From Fashion to Tech: Navigating a Career Switch

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Hi, my name is Isabelle! I am the current Data Engineer Apprentice, where I work within the Data Science team at Matillion. Last July, I started my Level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeship with my training provider, Baltic Apprenticeships, where I was offered a placement with Matillion.

Prior to Matillion, I had been working in the Fashion industry for almost 7 years in Production and Merchandising roles. The apprenticeship scheme at Matillion enabled me to make a career switch I thought was not possible. In this blog, I delve into my journey from fashion to tech and share insights gained during the apprenticeship so far.

Leveraging Fashion Industry Experience

I graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in Fashion Marketing and Management. After graduation, I interned in New York for an American fashion company in their Production and Merchandising department, where I gained firsthand experience working with fabric samples and managing spreadsheets.

During my time at the New York based Fashion company, I realized how fast-paced the fashion industry was, from identifying trends to the quick turnaround in production. Moving forward, I transitioned to a role as a Merchandising Assistant for the British online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo.

This is where I unknowingly laid the groundwork for my transition to tech, as I was able to build and hone my data analysis skills using Excel; I learned how to manipulate data and implemented multiple formulas and functions in order to improve efficiencies in working with databases and generate reports on trend analysis.

Transitioning to the Tech Industry

After spending several years in similar merchandising and production roles across various sectors such as Cosmetics, Footwear, and FMCG, I began to feel unfulfilled. I found joy in working with data and the analytical aspects of my role, understanding its crucial impact on business success.

This led me to consider transitioning into the tech industry, where innovation and continuous learning are celebrated – a perfect fit for my aspirations. As I witnessed the rise of Artificial Intelligence and Large Language Models like ChatGPT, I felt compelled to explore data roles within tech and their requirements.

Initially, bridging my fashion background, which involved Excel-based database management, with the data manipulation skills required in roles like Data Analyst and Data Engineering using SQL and Python seemed daunting. Adding to the challenge was my lack of technical skills and academic background compared to candidates with Computer Science degrees.

However, determined to make the leap, I embarked on an online course to grasp the basics of SQL. Finding familiarity between the Excel formulas I used previously and the syntax functions in SQL sparked confidence and drove me to pursue a data analyst apprenticeship.

Opting for an Apprenticeship in Tech

My decision to pursue an apprenticeship in tech stemmed from my desire to break into the tech industry and acquire practical experience, even without a background in computer science or technical expertise. While considering my options, I contemplated completing a 3-month boot camp in Data Analysis to acquire essential skills like SQL and Python. However, I perceived this route as riskier due to its significant upfront cost, potentially leaving me struggling to secure employment afterward.

In contrast, the apprenticeship scheme appealed to me as it offered the opportunity to develop and refine my skills, gain hands-on experience alongside theoretical learning, and make a tangible impact on business operations. Additionally, the possibility of being retained by the employer after the apprenticeship, coupled with compensation, made this pathway even more attractive. Another compelling aspect of the apprenticeship route was the chance to expand my professional network within the industry by collaborating with colleagues, seeking insights and advice, and learning from experienced team members.

Before embarking on my apprenticeship journey, my perception of apprenticeships was limited and skewed. I associated them primarily with individuals under 18 years old seeking trade-based education in fields like plumbing or mechanics. However, upon discovering the myriad benefits of apprenticeships compared to traditional university routes, I realized the immense value they offer: open to any age and specializing in any sector.

Learning Curve in Tech and Adapting to the Tech Environment

Upon joining Matillion, I entered the realm of tech and data science with a clean slate devoid of prior experience in these fields. My background mainly consisted of using Excel and completing a single course in SQL. The prospect of learning everything, from deciphering acronyms to navigating different platforms and understanding the myriad job roles within tech—felt overwhelming, leaving me unsure of where to begin.

It seemed like there was an infinite amount of knowledge and technical skills to absorb in such a short span of time, especially considering the rapid pace of innovation in the industry. However, what surprised and reassured me was discovering that the sense of being inundated with information is a sentiment shared by tech professionals, regardless of their years of experience.

The supportive atmosphere at Matillion, coupled with a thorough Onboarding Academy, laid a strong foundation. Unfamiliar with dedicated ETL tools like Matillion’s, I started with the Matillion Academy course “Building a Data Warehouse,” which offered a comprehensive introduction to the product and its functionalities.

Gradually, I began to expand my knowledge in data analysis, completing courses in essential skills and steadily growing in confidence. After 7 months, my learning curve has been exponential, as I have succeeded in creating visualizations, building data pipelines using both of Matillion’s dedicated ETL tools, Matillion ETL and the Data Productivity Cloud, data validation and executing SQL queries, and earning a certificate in Python.

Unlike the fashion industry, where tasks are often predetermined and must be completed daily, Matillion encourages experimentation through regular engagement in experimental projects. Furthermore, unlike the predominantly female-dominated environment of Fashion, transitioning to a male-dominated industry in Tech required some adjustment on my part. To aid in this transition, I enrolled in Matillion’s Springboard program, which provided invaluable support and guidance.

Advice for Transitioning and Consideration of Apprenticeships

For readers contemplating a transition, especially into a new field like tech, my advice is to embrace learning and stay adaptable. Understand that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, facing pressure to work at a skill or knowledge level beyond your comfort zone. However, there’s always something new to learn. Take it day by day and focus on incremental progression.

Explore various learning pathways, such as apprenticeships, boot camps, or online courses, to find the best fit for your learning style and career goals. Be proactive in seeking opportunities to gain hands-on experience, whether through internships, freelance projects, or volunteering. Network with professionals in your desired industry, attend industry events and seek mentorship to gain insights and guidance.

Remember that transitioning careers is a journey, and it’s okay to encounter challenges along the way. Stay resilient, remain open to feedback, and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Finally, trust in your abilities and have confidence in your decision to pursue a new path.

Reflecting on My Apprenticeship Journey

Although I am only halfway through my apprenticeship, my time at Matillion has already been a transformative experience. The opportunity to immerse myself in cutting-edge technologies such as Matillion ETL and the Data Productivity Cloud has facilitated exponential growth in my skills and technical knowledge.

This apprenticeship pathway has served as a bridge between academic learning and real-world applications in data science, enabling me to apply theoretical concepts and acquired skills to meaningful professional projects. This apprenticeship has not only enabled a career switch that I once deemed unattainable but has also instilled in me a profound sense of confidence and capability in navigating the dynamic landscape of the tech industry.