This week Ali and JoDee are talking with Pearl Ubaru, a former high school math teacher turned data scientist. She is also the founder of SiSTEM Tutoring Agency. Together, they will discuss Pearl’s transition to data scientist and entrepreneur, the 3 main data-related roles in tech, and the steps you need to take to pursue a career as data scientist.
Connect with Pearl:
Connect with Ali and JoDee:
Teacher Shift LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/teacher-shift
Ali’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisimon/
JoDee’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodeescissors/
All teachers are natural innovators, entertainers and problem solvers. They dream of growing old into the profession, teaching their kids kids. But sometimes career goals shift or change, and that makes opportunities outside of the classroom seem intangible questioning who am I, if I'm not a teacher? I'm your host, Alexandra Simon.
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.
This is The Great Teacher Resignation.
Today we are joined by Pearl Ubaru. Pearl is a former high school math teacher turned data scientist with skills in project and program management, data migration, data governance, data analytics, and storytelling. She is the founder of System Tutoring Agency, and is passionate about all things STEM and all things education. Welcome to the show today, Pearl.
Thank you so much for having me.
Pearl, Ali and I have been waiting weeks to interview you. We've been counting down the days because we've been really intrigued by your bio. And we thank you for reaching out and wanting to tell your story, because I think a lot of teachers will really connect with your journey. And even if it's not the same path, perhaps it will inspire them to find their own way. So thanks.
Absolutely. Thank you so much. I'm excited.
We really want to hear your story, especially because you said that you are passionate about storytelling. So can you tell us what led you out of the math classroom and into your new field?
I actually never wanted to be a teacher. When I was in college, I was pursuing med school. Thought it was an amazing opportunity, did all the MCATs, all the math sciences was ready to go. And then I was like, You know what? Let me try something else. So that's something else ended up being teaching. And I kind of went that direction because I was tutoring at the time. And I felt like I was doing such a great job. Parents were complimenting me. And they were like, Are you sure you don't want to be a teacher? And I was like, Oh, Lord no, you know, but I ended up going that direction just because I felt like, I felt I could do it. And I was passionate about teaching. I just didn't know if I would be successful as a teacher. But I thought, let me just try it. I ended up doing a really great job teaching. I had a great experience. But I just felt like the education system in general just was not what I expected. I found it very flawed. I found it very, very difficult to navigate being a teacher. And so I wanted to still be a teacher, I remember one day I just sat at my desk. And I was like, Okay, I'm Google. So I'm probably Google and I literally typed in, what do you do when you love to teach, but you don't want to be a teacher. And all that kept popping up with architecture. And I'm like, I don't know if I want to build houses. I don't know about that.
That's totally different.
God, I'm like, doesn't sound fun or appealing for me. And so I kind of just gave up on it or whatever. And then I just went home that day and just continued kind of looking a little bit, not really, because it just kept giving me stuff that just was not fun and like teaching us where it's at with all these options, you know. So eventually, after doing more research, I actually ended up finding a world of science, data analytics, and just data. And so that's kind of how I transitioned. I wouldn't say I was necessarily unhappy. I was just looking for something more, something that just made sense. And I felt like teaching sometimes didn't. And again, it wasn't the classroom, wasn't the students. I loved my students are so funny. And great. It was just, yeah, the public school system very flawed.
What's one of the flaws that really sticks with you today?
I did not like the treatment of our minority students. And when I say minority, I mean, I'm going to be particular, our black students. It was just unfair. They were dealt with harsher, the discipline was harsher. The support was just not there. The resources and the the opportunity was not always there for them. But I definitely noticed that inequity very quickly within just teaching. But then I also started noticing it like as a teacher, you know, like being a black woman, or being a black man, wherever whoever you are. It's like not supposed to be there. Especially if you're teaching upper level courses like key honors math, English. Like you really are put at a certain standard that makes you feel like you're inferior or you're, you're like never going to measure up to whoever is around you that's white. And so, it was very tricky navigating that as well. And just unfair. I would say just the unfairness would be the main flaw that I noticed. And I started maybe because of the low income schools or the Title I schools, but then I also at schools that were very, you know, well endowed, had the resources and had the PTO and the money coming in. But it was still the same things. It wasn't about the economics and the resources, it was just unethical when it came to like socio economic backgrounds and stuff like that.
