Jan. 28, 2020

'Massive talent shortage' lures UCalgary grad into career as machine learning engineer

Tim Cruz leveraged Data Science and Analytics diploma to make the most of new opportunities in Calgary's tech economy

When Tim Cruz started his undergraduate studies at the Haskayne School of Business, he planned to pursue a career in finance. However, with Calgary’s economy and job market changing, Cruz wound up using his natural curiosity and passion for innovation to create a niche for himself in Calgary’s growing tech economy.

Cruz brought a fascination for the assumptions behind statistical toolsets and models to his finance studies. “I had a non-traditional path into data science,” he explains. "I wanted to build my quantitative skills, so I ended up asking special permission to take option courses in math, applied math, computer science, and statistics.”

Cruz, BComm’18, went on to complete the graduate diploma in Data Science and Business Analytics – a multidisciplinary offering by the Faculty of Science, Haskayne School of Business, and Cumming School of Medicine – in 2019.

Taking a chance leads to major opportunities

The launch of the new Data Science and Analytics graduate diploma program in 2018 came at the perfect time for Cruz, who was searching for the right path to take post-undergrad.

What nudged me into the program was understanding the massive talent shortage in Canada of people qualified to work in this area.

Cruz continues, "The Data Science and Analytics program was an accelerated way to start building those skills, and gave me an opportunity to upskill and re-skill in an area that’s in really high demand. I can now use that skillset to work in sectors like health, tech, and innovation. 

"I like the program a lot because it’s this very customizable field where you can ‘choose your own adventure’ if you have a liking to data mining, data visualization, data governance, big data, or machine learning, you can go down that road, and still be comfortable as a data scientist.”

He took to the machine learning and data visualization right away, and channeled that passion into a career contributing to fostering innovation in his home city of Calgary. By the time Cruz finished the program, he was fielding three job offers. “Rather than having a traditional career path, I wanted to contribute to Calgary’s innovation ecosystem and pursue really cutting-edge opportunities,” he says. Ultimately, he chose a position as a machine learning engineer at TerraHub, a Calgary-based product company that focuses on private blockchain and artificial intelligence, and delivers blockchain products and education in energy, construction, utilities and recycling industries across North America. Cruz’s day-to-day work involves approaching companies and working together to find out where opportunities to apply machine learning could ultimately create better value for the business and their customers.

“One of the big economic considerations at play is how to retain tech talent in Alberta, particularly the younger talent, and figuring out alternative industries beyond energy.

"If you pay attention to what’s happening in the ecosystem – especially in Calgary – you start to realize that there is a massive talent shortage for data scientists, machine learning engineers, and people with solid quantitative skills."

The program was an accelerated way to start building those skills. It allowed me to get a bit of a head start.

With his foot firmly in the door of Calgary’s entrepreneurial scene, Cruz also took the opportunity to dive into its innovation ecosystem, becoming involved with innovation-focused organizations like the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) Rockies, Platform Calgary, and the Mount Rundle Investment Club, which brings together Calgary’s entrepreneurs and business leaders to provide seed funding to promising CDL startup companies. Cruz says the opportunities to both network and contribute to growing diversified opportunities in Calgary is inspirational and an invaluable learning opportunity.

“Sitting in a room with people of that calibre is like getting a fast-track MBA,” he tells. “I’m very lucky because I get to brush shoulders with these people and get a lot of mentorship.”

No better time to transition to tech

The demand for digitally skilled professionals is rapidly increasing in Canada; the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) projects that more than two million Canadians will be working in the digital economy by 2023. With changing economies in Alberta and across the country, Cruz believes that the opportunities in the tech and innovation sectors are promising for Calgary.

“You actually do see that we’re a really resilient bunch of people, and amidst all this economic uncertainty, there is a very dedicated group trying to show that Calgary does have a new face in terms of talent, economic development, and industry,” he says.

There is no better time than the present to get training in Data Science and Analytics, he explains. The job field is still very new, so job opportunities are diverse. “If you go ask 50 industry executives, ‘What is a data scientist and why do you need them?’ you’ll get a job description anywhere from a business analyst to a DevOps engineer. You have to be comfortable wearing a lot of hats all across that spectrum. The field is really young, especially in Calgary. But, ultimately, what you’ll be doing as a data scientist is bring value to your employer and their clients.”

For those considering a career transition to the local tech sector, Cruz offers the following advice: “Try to meet as many people as possible before you go in. Particularly people who have that 'tech' hat on. They are really willing to help,” he says. “Reach out and go to events. Talk to people who have been, or are on, that journey to get a sense of their perspective. I’ve asked hundreds of people for coffee, and no one has said no!”

Applications are currently being accepted until April 15 for Data Science and Analytics certificate and diploma programs beginning in September 2020

The Faculty of Science offers tech-focussed professional programs, including graduate certificate programs in Information Security, corporate training, and a new one-week intensive course in Game Production.