Yuna Lee and Ruth Garcia featured

WeAreTechWomen speaks to Yuna Lee and Ruth Garcia, both Data Scientists at Spotify, about their careers.

Yuna and Ruth are also two of our speakers at our upcoming WeAreTechWomen: The Future World of Work conference on 22 November. They will be discussing life as a data scientists, narrating their journeys, covering the challenges involved, common pitfalls, as well as some practical lessons from the field as women in tech.

Yuna is a Data Scientist at Spotify in the Premium Business unit in London. Yuna is part of Product Insights team in which she collaborates with User Researchers and other Data Scientists to identify opportunities to improve Spotify user journey. Having a business degree as her background and with hands on experience in Data Science in the tech industry, Yuna provides insights that translate to diverse audience in business. A published co-author in Korea, she continues to explore the opportunities to reach out to people with the drive for learning and development. 

Ruth is a Data Scientist at Spotify in London focusing on user engagement and metric setting. Previously, she was a data scientist at Skyscanner and a computational social science researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute (University of Oxford). She obtained her PhD at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and developed her thesis at Yahoo Labs Barcelona. Her work has been exposed in several international conferences. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cooking and salsa dancing.

WeAreTechWomen, the Technology arm of WeAreTheCity, is hosting its fourth full-day conference in London, aimed at over 400 women who are wanting to broaden their technology horizons, learn new skills and build their tech networks.

Our unique conference will include the opportunity for our delegates to learn about a variety of technical topics and get involved in Q&A’s, hands-on activities and interactive workshops. Our aim is to provide an environment where our delegates can upskill and grow their skills/networks for the future.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you’ve come from, where you’ve worked, how you got to where you are today?

Ruth: I am from Ecuador (South America). My undergraduate degree was in Computer Science but never really worked on this field in my country. After two years of graduation and working on different fields, I was accepted into a Master in IT in Barcelona which led me to a PhD in the same city. After my PhD, I received an offer to work as a Post-doc in a field called “Computational Social Science” at the Oxford Internet Institute which belongs to Oxford University. After that, I left Academia and joined Skyscanner as a Data Scientist. Recently, I just joined Spotify also as a data scientist.

Yuna: I am originally from South Korea. I left Korea alone one year into high school. Since then, I have been living abroad. I received an undergraduate degree from a business college in Massachusetts US, where I explored the options for a career in business. Soon after starting the business study and starting my first job in the international compensation survey, I realised that behind the case studies, the principles, and operations of successful businesses the key to success is not the instinct of executives acquired from a crystal ball, but always there are data behind which bring the business closer to the goal. That is how my journey in data began.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Ruth: In my case, I did plan what field to “study.” Soon I realized I liked and was good at programming and numbers so I tried to focus my efforts on a technical field. However, I never really planned to pursue a PhD, enter into academia and much less be a data scientist. Those opportunities came as I moved on.

Yuna: It was the opposite of sitting down but I was always on foot for a constant exploration for the right fit for me through various experiences. One can sit down and start writing down steps she or he could take, however, as we all know learning and opportunities come when we realise the gap in the expectation we have and the reality we face. Advice and support from those who are close to me also helped me shape my career. Beside my professors and friends who were already in the business world, I also seek advice from my dad who had a very successful career as an engineer turn CEO.

What inspired you to get involved with in motivational speaking?

Ruth: The encouragement of people at Spotify. I have been inspired by many motivational speakers but I have not been one myself. I still do not see me as a motivational speaker. I just plan to share my story hoping someone feels identified and finds it useful.

Yuna: A few months ago I attended a women working in technology conference in London where Spotify was participating as a sponsor. With such a great opportunity to be a part, I was able to feel and experience many talented and curious women who were so enthusiastic about the tech world and the career in tech. For those who are seeking to become Data Scientists, I wanted to share my experience with the audience where it all started and how my journey has been. Through this talk, I hope I can motivate and help to visualise the exciting career ahead for the audience interested in becoming Data Scientists.

Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

Ruth: There were many unforgettable events, my favorites perhaps are when I got my first paper published in a conference, my first travel for a conference and when I left academia to join industry.

Yuna: I would not say the favourite per se, but the worst experience I encountered so far in my career became one of the most valuable experiences because the drive it created in me to recognise and to promote the need for the fair and harmonised work culture. In my previous job, I had a chance of working with a team of all male engineers and I used to hear the comments of the team not wanting women in “the engineer’s room”. The comment was inconsiderate and very wrong to say and it very much reflected how unfriendly the working environment was for women in the company. I took more initiatives in projects, put more hours, paid more attention to the work, and the ways I could collaborate with the team. It was the moment when I learnt that there will be many challenges ahead as a woman in the career in tech but through those challenges I also learnt that we can grow and proactively shape the culture around us.

