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Transition to Tech Sean4

The structural change to the oil and gas industry and the transition to a digital economy is having a huge impact on people’s livelihoods and their lives. Career paths have been turned upside down and people must learn new skills to find jobs. Sean MacDonald is one of those people.  In this series of posts during the 12-week course, Sean chronicles the experience of a mid-career professional balancing family obligations and an intense tech training course offered though OCIF recipient Lighthouse Labs. 

In the last few weeks with Lighthouse Labs have been, in a word, intense.

The class has been learning about data preparation, cleaning, and what makes for good input into a predictive model. In particular, I’ve gained knowledge about features engineering and how to alter your data set to be able to provide additional insights on a target variable. For example, simply converting a column of data from “yes” or “no” values to “1” and “0” allows for more stable and accurate modelling.

We have also kicked off machine learning, starting off with unsupervised learning; in essence, you give the program a set of data and ask it to show you clusters of similar data. 

This is also where I got reacquainted with an “old friend”: linear algebra, which initially made me break out into a cold sweat.  I had flashbacks to my second-year university  where I would abruptly wake up in the middle of the night before an exam, panicked and wondering, “but what is an Eigenvector, and what does it want from me?

I will admit, however, that it is neat to revisit pure math, and is a good reminder of the importance of foundational knowledge. Stick with your math courses, kids! 

While the leap back into linear algebra was immediate, we applied this knowledge rather than revisiting more traditional theoretical exercises.  This is the way I have found that I generally learn best: applying what I have learned to real-life examples, over and over again.  Practice makes perfect, right? 

After one month in this program, I have spent more than 200 hours in front of my computer working through problems and trying to learn as best I can.

Because “bootcamp” requires daily commitment to learning new material, my work-life balance has increasingly been stretched in new ways.  My career has always required dedication, timeliness, and productivity - something that I am comfortable with.  Nevertheless, the balance between competing priorities is a constant, whether working or job hunting, if you have kids or elder care, are commuting into the office or staying home, have housework and other obligations.

It’s easy to be self-critical. 

Like a lot of people in Calgary, at the beginning of this year I worked in an office building each day, separating work life and home life for the most part.  There were always days where the workday had to go a bit longer or it was a particularly difficult, but there was always a nice feeling about coming home at the end of it. 

My company, I guess it’s now my “old company”, was one of the first in Calgary to present a COVID-19 Work from Home mandate. Initially, there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about this, meetings filled with comments on how great the commute was, how much better the coffee was, and everyone was happy to present their favourite furry co-worker in a video meeting. 

Then my wife, Cait, started to work from home and soon thereafter our two kids got the stay-at-home order from their daycare. That first week was pure mayhem, absolute chaos; like dogs and cats living together.  Balancing meetings, deliverables and expectations with small children who needed attention, direction, and seemingly constant snacks was a new challenge. 

“Hard” isn’t the correct word; it was just new, and we all needed to adapt very quickly. The second week was a little better, as we managed to align our schedules and helped each other out when one spouse had a meeting or hard deadline. We created a predictable schedule for the girls, which meant we started working into the night after the kids went to sleep.

With our work happening on and off throughout the day and into the night, it often feels less like working from home and more like living at the office.  However, despite the extra and new working hours, I do feel an increased sense of happiness.  When we were both at the office, the kids would be dropped off at daycare in the morning, picked up in the evening, we would have dinner right when we got home, then they would be in bed right after that. Some weeks it felt like I barely saw them at all and there was a tremendous amount of guilt associated with that. 

With the whole family at home, we are spending much more time together. Being around my favourite people makes me feel more balanced and has helped me transition through this period of change.

Although my work-life balance has been flipped again with this bootcamp, and I’m still working through the day and into the night, I’m happy that Cait and I can find time work beside each other outside as our girls are playing. It makes me feel satisfied that we are doing our best. 

Follow Sean on his 12- week journey from being laid off to diversifying his skill set for the technology sector. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn.  

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