From Teacher to Data Analyst: How I Leveled Up My Math Skills for a Career in Data

Azadeh was teaching math in schools and online all around the world, sharing her love of mathematics with students from Malaysia to the U.S. She’s now leveled up her skills, retrained for a career as a data analyst, and got her first job in the field.

by Alison Lightfoot on 15 September 2022

Azadeh Rezaei, a CareerFoundry data analytics graduate

Azadeh loves math. She told me many times during our chat. It’s logical, always has a right answer, and numbers don’t lie. She began preaching her love of mathematics in her job as a teacher around the world, before finally deciding to settle for a career as a math teacher.

But the Covid-19 pandemic forced her out of her comfort zone. Keen to level up her math skills and broaden her analytical skills, she retrained for a career in data. Since graduating from CareerFoundry, she’s secured her first job in the industry, working remotely as a data analyst at a fintech company. This is her career change story.​​​​​​

Hi Azadeh! Thanks for talking with me today. Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

Hi Alison. I am originally from Iran, where I did my bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. I lived in Malaysia for about three years, where I did my first master’s degree in e-learning technologies, and then I moved to the U.S.

I had been teaching math throughout my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Iran and Malaysia, but when I moved to the U.S. I knew that I would require an education degree to be hired as a teacher. I started working in retail, then in a private tutoring school where I taught a range of mathematics levels; from high school to middle school to SATs. I then did a second master’s degree in secondary mathematics education, preparing for a career in teaching in the U.S. 

After I graduated, I quit my part-time jobs and was getting ready to apply to full-time teaching jobs. And then the pandemic hit. The spring and summer of that year, I applied to about 15 school districts—not schools, districts, to get a teaching job, and I just couldn’t.

Sorry to hear it. Did you have your heart set on becoming a teacher at this point?

Teaching is a very hard job, but I was really good at it and I love math, so I justified that it would be the job I was going to have for a lifetime. The pandemic forced me out of that comfort zone though, and the job and the future that I had in mind.

What made you turn your attention to data instead?

My boyfriend actually encouraged me to look into data analytics. I was very scared about changing paths again though, at first. I didn’t want to go back to school—a third master’s degree sounded ridiculous, so he encouraged me to self-study.

I started self-studying for four or five months, but I soon started to feel that I needed guidance and structure. There’s a sea of information out there—actually not a sea, an ocean—and I needed some structure to guide me through the learning process. I know some people get to where I am now without a bootcamp, but I felt that it was what I needed. I started researching schools, and then I picked CareerFoundry.

When you were self-studying, were you purposefully thinking about retraining for a career in data, or were you just looking to learn something new and see where it took you?

By this point, I knew I wanted to get into data. I felt I was a good fit for it, given my background. I just love math. I think my brain processes mathematical concepts well, and I had good analytical skills already, it just needed to be transferred to be useful in the field of analytics.

I’m very determined and finish whatever I start. I’m not a quitter. During the first year of the pandemic, I actually studied with Codecademy, which has some career paths for data analysts. I learned a little bit of SQL and Python but then it got really advanced.

Why did you decide to study with CareerFoundry?

I actually made a spreadsheet and compared all the bootcamps and schools I was researching. I wanted it to be online, and I wanted to have some sort of job guarantee. Some people look at job guarantees as a course that is going to get you a job, but that’s not how I look at it. I looked at it as a company that trusts its program enough and has enough support in place to offer the guarantee.

I also looked at the course content, and CareerFoundry’s Data Analytics Program covered exactly what I wanted: Excel, SQL, Python, and a visualization tool, Tableau. 

A quote from Azadeh about her career change journey

What was your relationship like with your mentor and tutor?

I had a very good experience with my mentor, Bill Tracy, and my tutor. They were both extremely responsive. I think my teaching background also helped with my expectation of these relationships. I didn’t expect my tutor to hold my hand, or help me if I couldn’t install software.

At the same time, I made good use of the appointments with my mentor. I talked with him a lot about data—not even necessarily the career aspects of the industry or the job hunt, but just running things through him and having a discussion about data.

The analytical feedback that he gave me was exactly what I needed for the next step. Toward the end of the program, before submitting my final tasks, I wanted to meet with him first and talk through my work, which was very helpful. I loved that.

