“Machine Learning is the Future”—in Boot Camp, Cynthia Huallanca Discovered Her Own Future
If career growth begins at the end of your comfort zone, then Chilean native Cynthia Huallanca is on her way to great professional achievements. In 2016, she threw familiarity to the wayside, trading in her homeland’s snow-capped mountains for sandy southern Florida.
Settling into the United States wasn’t without its challenges. Cynthia had worked as a data analyst in Chile, so she thought her experience would act as an advantage in finding a similar role; however, she faced fierce competition in the Miami job market. After a while, it became clear that she needed to sharpen her analytical skills to get ahead. Eager to advance her career and build a life in America, Cynthia started searching for part-time university courses. Then, while browsing the internet one day, she discovered the University of Miami Data Analytics Boot Camp. “It was like a light went on between my computer and me,” said Cynthia. “This was my next step.”
She enrolled in the boot camp immediately, ready to hit the ground running.
Making the commitment—and the time
For Cynthia, giving up has never been an option. But when the course introduced Python—an advanced programming language—in week three of boot camp, she couldn’t help but second-guess herself. “It was intense,” said Cynthia. “I wasn’t getting it, and it seemed like everyone else was.” One by one, doubts began creeping into her mind. Was the material too difficult? Should she enroll in an easier course?
It took only four words to set Cynthia back on track: I’m not like that. With that reminder, she resolved to study more diligently than ever. If that didn’t work, she would ask for help. “Before quitting,” said Cynthia, “I had to try.”
Asking questions and finding answers
After overcoming her biggest hurdle, Cynthia was unfazed by any challenges that came her way. If she didn’t understand something initially, she reminded herself that she would with time.
Tapping into her boot camp’s wealth of student resources, Cynthia started regularly attending office hours. “Every single week, I was so grateful for the instructors and TAs,” she said. “Not only are they skilled in every subject, but they’re also genuinely good people.”
Before boot camp, Cynthia had considered taking free online courses. Why physically go to class, she’d asked herself, when there are thousands of online platforms to choose from? But after attending office hours and seeing the support system that surrounded her, Cynthia no longer had to wonder: this was why.
Predicting the future—while figuring out her own
Over the 24-week course, Cynthia discovered an unequivocal passion for the field of machine learning.
Guided by her newfound fascination, Cynthia partnered with three classmates to develop a machine learning model that predicts the future of crime in the Miami area. Although they graduated from boot camp in June, the team continues to iterate on their final project today. “It’s a work in progress,” said Cynthia.
This passion project has extended far beyond the classroom—Cynthia’s love for machine learning has impacted her professional life. In her new job as a business analyst with Florida Power & Light, she works with machine learning models on a regular basis. “It’s everything I’ve ever wanted to do,” Cynthia said. “Machine learning is the future”—and through the data analytics boot camp, she has discovered her own future as well.
Learning how to learn
At boot camp, Cynthia gained programming skills, supportive mentors, and a passion that changed her career path. But more than anything, she said, “I learned how to learn.”
In the first few weeks, Cynthia would grow frustrated when difficult topics were introduced to the class. “By the final days, I was laughing if I didn’t understand something,” she said. Instead of fearing the unknown, Cynthia would tell herself, I’m going home, I’m going to study—and then I’m going to get it.
And understand it she certainly has.