What do you think WeAreTechWomen guests will gain from your talk?

Ruth: I hope they will learn about the different ways one can become a data scientist, some of the skills needed and the different ways of working.

Yuna: We need to find what sparks us and continue pursuing it. It is not a straight road and there will be unexpected turns and opportunities on the way. To embrace everything that comes and learn from those experiences and that is how we become a unique talent. There are so many fun and exciting opportunities for women in tech and Data Science.

What are your top three tips for success?

Ruth: Do not let fear stop your actions towards your dreams, do not let others dictate what they think you are (you know yourself better),  take advantage of the opportunities or privileges you have to gain experience, get involved with people who inspire you, ask for feedback and identify constructive feedback, be thankful.

Yuna: Resilience in the face of failure and disappointment. Consistency in our efforts to get to where we want to be. Love and understanding for the people who are in the journey together.

What has been your biggest challenge during your career?

Ruth: To have research papers published, to teach in front of smart students, to leave academia and join Industry, to move countries to pursue a Master

Yuna: English being a second language and being an introvert have been the biggest challenges. As a person who did not grow up as bilingual, adopting another language as the main language at a workplace was challenging. Even after 16 years of studying and working abroad, still there are times when I cannot understand or elaborate as quick and there have been times when I had to push myself hard to speak up but failed and made everyone confused. However I have not given up and through these challenges I have learnt how to listen to others and notice ways a team of such diverse individuals can collaborate together and come up with unique and amazing insights.

Which female role models are you most inspired by?

Ruth: Angela Merkel, Michele Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Isabelle Allende, Fei-fei Li

Yuna: Women who challenge and overcome prejudices and obstacles we face everyday and women who give back to the society. I find them everyday through the achievements in athletics such as the professional Triathlete, Katie Zaferes and in politics such as the Foreign Minister of South Korea, Kang Kyung-wha.

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for women at work and how can it be overcome?

Ruth: In tech I think the major obstacle is that sometimes women are assigned tasks that are less technically challenging. Without experience, it is hard to learn and become expert in complex technical tasks. Men tend to step into more technical complex tasks than women. Second, I think that the effort of many women to be promoted is considerably higher than men. I feel women still have to prove more to get promoted. How to overcome these problems? It is very challenging but one way is companies to evangelize the importance of unbiased thinking for gender and race when assessing skills and competence. Show people the harmful effects of these biases at work.

Yuna: Gender inequality that is presented by the parity in the gender distribution in the industry is the biggest obstacle for women. In most cases, much of discrimination and unfairness I faced was the byproduct of the structural parity. In my opinion, hiring more women in tech could help overcome this obstacle. The environment we are in influences us. It limits us to how we act, how we feel, and how much we see. For us to thrive as professionals, the place we work should enable us to act, to speak, and to see the potential of what we could become which will benefit us all as a community. We cannot do it alone and we should work together as a community. This involves participating in talks and conferences like women in tech and encouraging our colleagues and our friends to share their challenges to help each other.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Ruth: Award companies (tax cuts or honor awards) with gender and racial balance in every level of the company. This would generate scholarships to young girls who have potential and low resources and that come from different backgrounds and cultures.

Yuna: The change starts from an early age. Reaching out to students in their early education to show the diverse options that are out there in their career and possibilities they can achieve. I attended all female middle and high school in Korea and I did not have much chance to know the opportunities in the tech world until later and I am the only person in my group of friends from childhood who has a job in tech. I truly believe being exposed to these options earlier on makes a difference in which path we take later on.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Ruth: To my undergraduate self: surround yourself with good and smart friends and trust your own research even if you are not 100 per cent sure. Value yourself above everything, do not let  other people’s opinions dictate your life. Do not give up your professional dreams for any guy and do not waste your precious time with men who do not value and respect you above all even if you are wrong. The best cure for a heartbreak is to work out and keep busy. To my graduate self: it´s ok to fail, keep trying, devote more time to think about the methodology you will use, make a plan and then execute. Try not to execute without having a plan. Do not fear to ask and get feedback, ask for help and express with confidence your thoughts when you think something is wrong. Be good at time management, practice it over and over again.

Yuna: To dream in colour and to express it without the fear of judgement. To remind myself that it is okay to fail. That success does not mean not failing but it means not giving up on what we believe in despite. How we overcome defines who we are and failures are many parts of our journey to reach our goal.


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