What was the most challenging thing about the course?

I’m a slow reader, and I know that’s specific to me, but when the course said it would take an hour to read through the material, it would take me a lot longer. Reading is different from learning. You can read over something, but that doesn’t mean you’ve learned it.

Was there a highlight or something in particular that you enjoyed the most?

Overall, I loved it. As I mentioned, one thing that I really wanted from the course was to learn how to start from scratch when you are given raw data, and how to get some conclusion out of that data. And I got to do that, especially with the program’s last achievement. I was able to look at the data, interpret what I thought it was going to mean, manipulate, clean, and analyze it.

I like learning for the sake of learning, but because I was putting these skills in my resume and portfolio, mastering this whole process was really what I wanted. I wanted to be able to confidently say, ‘I know SQL, I know a visualization tool, and I have good analytical skills.’ When it came to my interview, I was actually able to say all of that and support it with multiple projects I’d completed to prove myself. And I think it mattered because I got a job!

Amazing! How did you approach the job search?

I needed to focus on one thing at a time. So after my fifth achievement—the penultimate part of the program—I took a break from studying to complete the first (of two) achievements in the Job Preparation Course.

Making a portfolio website was a huge task for me. I found a YouTube video that walked me through how to make a WordPress portfolio step-by-step, and so I made my portfolio using that. I wish there was a little bit of hand-holding though, because as a data analytics student, I didn’t know how to make a portfolio or website. But I figured it out. It took me a week to build the website itself, but it was worth it in the end.

Recommended viewing: Building Your First Data Analytics Portfolio: A Step by Step Guide


And what was the period like when you were looking for roles?

When I finished the job prep, it was a bit overwhelming in the job search; especially the number of platforms where you can search for jobs. I personally stuck with LinkedIn.

When it came to looking for roles, I decided what I wasn’t willing to sacrifice. I had made so little money in the year before that salary compensation wasn’t in my top list of bullet points for the job. Any job I got initially was going to pay me more than what I made the previous year!

Mostly, I just wanted it to be remote. I wanted to be hired properly (meaning I did not want to do a contract job), and I didn’t want it to be unethical (based on my own personal beliefs). For example, I’m vegan, so I don’t want to work for a meat-packing company!

But I wasn’t picky. I knew that for a year or so I might have to work in a place that I didn’t necessarily love, to get my foot in the door, and then switch from there. But I got lucky. I got a job that has all of the things I was looking for, and all the things I didn’t know I wanted. I’m very happy about that!

Congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit about the company?

I’m a data analyst in a compliance team at a fintech company called Affirm. Affirm is a remote-first company based in San Francisco but is growing rapidly. It’s almost like a dream come true.

They have an amazing company culture that they actually put into practice; in the company layout, the diversity, and the employee care. I had read a lot about different companies’ approaches to working remotely and I was preparing myself for some of the challenges, but it’s going great so far.

What is your role like?

I work strictly with Snowflake and SQL. I wanted to code in my job, and that’s what I’m doing at Affirm. I pull data from the database based on the request that other teams have made. It’s great because I get to work on improving my SQL skills.

I don’t do all of the things that I learned through CareerFoundry, but I knew that was going to be the case. If a company is big enough, you’re not going to do the whole process. I knew that I would be focusing on one part of the process, like cleaning the data, analyzing it, or visualizing it. 

Do you think they will support your professional growth too?

Oh, absolutely. That was one of the things that my manager told me in the hiring process—about the company’s growth mindset and what they expect from their team.

A quote from Azadeh about her career change journey

I’m so happy about that because what I thought would have been my weakness they saw as a strength— and a good fit for the company. And I do feel like I belong in the company. The professional support is great, from the compensation to the benefits to the work environment. There’s definitely room to develop my skills here in the future too.

Do you feel like CareerFoundry has helped you upskill in the way that you hoped?

Yes, definitely. It was a bit overwhelming getting into the field and learning all of these skills that I know are complex, like Python. But having a beginner to average level of knowing how to use certain analytics tools now makes me feel that I’m not going to be scared to use a new tool in the future.