Yeah, I think that's one of the major gaps that still remains in school systems are the academic achievement gaps is largely due to inequities.
Yeah. And that is so valid, that you bring that up, because, you know, I'm in Houston, that's where I taught. And it's a melting pot, super diverse, lots of different individuals from different backgrounds. And, you know, obviously, there's different pockets of the city where you're going to have, you know, predominantly white schools or districts, and then you're going to have the ones that are predominantly black or majority black. And for me, I taught both of those kinds of schools, and still recognize that that treatment. So I feel like it definitely needs an overhaul as far as what I felt like I was an ant in the grand scheme of things. And I feel like I couldn't really do a lot and really make an impact that I so desired. And I think that's also part of the reason why I decided to you know, call it quits and head out of teaching.
You're such a great example of what you can do with a solid education. You can go into one field, you can transition into another. And it sounds like from what we've read about you and your LinkedIn profile and your bio, that you're really passionate about effecting change, maybe in a different space. So I'm wondering, can you tell us a little bit about what your life looks like now as a data scientist, and maybe dive into the System Tutoring Agency.
A big thing, like I said, I did my Googles is that I still wanted to work with math. And I still wanted to teach, but I didn't necessarily want to be a teacher in a teaching environment with like, several students. So System actually was generated before I even became a data scientist. It was something that I painted it on my own, just running around the city after work. And then when I kind of stopped teaching, and I was in that transition period, I was like, tutoring is fun. And I wonder who else wants to make this impact. And so I kind of put some feelers out to see, you know, are you interested in teaching math or science or whatever? And people would actually respond, they'd be like, oh, yeah, I definitely want to teach. And I'm like, Well, I mean, I'm trying to get into tech. So maybe I should add on coding, like maybe there are kids that want to learn how to code. That's kind of how System started in particular. So it was kind of a weird period for me, transitioning into tech, while also transitioning into like entrepreneurship. I wouldn't recommend. But I ended up honestly, in the right space. I, I feel like doing this whole process, especially on my own, I didn't really have a mentor. There was no such thing as TGTR podcast. So thank you, y'all. But I did everything on my own. And so I try to utilize everything that I've learned to help others. So teachers reach out to me all the time, like, Hey, how did you do this? How did you do that? And I'm like, are you ready? Like, are you I know you want to do it. But like, let me give you the basics that you need. First, you need really need the mindset. But then on top of that in the same breath, on the other side, with my tutoring company, I also tried to teach not only my tutors, but my students that at any time in your life, you can make a change, whether that's starting to get better grades, or maybe you now want to actually go to college, or maybe you actually want to enter the workforce. And I don't think there's ever a bad decision, as long as you have the right mindset and the right intention.
Well, it's really interesting hearing how you got that motivation. You knew that being in the classroom wasn't where you wanted to be long term, and you decided to make a change. And change is scary. And it sounds like you didn't really know who to lean on or like, where do you go. Did you have some type of a support system during that transition? Or was it just was it just you? Were you just you were your biggest cheerleader?
Yeah,I tried really hard to find people that were in a position at the time. And I felt like, if I made my transition like today, or in the past year or so, like, there would be a lot of people that would be able to be like, Hey, this is how you do it. Because I feel like a lot of teachers are making this transition as of late because of COVID and other things, just things that were actually a big deal prior to COVID are now like, emphasize, they're on a bigger scale. So I definitely understand that. But when I was making that transition, it was pre pandemic. And it was rather tricky. A lot of companies in general at the time to they were like, Oh, that's cool you were a teacher, but no. You know, but now it's like, Oh, you were a teacher. Come on, let's let's figure some things out. We can get you on board, you have the skills, you have the basic skills, and the rest of you can figure out. But that just wasn't the case for me. So I definitely has to be my own personal cheerleader. And honestly, let me not lie, I did have a support system and it was YouTube.
