Life is what you make it, and nobody knows that better than Stacey McLennan-Waldal, a data scientist who currently works in PwC’s Calgary office in the firm’s advanced analytics practice.
The low point for her professionally occurred three years ago, at a time when the oil and gas sector was hit with a double whammy – the onset of COVID-19 and slumping oil prices. McLennan-Waldal, who worked for an exploration and production (E&P) company as a chemical engineer, received a layoff notice, not while on the job, but while on maternity leave with her second child.
After realizing it was time to look for another profession in another industry, the start of the high point came when she signed up for a three-month bootcamp with tech education firm Lighthouse Labs.
It was, said McLennan-Waldal, an easy decision to make. “One of the roles I had held was as a reservoir engineer where I was introduced to simulation and neural network models,” she said. “I always say, ‘I caught the bug then’ and always wanted to explore it further. Really, it was just a great opportunity to grow the passion after I exited my previous job.”
It all happened when her daughter was only 18 months old and her son had just turned three and-a-half, so it was, she said, “not an easy time in our lives.” Still, the thinking was, “I have done hard things before, and I can do this too. Boot camp is temporary – three months. I called it the fourth trimester of my third child.
“The great thing about it is, it’s quick, it’s immersive, get in, get out.”
McLennan-Waldal also opted to forego the sending out of a CV and instead to build up a network of contacts: “I started networking almost immediately, and telling folks that ‘I was going to be graduating in March of 2021 and looking for employment. I was very proactive.”
It paid off. Her first job was with professional IT services firm Avanade, and from there she moved over to her current posting at PwC.
An advocate for women in technology, she has this advice for any woman contemplating making a career switch into technology: “It is certainly hard, but just not as hard as you think it is – do not hold yourself back with that fear. I always say to moms, ‘you have done harder things before. If you have raised a child, you have done something far harder than pivoting.’
“There is just so much opportunity out there where women are under-represented. And I would hate for the fear of something hard to hold them back, because they can do hard things. I get fulfillment out of enabling people to do their best. And certainly moms, women, I want to see them succeed in tech.”
She described the boot camp as an “immersive way to learn a new language. If you want to learn French, there is no better way than to go live in Paris. By being immersed in writing code and working with the algorithms, you leave with a strong foundational skill set.”
Jeremy Shaki, CEO of Lighthouse Labs, described her as “indicative of a generation of people who are quite misunderstood and miscast in the sense that the desire and openness to change is there.
“What you see in Stacey and many others are incredibly gritty, resilient individuals who have a lot to contribute to our industry and to our workforce.”
There are, said Shaki, many people who have made “massive change in often very tough times in their life and are now being productive and positive” in an industry in need of the skills they can provide.
“I’d say part of her journey that is most impressive is that when you are dealing with the kind of stuff she was dealing with, a lot of people just keep trying to do the same thing they know because they can’t handle any more change.”