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Mentoring is about giving your time and the payback is rewarding 

Published in Analytics, People

Written by

Jukka Toivanen
Senior Data Scientist

Jukka Toivanen is a Data Scientist whose interests lie in using scientific methodology, mathematics/statistics and machine learning to solve practical problems and gain insight from data. In his spare time he likes running, reading books, and making music.


January 20, 2022 · 5 min read time

What do you get when you combine one seasoned data scientist, one non-profit organisation and some aspiring young professionals? At least job opportunities for junior data scientists, an opportunity to reflect on your own career and skills. This blog post summarises Jukka's experiences attending the program as a mentor and some thoughts on data science mentoring in general.

Searching for jobs in a foreign job market can be challenging in many ways, and thus the need for a mentorship program helping immigrants in their job search efforts was very clear. Think Africa is a non-profit organisation that aims to make a social and economic impact by engaging, promoting, and empowering immigrants living in Finland, as well as building effective collaboration between Finland and African countries. In spring 2021, Think Africa arranged a mentoring program. 

I was asked to attend this mentoring program as a data science mentor from Nitor and support the program's mentees specialising in data science, machine learning and analytics. The aim of the programme was to support and assist immigrants seeking work in their specific areas of expertise and strengthen their professional and job search skills. 

My background is in data science. I have worked in data-related roles involving a mix of data science, data engineering and data architecture for the past five years after obtaining a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Helsinki. Based on my experience, I was matched with two mentees, both with a university degree from a Finnish university in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and a wish to be hired into a junior data science or analytics position.  

The demand for more senior data science and analytics professionals in the Finnish job market is high but not nearly as high for junior candidates.  For the mentees, being an immigrant in Finland complicates things even further as they are to a certain extent unfamiliar with the hiring practices of the Finnish companies. As a result, the mentees needed all the help they could get for their job search and preparing for the roles they were interested in. 

How does a mentoring program work? 

The mentoring program lasted from March to June 2021 and included several coaching sessions and networking events, as well as regular one-to-one meetings between the mentors and mentees. Due to Covid restrictions, the meetings were held mainly online, which was flexible and convenient. The mentees also had bigger group sessions that focused on discussing the more generic aspects of the Finnish job market, skills development, portfolio building, and peer support, among other things.  

A major part of the mentoring was, however, to have weekly one-to-one meetings between the mentor and mentee. In these meetings, we focused heavily on searching for suitable job openings and thinking about the skills needed and how to develop those skills further. We also put a lot of emphasis on discussing the technical skill requirements for data science and analytics jobs and looking for material for skill development.

In addition, we practised technical interviews that are common to software development and data science fields as well as typical job scenarios with examples. For instance, we went over typical interview policies of the Finnish companies and sets of example questions as simulations.  

The mentees found the content of the meetings very useful, as described in this comment of a mentee:  

"I would say that my mentor, Jukka, gave me the best mental preparation for what turned out to be the most daunting months I have had in recent times. He made me realise from the onset that I would most probably send out a lot of applications, but surely, I would get a yes at some point, and that was exactly what happened. He wasn't just about the motivational speech; he put in a lot of actual work too.  

Among other things, he put together a list of common interview questions in the data science field and quizzed me. We would have mock interview sessions before major interviews. These mock interviews served many purposes, the best that they were confidence boosters. The greatest part of this program is that our mentor/mentee relationship continued even after the program ended officially. Overall, I had a great experience thanks to my amazing mentor, who managed always to create time for me. I hope to pay it forward someday by also mentoring someone."

Mentoring is a two-way street with benefits for both 

According to the mentees, the mentoring program was very useful in helping them in the job search efforts and sparring them with further development of professional skills. Especially the practical advice on technical skill development, refining application documents, and practising technical interviews were clearly appreciated. However, the mentees wished for more live meetings. Due to the Covid situation, the meetings were held online. Also, the mentees wished for more help in arranging networking opportunities with companies and people in the field. 

From a mentor's point of view, the program was a great opportunity to do one's small part in helping immigrants find career opportunities suited to their background and hopefully have a small positive impact on the Finnish economy in general. Serving as a mentor is also a good way to widen professional networks and deepen professional skills as you will reflect on your lessons learned in the professional field.  All in all, as a mentor, I found the mentoring experience very useful and also instructive. One of my mentees also succeeded in landing an industry position in the analytics field.  

Senior professionals benefit from mentoring too 

The Think Africa mentoring program was directed towards immigrants and people at the beginning of their careers with an emphasis on helping people transitioning from academic research background or university studies into the industry.  

However, mentoring activities should not be reserved only for the people looking for junior roles in the industry or for immigrants; more senior professionals can also clearly benefit from mentoring. Often a more or equally experienced colleague can be the best sparring partner when thinking about career growth and learning new skills.  

At Nitor, this kind of professional skill development is highly prioritised. Some people participate in activities like the Think Africa mentoring program described in this blog post. We also have an active community called Nitor Academy, which provides excellent support for professional development. We have an upcoming blog post on Nitor Academy and the Ikigai concept used in the Academy sparring coming up, so stay tuned! 

Written by

Jukka Toivanen
Senior Data Scientist

Jukka Toivanen is a Data Scientist whose interests lie in using scientific methodology, mathematics/statistics and machine learning to solve practical problems and gain insight from data. In his spare time he likes running, reading books, and making music.