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An Interview with Laura Stoddart

Laura Stoddart

In this instalment of our TechUPWomen blog we’re chatting to Laura Stoddart, a Data Scientist with our Programme Partners at Experian. Laura works for Experian DataLabs, which is a global research team within Experian. They use Machine Learning to create products of the future.

How did you end up at the Experian DataLab?

I first heard about the DataLab during an interdepartmental knowledge sharing session, when I was working in a different department as a Data Analyst. In the Q&A I asked if I could come and meet the data scientists and possibly shadow someone.

After meeting with the head of the lab, I was offered a full-time position to train as a Data Scientist. To quote one of my colleagues, and one of the Twenty Women in Data 2018: ‘Often if you ask for things, you may get things that you don’t expect’.

What do you get up to on an average day?

As a Data Scientist, most of my time is spent building and evaluating Machine Learning models. I mainly program in Python in a Linux environment. I regularly communicate project updates to a mixture of technical and business people – sometimes even clients.

Can you tell us about an interesting project you have worked on?

One of our most recent projects centred around bias and fairness in Machine Learning. This was exciting to be part of, as it is something I really care about.

Every so often there is an article in the news about how an algorithm is discriminating against a certain person or group. This might range from image recognition models having different performance on different skin colours to giving people different credit limits based on their gender. It felt great to contribute to the fairness in AI community, developing products for Experian and releasing academic papers with our work and analysis.

In Experian’s 2019 Si Ramo awards ceremony, we were recognised for our work, winning the top Scientific Excellence prize! We are actively working to make decisions based on mass data collection fair for everyone, and it’s great to be a part of a company fully behind our goals.

Experian’s 2019 Si Ramo award for Scientific Excellence. Photo: Laura Stoddart
Why is diversity important at Experian?

The world is a diverse place, and in an increasingly technologically focused environment it pays to have those people represented in the teams writing the code and making big decisions.

In order to make AI fair for everyone, it helps to have a diverse range of opinions and backgrounds involved in a project. This way, someone might ask you a question you never thought of because of their different life experience.

Consulting firm McKinsey even released a report showing that more diverse teams perform better.

What advice would you give someone looking to enter the tech industry?

There is a place for everyone, from engineers and data scientists to product managers and scrum masters. There are some valuable organisations like TechUPWomen offering training and mentorship as a way into the industry. Now is the perfect time to make use of these resources.

Having a mentor can help in so many ways, from giving simple pointers for your personal development to introducing you to a key person in your career. Connect with people outside of your immediate team by attending tech events and conferences. Don’t be afraid to ask for things, even if they are not on the table. I got my current role by someone creating a position for me in their team!

About the Institute of Coding

The Institute of Coding (IoC) is a large national consortium of educators, employers and outreach organisations that is committed to co-developing new courses and activities that will help a larger and more diverse group of learners into digital careers.

As part of this work, the IoC has provided funding for the TechUP programme and many other programmes like it. Learn more on IoC website.