Climbing the data science ladder in insurance

Article Eleanor Brodie, data science manager, Insurance at LexisNexis Risk Solutions U.K. and Ireland

Competition for good data scientists, especially within the insurance industry, is currently hotter than ever and it is likely that demand will exceed supply for quite some time.

The past few years has generated a big shift in consumer behaviour and insurance providers are looking for new data driven solutions to better understand their customers. There has never been a better time for a woman interested in a career in data science to seek out the growing opportunities that exist within insurance.

Those with the core skills will be able to choose from the employers that offer the best opportunities beyond salary and benefits.  They will want to see how their ambitions for a career in data can be realised, that their job will be fulfilling and at times fun.  Creating the right infrastructure to both attract and retain this talent is therefore becoming a business imperative for insurance providers and data providers such as LexisNexis Risk Solutions, serving the insurance industry.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions employs data scientists across multiple insurance sectors – from looking at the risk of motor policy cancellations to analysing data based on a vehicle’s safety features or precisely mapping flood risk for the property insurance market.

As the insurance industry continues to evolve there is a gradual increase in new data sources available, such as satellite and aerial imagery to assess home and commercial property claims. There is a big interest in gaining access to accurate claims data gathered from across the market to help insurance providers improve the efficacy of pricing, underwriting and claims processing. The more data that comes into the market essentially means more opportunities for data scientists. Our data scientists work with billions of records to solve customer problems. Other companies can be limited in the breadth and depth of their data, but we are able to pull it all together in a commercially viable application.

But as with any relatively new role within the technology industry there are several misconceptions about what a data scientist really does. One of the biggest misconceptions is that big data and analytics will eventually replace human capital; this simply isn’t true. Anyone looking at a potential career as a data scientist should not underestimate the potential that human interaction with the data creates.

Another misunderstanding about data science that we encounter within the insurance sector is that there is a simple formula, where all data is poured into a magic funnel that draws out the desired outcome. Before any predictive model can be built the data needs to be enriched, filtered and structured correctly which is a process that relies heavily on quality data sources and knowledge of modelling.

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Looking to the future

If you are starting out in data science within any business, perhaps as a graduate, check what kind of journey you will be on from day one.  The LexisNexis Risk Solutions Data Science Rotational Program (DSRP) sees graduates from disciplines such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, data science, physics, financial math, actuarial science and engineering join LexisNexis for a two-year cycle through four different teams. This experience provides a robust hands-on journey from data access, data analysis, model building to model implementation.

Alternatively, if you are already within a business and want to move into a data science team, find ways to demonstrate you have a passion for data and a basic understanding of the mathematical concepts behind modelling.

Finally, look for organisations or teams that have female leadership groups that play a key role in attracting women to the business. If you can see that there are women at the top who are encouraging, mentoring and supporting other women in the business to reach their true potential, you will know you are on firm ground.

Part and parcel of nurturing talent is continuous on-the-job learning. We sponsor several additional education programmes and encourage employees to push themselves to achieve more, such as passing their actuarial exams.

My sign off piece of advice to a woman considering data science as a career is to be honest!  Data Science isn’t as sexy as it seems; yes, you can build a lot of cool stuff but to build the cool stuff that actually works in the real world you have to understand the data. It’s a hard-fought battle to properly understand data and build something that effectively better predicts an outcome or deploying automation. You must move from the safety of an R&D environment to a production environment, which can be a scary prospect and a hard road to get all the pieces to align.  If you love digging into the data, analysing it and helping companies find insights or even better, do good for society, then you’ve found the right spot.

women in tech, soft skills featured

4 tips for women starting in tech

women in tech, soft skills

Starting out in a tech career can be particularly difficult, especially due to the competitive nature of the hiring process.

Below are four key tips on how to climb the ladder into the tech industry as a woman:

1. Student and graduate work

Gaining experience while you are still a student is a great way to put yourself in a better position once you have graduated. One year work placements, sandwich years and part time working roles allow you to develop essential skills desired by employers, which can help you get an early foot in the door when applying to positions in the future.

Graduate programmes are a great way to help you climb the ladder whilst also receiving extensive training and exposure to different areas of the business from sales, to finance, to marketing and much more.

2. Perfect your CV

Firstly, it is important to write your CV in line with the specific sector that you’re applying to work in, as well as the job role. Your CV needs to be easy to read, personable and highlight key areas of experience and talent. If you don’t have much experience it’s important to list the key skills that employers will be looking for in their candidates, and highlight personal achievements that will make you stand out against the crowd.

You should list all your qualifications, especially those which are tech oriented, starting with the most recent first. For example if you have a degree, you should state the University you attended, dates attended and the qualifications gained. If you don’t have a degree it’s worth including any NVQs, A-levels and GCSE qualifications.

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3. Impressing in an interview

Always start by researching to ensure you know your potential company well, as well as the industry. A good place to start is by looking at their LinkedIn and other social media sites to get a real feel of the company, and how they like to present themselves.