Ah, see, you're a self starter, though. You know how to find the answers. And I think that that's a really good mindset to have is that when you don't know something, you can start the journey on your own. But our view of what you can do and be in the world is limited, usually by what your family members do and your teachers. Because those are the most immediate people that you see and you learn from. And so you making that transition is not just great for you, but you're modeling for your former students, that you can make career transition. You can be a self starter and find your own way. You can be an entrepreneur, even though it's hard. And you can be a data scientist. And so you representing that field, I think is really great and good for you for finding the way. What was the process to make that change? Like how did you learn to be a data scientist? Where do you go to do that?
So one thing I want to start with is that there is a very interesting trend that I've been noticing, even when I started my transition. There are three major data related roles in tech. And there can be variations of it, of course, but the main ones are data analyst, data engineer and data scientist. And what I had found was based on my own research, they are very different roles, very different. But I found that some companies would have job postings, and they would do they want a data analyst as the title. But the role was definitely more so data engineering related. And it was very common, you know, and even till today, I still see it, which shows that a lot of people in general don't understand data first, a lot of them don't. But second, they don't really understand the necessary role, or titles that correlate to what they actually need within a company. And so I want to caveat this, data analyst is somebody that might have some background in statistics. I mean, you don't have statistics expert. But you're familiar with using Excel. You're good with maybe data visualizations, and dashboarding, and running reports. Great. A data analyst is not less than a data scientist. They're not less than a data engineer. But some people might say that it's wrong, they're very relevant. And they're just as powerful. A data scientist is going to have more statistics based background, very strong, and statistics. They may not be super strong visualizations, and reporting and analytics. But they're really great with predictive analytics. So they're always looking towards the future. They're looking for like AI, think AI and machine learning things of that nature. A data scientist would be very skilled at that. A lot of their work is very research based, like, Hmm, I wonder if this will happen versus a data analyst is more so of this has happened, kind of like in the past, and how we can draw reports from there. Data engineer is someone that actually builds these kinds of pipelines to get data in for data analysts to use, for really anyone that's going to be working with this data. The engineer kind of creates that, you know, construction, and requires a lot of knowledge of just like data warehousing, data management, data governance. They all have to know that kind of stuff. So those are the kinds of key differentiators between the three. Sorry, remind me of your question.
They figured out which one of the three they want to be. They've done their research, they're sure they're going to do it. How do they pursue it?
First and foremost, a big thing is not even skill, I would say mindset. You want to be teachable, and you want to be able to learn. Because if you have a mindset of oh, I'm going to enter Tech because I want to make more money, or I want to enter Tech, I want to be happier. Like, look, I'm gonna tell you right now, and I tell people this all the time, entering into a new role because of more money and you don't really have the mindset, like a new mindset in the role, you'll feel the exact same as how you felt in your other roles, you'll just be making more money, you know? And people enter tech with that mentality. And so they're still upset. They're like, Oh, I don't like this. Oh, why did I do this? But at least I'm making more money. And I'm like, okay, great. But like, let's be intentional here. And let's figure out why are we actually doing this. Are you trying to make a difference? Are you trying to maybe help your family? Are you trying to, you know, whatever that is, figure out your why. And from there, start building up your mentality to grow and learn and know that it's not going to be easy. But when it comes to actual skill, if you want to be a data scientist, you need to have a statistics background. So you need to know about you know, population testing, hypothesis testing. Your typical foundational statistics. And I'm not talking about, I pull out one M&M out of this many M&M's. Like that's super, super basic. And I think that's important to know. But you definitely want to understand hypothesis testing. You want to understand a be testing. You want to know the different distributions, parameters, and all the things that correlate to just introductory statistics. From there, once you get the