Caitlin Hudon, Principal Data Scientist, OnlineMedEd
👩🏻💻 Job: I solve problems and drive business strategy using data, statistics, and code. And sometimes predict the future.
🇺🇸 Austin, TX, United States
👶🏻 One daughter, 1.5 years old
Resources Caitlin enjoys and recommends!
📚 I’ve read A Cup of Jo every day for the past 10+ years. The content is top-notch (I say “babies be babies” about once a week) and the reader comments are a gold mine. Kottke.org is one of my favorite places on the internet. Heart of Light is another (sometimes-)blogger fave.
🎙 My favorite podcasts right now are You’re Wrong About (the Princess Diana episodes hooked me and now I’m working my way through their back-catalog), The Anthropocone Reviewed (such beautiful stories), and Armchair Expert (I’m a sucker for a good interview).
👶🏻 Parenting stuff: Emily Oster’s ParentData newsletter lives at the intersection of parenting and data and I can’t recommend it (or her books!) enough. My friend Alex is a doula and gives the best Instagram recommendations to follow for different stages of motherhood and parenting, including Expecting and Empowered, Feeding Littles, and big little feelings, all of which have been really helpful for me.
Career in Data Science
Love the work!
Could you tell us more about your work?
I solve business problems using data, code, and statistics. I’ve loved solving problems with logic and math for as long as I can remember, and data science empowers me to solve big, high-impact problems using those skills combined with communication and creativity.
Data science didn’t exist when I was choosing a major, so I chose statistics and set my sights on becoming an actuary. When I learned that you could do my favorite parts of statistics (predictive analytics) on many different types of data as a career, I was hooked.
What do you like most about it?
I love that even after a decade of data work, I’m still learning new things (and doing so on the job!). I’ve worked with lots of different kinds of data and organizations, and I’ve never stepped into the same river twice in my work.
I also just love the work – I love seeing the glint of something interesting in a dataset and taking the time to brush it off, hold it to the light, and discover something new, or coming up with a big business question and being able to pull the data to answer it and see what’s worth further investigation.
The newness of the field means getting the chance to help shape it, and that my peers have very different backgrounds and are all learning too – in that way, the data community has been a great place to connect and grow and I’m glad to be a part of it.
In the past year-ish I’ve had my first management experience and then laddered back over to an individual contributor role, and to say I’ve learned a lot in the process would be a huge understatement. It was probably the most uncomfortable year of my career, but also one of the most high-growth years I’ve experienced. For now, I’m settling into my new role as Principal Data Scientist and working on balancing short-term impact with long-term strategy.
Signing off with a giant smile because I got to spend tonight with 250 other data nerds talking and laughing about mistakes we've made. Thanks to everyone who came out and supported #DataMishapsNight, and especially to the presenters who shared their stories!— Caitlin Hudon 👩💻 (@beeonaposy) February 6, 2021
I just discovered there is a #DataMishapsNight, could you tell us more about it? You are one of the organizers, how did you come up launching such an event? Could you give us an example of mistakes that you made or that made you laugh?
I’m so glad you found Data Mishaps Night! I co-organized (and co-hosted) the event with Laura Ellis in February, and we were focused on creating a community-centric environment where people could share and learn from data-related mistakes (and hopefully enjoy some cathartic laughs in the process). I think we achieved that goal by having 16 data professionals tell their data mishap stories on a Friday night to a high-energy room that felt like a party. We’re excited to do it again!
The idea came from a talk I gave at rstudio::conf in 2019 called ‘Eight Years of Data Science Mistakes’ where I got on stage and talked about mistakes I’ve made while working with data, and how mistakes have contributed to my experience and made me a better data scientist.
As a data professional, I’m often tackling new-to-me problems which means learning on the job, and making mistakes is a healthy and normal part of that process. I think sharing mistakes – and being transparent about not knowing everything – is important for building the type of data community I want to be part of: one that is open, honest, and welcoming to newcomers.
And in that spirit, one of my favorite mistakes was learning, after we designed and launched and were ready to analyze the results of an A/B test, that we’d accidentally put everyone in the same group and launched an A/A test instead! Made for a great lesson on the importance of cross-functional communication.
Career & Parenting
Learning on the job & confidence
You wrote an article about Imposter Syndrome in Data Science. Has becoming a mom reinforce your self-confidence? Parents are “learning on the job”, this is also a field where we “will never be able to learn everything there is to know”, but at the end of the day, everything goes well for our family. Even when times are tough, we can do it! I personally found to be slightly more confident in general since I am a mom.
Parenting has been the ultimate “learning on the job” experience, in more ways than I could ever have anticipated. Because there’s no way to be fully prepared and know everything you’ll need to know ahead of time, you have to make the best out of what you do know, learn what you need to, and roll with that – which is the advice I give (and have taken) in my imposter syndrome piece.
I feel pretty confident as a parent. I’ve learned lots about how to balance parenting and work and life and everything else, and continue to learn more about myself. I still get humbled by a 1.5-year-old on a weekly basis, but I love her to pieces and have a lot of fun doing it.
