#IBelong: Ashley Fehr, Applied Scientist
Ashley Fehr, Applied Scientist, Improbable U.S. Defence & National Security
Q: What’s your role at IO?
A: I’m an Applied Scientist on our modeling team. I help scope and shape how we answer modeling and simulation questions, from coming up with models to the data needed to represent entities and behaviours in simulations.
Q: How did you get here?
A: I started in behavioural science research and incrementally moved toward coding and applying that domain computationally. What this looked like was transitioning to using code to answer statistical questions, using background research to understand systems we want to model, and prototyping pieces of it. This role was a good fit at a time when I was looking to focus my skills more computationally and has let me develop further in that direction.
Q: What is the most important piece of career advice you have been given?
A: Keep a list of work done that you’re proud of. It ends up serving as objective evidence, written by yourself, that you’re capable where you can see the effects of your work and learning over time. This is invaluable validation if you need a reminder (or have imposter syndrome).
If you’re wondering or thinking that something should be done, the answer is yes, and you should take initiative to do it. Initiative is a wonderful thing in and out of work.
Stop using qualifiers – like just, maybe, I think, I believe, I feel that – to soften your opinions or professional observations. Look back through your writing for these and see how changing or removing them firms up what you’re saying.
Q: What’s been the toughest moment of your career and why?
A: So far, deciding not to feel beholden to what I went to college for or the area I started my professional career in – this has let me turn toward the field and application of my skills that I’ve ended up being really interested in developing further.
Q: How do you unplug from work?
A: Reading, playing games with friends, cabin getaways, taking the dogs out, and not waiting on a big vacation to take time off. Extended weekends are nice refreshers.
Q: How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
A: Take breaks when you mentally need to and don’t keep churning when you are out of mental resources. It’s important to recognise when your mental resources are depleted and when putzing around trying to be productive isn’t accomplishing anything, especially toward the end of the day; there’s more benefit to stopping work when you need to and returning fresh tomorrow.
Q: What book or podcast would you recommend to anyone thinking about a career in tech?
A: Introduction to Statistical Learning is a good reference book for statistics with coded examples, and it’s free online.
Q: What does a supportive work environment look like to you?
A: Markers I’ve found pretty indicative are: your workplace giving you the space and mentorship to develop and make work decisions without dictating the steps of your contributions; co-workers celebrating each other; unprompted transparency and seeing leadership pursue good ideas from anyone who has them; your workplace hiring candidates with capability and the desire to learn; you feel like you can bring your whole, authentic self to work and not need to self-edit.
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into engineering and technology fields?
A: If you’re looking to break into roles that involve coding, a lot of people will tell you how to start and how easy it is – but when you’re completely new to it, it can feel intimidating and the resources can feel overwhelming. Pick 1 way forward to focus your learning – this could be a course or series; follow it all the way through. Focusing on learning programming fundamentals first goes a long way.
When you’re interviewing, take chances on yourself and choose to view job ads as aspirational rather than hard requirements because there’s often degrees of freedom in what’s acceptable for a hire – also determine if you want to work someplace where you already 100% match the listed requirements. Advocate for yourself, because you’re your best advocate.
Interview them as much as they interview you. Make sure the role is scoped for one person and that your background definitively contributes to the work. Look for that list of markers of a supportive work environment as some of these markers are uncommon. Asking about these things helps clarify fit and if it’s someplace you want to be while you’re entering a new field and developing your skills.
Q: Who inspires you and why?
A: People in my life who go after their passions or deeply develop a personal interest. I knew someone who started a niche catering business and saw it become brick-and-mortar, bloom online, and overall watch how she put her passion to work for her. I’ve seen friends and family develop themselves to go after graduate programs, which inspires me to keep looking at my own intellectual curiosities. It can be hard to focus on just one interest, so it’s been impressive to see people I know intensely focus on getting really good at a martial art or making things with their hands.
Q: What personal development advice would you share?
A: Develop yourself and your identity outside of work as well, focus on relationships, find at least one hobby you can really dig into, and take time off when you’re sick or before you really feel like you need it. Take care of yourself – only you know best how to do that.
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