Linking back to the previous point, know your CV. Think back to the job specifications and consider ways in which your relevant experience may demonstrate these skills, and be ready to explain and expand on your experience. For example, for Finance and Accounting positions in tech, you may want to discuss what qualifications you have, as well as any previous positions in the sector. Although the role may not be hands-on technical work, you may want to mention your current knowledge, even if it is basic.

4. Starting your new role 

Once you’ve accepted your new job position, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s best to just take each day by day whilst you’re adapting to your new environment and don’t be scared to ask for help if you need it. Asking questions is a great way to start building connections and relationships with your colleagues. Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question if you don’t already know the answer to it.

For example, if you work in a HR recruitment agency in tech you may want to be more inquisitive due to the competitive nature of the sector, in order to gain more of the professional and technical knowledge your colleagues may have.

Climbing the ladder in tech

Woman climbing the ladder. Сareer growth, achievement of success in business or study.

Article by Fiona Hobbs, Chief Technology Officer, Opencast Software, the independent enterprise technology consultancy

With over 15 years in the tech industry, Fiona Hobbs discusses her experience so far, tips for anyone developing their career in tech and the lessons she has learnt on her journey to Chief Technology Officer.

Fiona is currently the CTO at Opencast, the independent enterprise technology consultancy headquartered in the North-East, where she works with clients across the financial services, government and health sectors.

Develop your passions

A lot of success in the tech stems from passion. Most people who work in the industry do so because they want to and because it’s a career they enjoy. Some technical roles don’t require you to have a degree, you just need to be able to demonstrate your knowledge and experience in different ways. For example, many developers have begun their careers because they were interested in gaming, and writing code for games allowed them to develop their knowledge to a point where they were qualified for jobs within the software delivery industry. Being passionate about what you do is vital in the tech industry.

For me, I enjoyed IT when I was at college and found I had a flair for coding, and that’s where my career stemmed from. I realised I liked having a job – and still do – where I can see a tangible difference has been made. For example, I get the opportunity to see millions of people using an app I have played a part in developing, or more recently, work that I did for a biotech company years ago – writing code for analysing genetic data – has been used to create the COVID vaccines. For me, that gives my career a real purpose and that pushes me to keep improving.

Secure your base knowledge

If you have the passion, the next step is to secure your base knowledge. In my case, it started by being the first female in my school to take IT at GCSE level, which allowed me to confirm I was good at it. Then, following a couple of unrelated jobs that I didn’t enjoy, I went back to college to do computing for A-Level, and then onto Durham University to complete a BSC in Software Engineering.

However, education is not everything – it gave me an understanding of which elements I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, but the next most important thing is getting experience. Apply to the jobs you feel will add something to your repertoire, whether this be sector knowledge, or different types of coding and tech. I worked within biotech, pharma, financial services and education before narrowing down what I actually wanted to do. All experience counts if you’re learning along the way.

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Take the right leaps

As you move through different jobs, it becomes clear that sometimes you have to make leaps if you are going to end up where you want. The best thing about tech and IT is the amount of opportunities in the space. It has certainly made it easier in times of difficulty to feel confident that you will be able to secure another job using your skills.

I decided to take a leap when I realised I’d like to work as part of a larger team and practice all the lessons I had learnt around agile delivery. At this point in my career I moved to Sage, the enterprise software company, to work as a Senior Developer, delivering on projects. This eventually allowed me to move to Sage Spain, based in Barcelona, where I ran a global team developing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for their platform.

This experience eventually led me to Opencast, where I have now been for seven years. I have seen the team grow hugely, and it has given me the chance to create the culture I would like to work in, alongside building the right products for our customers. I have worked on clients ranging from the NHS to DWP and Morgan Stanley, looking at their tech landscapes and guiding them down the right path. Working in a consultancy has also allowed me to take on two or three leading edge projects a year, which has given me double the amount of experience you would get as an inhouse CTO.

It’s key to think about what experience you have, what experience you want, and what kind of company you want to be based in. Make sure you’re aligning your values with your work, and you should be on the right path.

Key advice

My advice is: if you have a passion for tech or IT, go for it. Often, the syllabus at school can put people off, but in reality, IT is so much more than that. If you can’t build your knowledge alone, there are now key programmes such as Women Who Code that are encouraging women to get into this space if they have the desire to do so. If you enjoy writing code and being technical, then certainly don’t allow yourself to be pushed into a business focused or project management role. There is huge progression in tech, so stick with it.

Additionally, consider the best environments for learning and developing your skills. Nowadays everyone wants to have Government on their CV because they are working on leading projects and they are accessible. They are focused on making their culture diverse and collaborative, where other sectors may not be as forward thinking. It’s always important to look for the right work environment for you.

Finally, it’s been well acknowledged that women still have to struggle balancing a career and family life and not compromise on either. So it’s key for me to mention that technology is actually a great sector for being able to work remotely or work part time. It may only be a part of the puzzle, but it’s a crucial one for women trying to climb the ladder.