Driven by a love for data: meet Namita Nair, founder of a data science community for women

Pregnant and home alone, Namita Nair, a trained data analyst, turned to her favourite pastime — crunching data. This time though, it was not for a client; she was simply keeping herself engaged. She tracked her grocery shopping and broke it down into data that revealed how much she spent, what she bought, how much, and when. Namita then turned her attention to her workouts and tracked how much time she spent at the gym, what kind of training she did, her weight gain or loss and the composition of her diet.

She is so passionate about mining and tracking data, that at one point she reduced different aspects of her life to quantitative entities. In fact, in an article she wrote, she asserts that “data, and not diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

At present, the 29-year-old is founder and moderator of She Drives Data, a web-based data science community for women on the women-only SHEROES platform, which is counting on creating a more woman-centric worldwide net. With more than 12,000 members in her community, the data miner is bubbling with enthusiasm.

Namita helps women get over their fear of data, by giving them a clear picture of how data analysing is the future. She also teaches them various software that deal with data analysing and visualising. “This is a hub for data enthusiasts and data newbies to learn via mentorships, community chats, conversations, collaborations and free sessions,” she says, during a chat at her home in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Female first

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“For instance, if there is a boutique owner who wants to understand more about her business and her clients, she would need data about the kind of clients who frequent her outlet, the sections they visit, the kind of clothes they choose, the timings of their visits, their age group and so on. All the random data, when put together, will give her pointers to create her business strategy and how to improve her business. Basically, this is what data analysts do: collect data, track it and understand the numbers to draw conclusions to help improve businesses and form strategies as and when required,” she explains.

For the engineering graduate from Bengaluru-based Ramaiah Institute of Technology, it was her manager at her first job who made her aware of the Aladdin’s cave of data treasure that awaited data analysts who knew where to look and how. “There was no looking back after that. Data fascinated me with the kind of stories the numbers reveal,” she chips in.

After her post-graduation in Management Information Systems from Santa Clara University, California, Namita tied the knot with Vivek Gopan and relocated to Thiruvananthapuram. Soon after, she got pregnant. Working out of home, she decided to spend time learning software and concepts such as Python, Big Data, Tableau and Machine Learning, all of which help track, record and visualise data.

“But I felt lonely and isolated. There was no one to share my doubts with or chat about my findings, or even just to share my thoughts about what I was doing,” she recalls. She decided to go online and offer her expertise to clients who wanted data to be interpreted and also teach women who wanted to learn data analysing.

In January 2018, about a year after her son, Madhav, was born, Namita opened her account with a community website and waited for offers. She didn’t get any. By May, she was almost ready to give up, when she came across something tweeted by Sairee Chahal, founder-CEO of SHEROES. She messaged Sairee, and within no time, got a reply saying: “Love what you are building, but we’ll build something cool together”.

Within a week, the two forged a community for data on the SHEROES platform. And within two months, the community grew to reach 10k.

At present, Namita is busy clarifying doubts about careers in data analysis, conducting courses and guiding women who want to know about courses for data analysts. In her conversations with the members, Namita learnt that many of them wanted to know how they could advance their careers, set up their own businesses or enhance their skills. “I began taking online courses in Tableau, a software that is simple and effective for data visualising. At present, I am busy with my classes and online interactions with the community. At the same time, I can be a stay-at-home mom,” she says, showing me an online class of hers on Tableau.

And what is the advantage, if any, of a women-only platform like her community and SHEROES? “Oh, there are many. Most importantly, we are empathetic and there is a bond amongst us, which, I think, is so strong because we are a woman-only community. For instance, when I mentioned that my son was unwell, the SHEROES team told me to take a break and come back online only after he had recovered. That is the kind of space that it gives us. It is a sisterhood. The core value SHEROES tries to spread both within the company itself and its community is empathy,” she explains.

It has helped her bond with young moms like herself. She treasures meeting Kollam-based Shahna Ellias, who attended the recent SHEROES summit in Thiruvananthapuram. “She founded Coding for Kids and has a community called ‘Moms for Coding’, which is helping children who enjoy it. She was one of the first to get in touch with me after I began the community and today we share a close tie with each other.”

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