much functionality, and I wanted to learn about data on a more complex level. Before I studied data analytics, I was great at showing people the numbers, but I wasn’t able to dive too deep into them. This seemed like a good next step.

Did this make your experience on the Data Analytics Program a bit smoother, do you think? Or did it still feel like uncharted territory?

That’s an interesting question. In some ways, it was super new and intimidating, and in others, it was familiar, but still hard. I appreciated the first few lessons, which ease into the topic without jumping straight into anything too complex. This was a good refresher of some of the basics. The introduction period felt fairly easy, and then it got really hard, really fast! That was intimidating, but I did it and I did well and I really appreciated it.

I saw on LinkedIn that you were hoping to use your newfound data skills for social good. Can you tell me a bit about that?

I first started thinking about this when I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. One of the guys in it had worked at several social media companies and talked about how some of the things that data and technology can do are not really great for humans—like making us addicted to things. That got me thinking about how we’re currently using data. I’m interested in more meaningful ways of using data, such as using it to increase access to healthcare. We can use data to decrease bias in policing, or to decrease suicide completion. We can use data for all of these great things. My friend was telling me about a documentary where they collected data on phone calls made to children’s services and, based on that data, were able to help kids in need faster. The data is there, it’s being collected; we just need to think about how we use it.

It sounds like there’s lots of potential to apply your newfound data skills to your current line of work. Is that your plan, or are you looking to make a complete career change?

I guess one thing that’s different about me compared to a lot of other people who go through these bootcamps is that I’m OK taking my time to figure out my next steps. I’m using my newfound skills to further explore my interests and think about what I want to do. I’m so passionate about the overarching mission of the mental health field; if there’s a way for me to continue to make a difference in the field and focus more on data analytics rather than managing staff and clients, I would love that. I saw a really great position with a nonprofit organization that gave financial aid to those needing to be bailed out of jail ahead of their trial based on very minor charges. There was lots of data going into it, and that looked really cool. If I could do something like that without taking a major pay cut, that would be great. I’m also exploring my options at my current job. We do have a business intelligence department, and I would love to transition from my current position. That way, I could stay within the company and continue to help the people I’m currently helping, but in a different role.

That sounds ideal! Is this something you’ve already discussed at work?

Yes! The CEO of the company saw my post on LinkedIn as well, about wanting to use data for social good. He has put me in touch with the leader of that department, and we’re going to see how we can work some more data and business intelligence into my department, as well as how I could potentially transition to the BI department in the future. There are no open positions right now, but it’s definitely good to be able to use those resources within the company.

We’re going through a ton of changes right now. We’re a community organization but we’re trying to get on par with larger hospital systems. We’re making lots of changes to provide more access to the community; our mission is, when you need help right now, we’ll give it to you. We don’t turn anyone away if they urgently need mental health or substance abuse help. I really love that mission, and we’re just expanding and growing, so there’s huge potential for data analysis. I’m just waiting on that!

Data analysis plays such an important role in all kinds of sectors, doesn’t it? That’s what makes it so fascinating, and such a good skill to have.

Absolutely, and I think that’s what’s attractive about it too—the versatility it affords you. Data is the future, and everybody’s going to need lots of data analysts. I’ve seen data make a huge change in my field; it was traditionally really clinical-based, focused on helping people on a personal level. Over the years, it’s changed. They’re hiring data analysts at small community organizations because they realize they need those people and those skills to really improve the services they provide.

Social workers aren’t necessarily prepared or trained to manage programs—they’re trained to do clinical work with clients. I’ve seen a lot of supervisors not do well at supervising because they’re amazing therapists or social workers, but they can’t quite grasp the business intelligence side. That’s what makes me unique in my field. I can now bring a lot to both sides.

That’s a really great position to be in, being at the intersection of those different roles and skillsets. In terms of the actual tasks associated with the data analysis process, what do you enjoy the most?

One thing that I honestly really loved about the CareerFoundry program was using Python and extracting my own data from various places. I had no idea that it was possible! Whenever I’d worked with data previously, I was basically working with whatever data was presented to me. Being able to actually extract the data myself and figure out what insights I want to gather is really cool. I also really enjoy the problem-solving aspect, and the storytelling! That’s what it’s all about, right? Making the audience care about whatever issue it is that you’re talking about, getting them to understand why this data is important. The program has enabled me to do that on a larger scale in my current role.

What advice would you give to anyone considering applying for the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship and / or studying data analytics in the future?