feel of that, you definitely need to learn a coding language. There are quite a few people, you know, say that you should learn. And that's kind of the tricky part, because there's many programming languages. But the main one, I think that you could start with this Python. Python is heavily used in machine learning. And people like it because there's two reasons, people that actually learn Python like it because it's easier to understand. And then on top of that, companies in turn like people that know Python, because it's a hot skill, not a lot of people have it. You know? So if you have, it's like, oh, they know Python, like, let's bring them on. So that's what I would recommend. And then from there, I would just familiarize yourself with what the other roles do. So in the beginning, I brought up data analysts and data engineer. You didn't have those individuals play a role within your role. You're not just on your own whatever you want. I mean, you might be but you know, data analysts might seek your advice, how would you kind of work with them. Or data engineer might also secretly work with them. So those would be my top three starters,
I think it is really important that you're like, it's not just about the money, like, we know, the teachers don't make a lot of money. But you do want to go into something. If it needs to be lucrative, if you're really at a point where you need to make more money, great, have that be a part of your search process. But that cannot be the only thing. Because you won't make it. You know, you'll do the same thing again, you'll probably transition out of whatever you're going into. So I thought that was really great advice. And then understanding those different roles and how they all work together. Like that is something that I really think teachers can do well, because we're used to working with other people, and we're used to learning roles, responsibilities, who's in charge of what like, we can stay in our lane, we can also help people if they need help. So it sounds like you really found a field that works well for you. And I'm glad you shared about learning a coding language. What type of a resource would you use if you wanted to learn a coding language? I don't even know. Where would you tell someone to go to learn that.
There's so many these days, like, every time I'm seeing something pop up on LinkedIn, I started with the book. That's where I started, I don't think you should, because that's just gonna give you the general overview. They'll give you some code, but you'll be like this isn't even me. So I would say Solo Learn. That was one of the first apps that I ever downloaded. It was free at the time, it is now no longer free. I'm so sorry. Only some things are free on the on the app, but some will learn is literally an app that you can just pull out from unknown and literally start learning how to code. You'll learn a little bit of something, then they'll ask you a few questions to see if you answered it. If you did you move on. If you don't know, I think on the free version, you're kind of stuck, but if you pay for it, they'll give you the answers. So that's kind of how it works. But that's where I would start just to learn on the go. But if you are looking for something more structured, there's so many items on YouTube. There's Coursera. There's Udacity. There's Udemy. There's like edX. There's just so much out there. I think that you should definitely go through and vet those because you know, some courses are better than others. There's ratings and reviews. But if you're looking for some things just straight off the bat free, YouTube was a great place. There's another website called Free Coding, I think it's free coding classes, or courses.org, or something like that. That's a great website as well. So those are a few of my recommendations.
Awesome. Thank you so much. I know our listeners who are interested in data science will definitely be looking at those resources. We'll also add them to our show notes, so they'll be easy for you to find. And I know that I've had friends that are math teachers, that they've maybe they've been math teachers for 10 years or longer, but they're ready to do something new. And I really think this is a great field for former math educators to go into. And honestly really, other educators can go into it too, but I did want to highlight that having a math background vcan be super beneficial. So we're really grateful for your time today, Pearl for joining us on the show and for sharing all of your pearls of wisdom with us. And I did want our listeners to know that if you want to connect with pearl, you can find her on Instagram and Twitter at Pearl, the CEO and you could also find her on LinkedIn as Pearl Ubaru and that spelled U B A R U. Thank you so much
If you liked the great teacher resignation, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music and Audible. Today's episode was written and recorded by me Alexandra Simon, and my co host JoDee Scissors. Executive produced by Teacher Brain. Produced and edited by Emily Porter. Original Music: Emoji by Tubebackr. Special thanks to our sponsor Paper Planes Ed