It’s not only the skills though; it’s the confidence. Personally, I needed the confidence to know that I can start something from the beginning, decide for myself how to analyze the data, and own a project. Not every project works in the same way. That’s something that I learned through multiple projects with CareerFoundry. I really appreciated the different types of projects that focus on different skills.

Good to hear. I think channeling the right mindset during a career change is key.

Yes. The way I see it is that I’ve already done the big thing: deciding to change careers. The next steps are going to be smaller than that first big step that I took. Making a career change like that sets you up with a growth mindset.

Do you think it’s possible to become a data analyst if you’re coming from an unrelated background?

I’d like to think that if you have already thought about a career in this field specifically, you have something to offer. Something piqued your interest. It’s not like you just decided to become a surgeon.

Your dreams will likely go towards something that you can transfer to. For me, for example, I knew that web development was too code-based, and data analytics seemed a better fit. I had transferable skills—even ones that I didn’t know I had!

So, I feel like as long as you have those transferable skills and the willingness to learn and not to get frustrated, that’s a good starting point. You have to be honest with yourself, understand what skills and qualities you have to offer, and what you don’t. As long as you have that context in mind, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be able to make a career change into data.

What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t have a relevant background for a career in data?

I know it’s possible because I’ve followed the journey of a lot of people through my career change. My friend Julian, another CareerFoundry graduate, didn’t have a related background and he made a switch to data analytics at the age of 30.

When I was getting rejection letters for jobs it was very demoralizing. It was very sad. I had tears, I had heartbreaks, but I used to tell myself there are so many data jobs out there and there’s one that is mine.

A quote from Azadeh about her career change journey

It’s not easy. Maybe it will take you longer to get a job, maybe six months or one year, but if you continue to try and build your skills, especially your analytical skills, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be able to get a job.

Thank you. That’s a very good answer. For you personally, what is the most rewarding thing about a career in data?

When my code runs! It’s such a rush every time. I love the challenge, and I love the frustration. I remember one of the things I told my manager during my first interview was that I’m very comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I’ve been through so many changes and so many ups and downs in life that it’s not foreign to me.

As I keep saying, I love math and logic, and code is the same. It might sound strange, but in the real world, the input and output you get from people do not always match your expectations, but mathematics will never disappoint you. Two plus two will always be four. It doesn’t matter where you are, or even what language you’re doing math in. And I love that certainty.

I love how definite math is. Numbers just don’t lie. If the logic is correct, if the code is correct, it can’t be misinterpreted. It’s not going to tell you something but mean something else. It’s very honest and I’ve always appreciated that.

Recommended reading: Career Change Stories: Advice From Women in Tech

I love that. Do you have any hopes for your future career?

My manager asked me a question like this recently, and I said something like, ‘I’m going to get so good at what I do that people would want me in their teams.’ I know it’s a bit over-the-top, but I just want to keep growing, get really good at what I do, and expand my skills step-by-step.

I want to continue growing my SQL skills and then become more comfortable with all the other analytic tools, like Python, and maybe get into data science at some point.

Amazing. The sky’s the limit. Finally, do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for someone thinking about taking an online course for data analytics like CareerFoundry’s?

When it comes to the learning, numbers and data don’t lie. So, as harsh as it might sound, if you’re not getting the results, there’s something you’re not doing right. Remember, it’s a very logical process.

With the job search, remember it’s not personal, as much as it might feel like it is. The job search is a numbers game. Just keep applying. I applied to jobs for over three months before I even first heard back from a recruiter. My applications probably got better over those three months too, because I defined what I was looking for throughout the process. So keep defining and clarifying your expectations. There is a job out there for you. Keep pushing!

Thank you so much, Azadeh, it’s been great to hear your career change story, and I wish you all the best in your future career in data!

Feeling inspired by Azadeh’s career change? Are you curious about a career as a data analyst too? Find out if data analytics is a good fit for you with this free, introductory, short course. If you’d like to learn more about how to retrain for a career in tech, book a free call with one of our expert program advisors. 

by Alison Lightfoot on 15 September 2022

About the author

Alison Lightfoot

Originally from northern England, Alison’s marketing background ranges from gaming, to sports, to the arts. When she’s not writing about CareerFoundry’s inspiring alumni, she can be found doing yoga, reading a weird book, or exploring new restaurants and cafes around Berlin.