My advice first and foremost would simply be to apply, even if you think you won’t get it. Even if you’re doubting yourself and your abilities. If you have the passion and you’re interested enough, you can learn how to code, you can learn how to do what you want to do, and you have that additional support. Knowing that you have a community of people who relate to you will help you succeed! So my advice is to just go for it.

Do you have any advice in terms of how prospective students can succeed on the CareerFoundry program?

Have a time management strategy in place. The program is self-paced and there were plenty of occasions where I didn’t necessarily want to sit down and study, but I had to force myself to do it. I would also say that, if you’re wanting to land a new job right away, it’s important to understand that CareerFoundry will give you the foundation, but you’re going to have to practice what you learn on the course. Click on all those extra links at the end of each lesson. Really dive into it and teach yourself things beyond what’s on the curriculum. Do extra projects. It’s essential to have that passion for the topic.

Great advice! You mentioned earlier that, when you were originally choosing a program, you were keen to do an in-person one. Having completed the CareerFoundry program, has that changed your perception of online study at all?

It definitely changed my mind. I was very concerned about it, and ultimately wanted to do an in-person program because of my own self-doubt. The online program proved to me that I can actually do it without someone standing in front of me and helping me. The support is still there, Google is there, you’ve got everything you need to get unstuck. I took an online course years ago and did terribly, and I think that gave me this preconceived notion that I wouldn’t be good at it, but it worked out perfectly. I think it even worked out better in the end as I could work around my schedule. It’s more convenient.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are certainly common threads when it comes to career change and learning new skills. It’s daunting starting from scratch, right? How do you navigate that?

I’ve really struggled with that, and I think that’s why it’s hard for me to make my next move. I’ve talked about this a lot with a friend in cybersecurity and he’s like “Welcome to the world of tech. Everybody has imposter syndrome.” I’ve been in my current field for 13 years, I have the highest licensure I can have, and have lots of experience. I feel close to the expert level—I don’t think anyone should ever call themselves an expert, otherwise you stop learning! But now I have these new skills and I don’t know anything about the tech culture compared to the culture of nonprofit work. I don’t know half the stuff I’m supposed to know as a data analyst because I haven’t worked in that field yet. Jumping into the unknown is very scary.

Absolutely. I imagine that’s where your mentor and tutor can really help. Is there anyone else in the industry that you look up to?

I’ve been following Arlan Hamilton. She invests in startups led by women, people of color, and people in the LGBTQ community. She’s pretty awesome. I’m also interested in Tristan Harrison, who co-founded the Center for Humane Technology. He has a podcast called Your Undivided Attention, talking about ethics in tech and how to make the industry more ethical.

We’ve talked quite a lot about data for social good. On a broader note, what do you think can and should be done to foster more diversity, equity, and inclusion within the tech industry?

Something that I’ve noticed, especially over the past year and a half, is that a lot of companies and CEOs issue public statements or have additional celebrations for things like Pride Month, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month, and that’s really great. But what we really need to do is hire women, people of color, and trans people to actually work in these companies and positions. We need to develop their skills and promote them because, if the leadership is made up exclusively of straight CIS white men, it doesn’t matter how diverse your workforce is if no one else is at the decision-making table.

So we really just need to get people in those positions. A lot of companies talk about how difficult it is to diversify their leadership teams, but it’s less about the talent being out there and more about whether or not that talent wants to work for your company based on what you’ve presented to the world. We can see through the statements issued: actions speak louder than words. Are you going to hire people? Are you going to pay them appropriately? There’s talent out there, but it’s being overlooked or those people don’t want to work for a company that has a certain image or vibe.

Absolutely. Thanks, Brittany, it was great speaking with you!

If you’re also thinking about learning data analytics—be it for a career change, or to apply it to your current field—you can book a call with one of our program advisors to help figure out your next steps. We are proud to offer a range of scholarships throughout the year, including the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship in partnership with Lesbians Who Tech, and our Women In Tech Scholarship which runs in March and September. And, if you’re not eligible for a scholarship, we offer a range of interest-free payment plans. This is something you can also discuss with a program advisor.

by Emily Stevens on 3 June 2021

About the author

Emily Stevens

Emily is a professional tech writer and content strategist. She spent over a decade in tech startups, immersed in the world of UX and design thinking. In addition to writing for The CareerFoundry Blog, Emily has been a regular contributor to several industry-leading design publications and wrote a chapter for The UX Careers Handbook. She also has an MSc in Psychology from the University of Westminster.