Recently, we featured an article on the blog discussing women in STEM. We were inspired by the Twitter chat on the topic which took place in honor of International Day of the Girl, and quite frankly, have been rather captivated by it since. We decided to begin our own ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series dedicated to the celebration of women who have excelled in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Through sharing the personal and professional stories of these incredible individuals, we hope to inspire and motivate women, as well as change the conversation on women in STEM at large.

 

Kicking off our series, we were delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Lillian Pierson: Engineer, Data Journalist, & Entrepreneur. In the first segment of her three-part interview – a new segment of which shall be featured each week – Pierson elaborated on her professional background, and shared some of the aspects of her experience that have made her journey a unique one.

 

MUIPR: All it takes is one look at your resume to see that you are quite accomplished. You’re a professional engineer, a growth hacker, a data visualization expert, a data journalist, an entrepreneur, and now an author. How do you find time for it all?

LILLIAN PIERSON: Oh yeah, ouch! [laughs] I’m also a workaholic; I work all the time. And I’m friends with people who are also the same way, so my social time is usually like, “Let’s get together and work on our businesses together.” It’s very rare that I would say, “Let’s just hang out.” I don’t even eat a meal without my laptop, so I’m just working all the time. Also, I’m always looking for ways to make things more efficient. As I’ve progressed with working online, I’ve optimized everything so that enables me to get more done in less time; it’s kind of like a process.

 

MUIPR: Can you elaborate a bit on what kind of work you do in data science for those, like myself, who might not know much about the field?

LILLIAN: Well, statistics used to be [such as that] when there were only small sets of data, people would use statistics in order to make sorts of it. But with larger data sets, it requires more innovative methods. Data science is really just different processes and procedures that are useful for deriving valuable insights from data. There are some people that are interested in playing with data just to explore it; it’s data for the sake of data – let’s see what’s in there, let’s see what we can manipulate, let’s see what we can do. But I’m not really one of those people. Although that’s fun, I’m an engineer by professional training, so I’m really interested in deriving insights. I’m interested in data for what I can get out of it [and] how we can use it to improve efficiency. Data science is really just the practice of doing whatever it takes to get what you need from the data, and there’s a whole spectrum of processes that you can use.

 

MUIPR: One of the phrases you use to describe yourself on your website is “digital nomad.” However, you seem to be a bit of a nomad in all senses of the word — having traveled to over 27 countries — and you’re actually in Thailand now, which is amazing. Do you think all of that world experience has translated into your work at all, and does it help you excel in this tech-based field?

LILLIAN: Absolutely, it does … I’ve had a few networks of other online entrepreneurs that are about roughly my same age and have been doing this probably longer than me and are more successful in their own lines of business, respectively. So I learn from them; I mean, it’s not easy; it takes time to learn all of this stuff, but I’ve learned a lot of innovative ways of getting things done that you’re not going to pick up just living in the U.S., because people in the U.S. generally tend to work with each other. And like now, I’ve got maybe 12 to 15 people at any given time helping me — like a team I’ve hired — and yeah, it’s just really been incredible actually. We’re kind of a community, and we help each other because there aren’t so many people doing this. I’m really grateful for that, and I’ve learned a lot in even one year of living like this.

 

MUIPR: I know that you also have experience teaching IT/GIS skills to at-risk youth. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you got involved in that, and what inspired you to get involved in it?

LILLIAN: My first job coming out of school was as a project engineer, and I worked at this small minority owned business. The owner is from Jamaica, and he’s just a great person; he’s a self-made entrepreneur. He’s amazing. I have tons of respect for him. He had also started this program called Limitless Vistas, and it was to help underprivileged youths in the poor areas of, I think, Tampa, and I’ve done GIS for a really long time, so he allowed me to work on that program and go and teach those students. I was already teaching a college class in GIS, so it was it was just a really easy, natural segue.

 

MUIPR: In your opinion, how do you think these skills can have a positive impact in the lives of those who you teach, and how can they serve as tools for continued development and future success?

LILLIAN: I think it’s important for them to get the experience, so that they know what’s out there and to get a feeling of their aptitude and their interest for it at a young age. That’s when you learn. I mean, I got my experience in college, but the things that you get exposure to and that you learn about when you’re younger and that you start thinking, “Oh, I like that,” “I’m good at that,” “I think I’d like to do that in the future” [are so important]. If they have had a little experience then when they’re making decisions later on, then they can decide maybe that they want [to work in this field] because it was really cool.

 

Check back next Wednesday to see Part 2 of Lillian’s interview, in which she shares some of her personal experiences as a woman in STEM and discusses why it’s important for women to break free of confining stereotypes.

 

If you are a woman working in STEM and are interested in being featured in our ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series, shoot us an email at blog.muipr@gmail.com or tweet me @tamarahoumi