There’s also a kind of confidence that comes with knowing that you can do big things – and knowing now that I can do them while carrying a baby (and now raising a toddler) feels like a super power. The balancing act is certainly work, and not always easy, but there are some delicious moments when it all comes together and I feel like I can do anything.
I really like reading your article N=1: My Experience with Motherhood in Tech where you tell your journey in motherhood. Thanks for sharing such a personal ride! (love the oatmeal part :))
In this article, you said “I still love tech and data science and don’t have any plans to change the general theme of this blog, it’s important that I acknowledge that my life looks a lot different than it did a year ago”. Have your priorities changed? How do you approach work / your career being a mom now?
I’m putting more wood behind fewer arrows. I’m much more thoughtful about how I focus my time and energy, which means making room for the things that matter and letting go of the things that don’t.
I feel very supported at home and at work, and that has made all the difference. At home, it was important that my husband and I had many conversations about how we’d co-parent and balance work and family before we decided to have kids. We both love our work and wanted to continue to progress in our respective fields, so planning for that was necessary and helpful. We’re 50/50 partners and that has afforded me flexibility in balancing my career with family (and the same for my husband). At work, our culture is very supportive of working parents and I’m able to take advantage of that flexibility offered when I need it.
To address the quote you mentioned, I’m glad that I have the support I need to balance family and work, and think it’s important to acknowledge the impact that both experiences have on me, and hope that sharing the things I’m learning from both experiences is helpful for others.
Data as a support
You made a data visualization of your time allocation since the birth of your child. Has collecting data helped you to clarify, take decisions with your child?
The way you spend your time changes significantly when you have a baby (especially if you're a woman who decides to breastfeed). I think this is best explained visually. Here's what my time looks like before and after: pic.twitter.com/S8Ul0W8k6z— Caitlin Hudon 👩💻 (@beeonaposy) January 11, 2020
Great question. When my daughter was born, we tracked a bunch of things: her diapers, when she last ate, and her sleep schedule were numbers that we reviewed basically hourly for the first month.
Data helped us to figure out her needs and patterns and plan for them. I spent a lot of mental energy on the logistics around nursing and pumping, in particular, and having a space to record that data to get it out of my head was really helpful.
I made this data visualization after a conversation with a friend where I was trying to describe how my free time literally doubled after shifting one nursing session. It felt monumental at the time (and it was!) and after translating my schedule into a visualization, I thought other people might find it interesting.
Over time, as each of the activities we were tracking (naps, feedings, diapers) became more regular and more routine, and our daughter could start communicating with us better, we stopped collecting data.
Figuring it out & learning
I could feel in this article and also in your baby stack that you were a bit stressed out (“maybe-a-little-neurotic first-time parents”). How is the journey doing? How do you feel now?
Thank you! I’m smiling because there’s a lot of self-deprecating humor in those posts, but maybe a kernel of truth to feeling like we had a lot to figure out and an awareness that we didn’t have it all figured out.
I’m happy to report that I still haven’t figured it all out, but I’m learning a lot and really enjoying the journey.
Value of parenting stories
I also agree with you on wanting to hear about motherhood journeys from other women in tech, but I feel like I was not attracted by that kind of content before pregnancy and didn’t know yet how much I needed it. How do you think we could reach not-yet parents or “non-parents”?
I mentioned up top that I’m a sucker for a good interview, and to expand on that, I could listen to people tell their stories and talk about things they’re interested in all day. So I’ve been sponging up parenting stuff for years, with the idea that “someday” it would be applicable. When I actually got pregnant, I circled back to all of the blogs I followed to re-read their parenting stuff, and reached out to friends who’d had babies to ask lots of questions about their experiences.
This is why I think projects like yours, collecting these interviews, are important, and why I’m so happy that you asked me to participate. To your point, we don’t always sponge up information that isn’t applicable to us at the time, but having those stories available when parents are ready to read them is so helpful, and that was really part of the motivation for my N=1 piece on motherhood.
I wrote the piece I wish I could have read when I was trying to figure out how all of the pieces would fit together for me, and I tried to answer some of the questions I had before becoming a parent.
I hope that would-be parents and non-parents find these interviews helpful when they’re interested in reading more about parenting.
There are lots of ways to be a good parent, and balance looks different for everyone.
For me, some days being a good parent means putting my child before work, some days it looks like wrapping up work even when I’m in the zone, some days it looks like staying late to make sure things get finished and I’m not distracted during family time, and some days it means taking some time for myself.
Do what works best for you, and try not to compare yourself to others. (Amy Poehler’s motto, “Good for her! Not for me” is a nice reminder here.) Strive for balance, let the small stuff go, and enjoy all of the little moments along the way.
More about Caitlin
Here are a few blogs I’ve written that folks might find useful or interesting:
- Data Meta-Metrics
- Git Your SQL Together
- Blue Christmas: A data-driven search for the most depressing Christmas song
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