Ecaterina Vidrascu joined the Data Lab MSc placement programme in May 2020, while undertaking her course in Data Science at 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.
Ecaterina now works remotely for the company from her new home in Manchester. The project she worked on will soon be available in the Amazon Alexa Skills Store. We interviewed Ecaterina and Caroline Laurenson, the Managing Director of TL Tech to learn more about The Data Lab programme and how it benefits students and employers.
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, but I had no idea about the Data Lab MSc Programme at that time.
I completed my undergraduate degree in Business and Economics in Riga. 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. It involved a lot of work with databases and SQL. In Aberdeen, I took a position as a Data Analyst at an energy consulting company. I got exposure to data analysis and data visualisation during my time there.
I soon realised that data science was the perfect field to advance my knowledge and develop my skills. It is the perfect combination of analytical thinking and programming. So I decided to go back to university. I chose to study the MSc Data Science course at RGU and learned that there was an opportunity to join the Data Lab MSc programme. After learning about the programme and all the other activities that The Data Lab organises, 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 opportunities, and the industry placement over summer are all together a great starting point for transitioning or starting a career in data science.
Tell us about your placement
I did my placement as an Alexa Skill Developer at TL Tech – Smart Home Solutions. The company is a start-up that provides smart home solutions and installations across Scotland. TL Tech identified that a lot of support can be offered to people at home using voice assistants. They transformed this into a project to build their own voice skill. They built 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 like the usual projects where you work on a dataset or a data engineering problem. This was completely new, so I had a lot to learn during the three months. Overall, it was very interesting, but also challenging as I had to get used to new concepts about designing an Artificial Intelligence voice solution.
Building a voice application involved learning new data formats and programming languages – like JSON, a bit of Node.JS, 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 working principles of an Alexa Voice Skill.
The whole project was performed remotely over multiple stages. After that, 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 questionnaire and a collection of tips that aim to support and improve wellbeing. Together with my industry supervisors, Thomas and Caroline, we worked through designing and testing the skill. Their support during the project and the regular meetings ensured that I was making good progress.
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. I am working on developing and improving the Alexa Skill. I am very grateful for this opportunity.
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 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. It is 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 that makes a difference. It organised events, networking opportunities, and career training for me and all other MSc students. This was invaluable.
I would recommend the Data Lab MSc Programme to anyone looking to switch careers to data science. The programme is comprehensive and the modules I completed at RGU were of very high quality. It included 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. I would also 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 spent a few months looking at a way to support our customers. We realised that the single most powerful device in the smart home is a voice assistant.
We were keen to explore how we could use this interface to help people manage their wellbeing and self-care. The Data Lab’s placement delivery partner MBN Solutions did an amazing job helping us match with a student. We reviewed a few CVs but Ecaterina’s really stood out as she was someone with a diverse skill set, 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 University.
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.