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Teach First is an education charity fighting to make the nation's education system work for every child. Backing the schools facing the toughest challenges, the charity finds and trains teachers, develops their leadership teams and plugs them into networks of diverse expertise and opportunities to create real change.

In this case study, we speak to Sammy Baylis, who originally joined Teach First as a HR Systems and Data Officer six years ago. Maintaining the systems that keep the organisation functional, Sammy works with large volumes of data on a daily basis. Sammy has been undertaking our Level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeship, a programme designed to help professionals that routinely work with data to gain the skills they need to efficiently extract, manipulate and visualise data. 

As a result of the skills she has learned and been able to employ at work, Sammy was recently promoted to Human Resources Operations Manager! Check out the full interview below to find out all about Sammy’s experiences on the apprenticeship programme - including how she discovered Cambridge Spark, examples of how she has applied her new skills to save her hours of work and more. 

An interview with Sammy Baylis, Level 4 Data Analyst apprentice

Sammy Baylis profileHi Sammy! To begin, can you give us a little background on how your role for the HR team at Teach First involves working with data?

Sure, I look after our HR information system which involves keeping track of our organisation’s data, making sure the data is all up to date and synchronised across all of our other systems. It’s my job to ensure the system is doing our workflows correctly and that has a huge impact on data. Hence, on a daily basis I would be taking some sort of spreadsheet, doing some sort of work in Excel or working with data in some other way.

What were your key motivations for taking on the Data Analyst apprenticeship with us?

I was using data all the time, I was always working in Excel and I became quite good at it. And if I wasn't good at Excel, I was really good at Googling! I was just so aware that the amount of data points we had as an organisation for our employee base was huge, and I began to feel really quite limited in Excel as to what I could do to connect that data and manipulate it, make it look pretty and gain some insight out of it.

It felt like there was this underlying world that I couldn't get to and couldn't do anything with and that was my main motivation. I really wanted to learn and do more with what we had in terms of data, to make the most of it. And data is so important. It's a bit of a buzzword but it's because we have so much of it now and we have to make sure that we're using it!

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Tell us how you found out about Cambridge Spark’s apprenticeships. Did you find us through Teach First?

I actually found you guys myself. Teach First usually uses a different company for most of our apprenticeships and I had a look at their curriculum but it didn't cover everything that I wanted to cover. It touched a lot of subjects but it was quite broad but I wanted to go a bit more in-depth into some subjects.

I found Cambridge Spark’s apprenticeship online and thought the curriculum looked really good. It had that deeper level that I was looking for, particularly around Python. I was really keen to get to use that in a bit more depth. Machine Learning also looked really interesting and the maths side of it as well. The 13 month timeline also grabbed me. I'm well established in my career already, and I didn't want to spend 2 years studying. I wanted to get what I needed to get the best out of my role, and do so quite quickly. It was a balance between getting that depth of knowledge but doing it quickly and to have an impact.

I then approached our apprenticeship manager and said I'm keen to do this apprenticeship and they were really supportive! A lovely lady walked us through the curriculum and it all seemed to match up exactly with what I wanted to do and what would be helpful for us as an organisation.

Which of the apprenticeship modules did you enjoy the most or which ones did you think had the most impact in how you work?

Definitely the Python and Pandas module. It was such a learning curve. I went from knowing nothing to knowing quite a lot very, very quickly! I really enjoyed that. I didn't know what I didn't know and then suddenly I did, and it just sparked so I was like, ‘oh I could do this and I could do that!’ And that was a great process for me to go through.

Do you have any examples of how you've taken those new skills and applied them?   

There was this monthly task of updating our employee engagement survey data and it could be a pain to do as it's a manual exercise. It involved downloading the data in Excel and then updating the data. I learned how to write this script in Python which would upload it which was such a revelation!

This was a task that would usually take at least half a day, if not a day to do, and in creating this new solution, it meant that I could run the code every month and the task is done in like 0.2 of a second! It was such a massive gain in time and obviously, that time is money. But it's also the mental capacity as well, in that every month it was like "ugh, I have to spend all day doing this" and that was just gone.

It’s also reduced the risk of errors. When you're manipulating something manually, there was every chance that I could miss something and sometimes that happened. You make a mistake and mess up the data, and then it was another 3 days trying to fix data retrospectively. There's no way for this to happen now because it's written out in a bit of code and it runs and that's just done and all I have to do is download it!

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Can you tell me about your experience using the learning platform K.A.T.E and how did it help you along in your learning journey? Were there any features that you found particularly helpful?

K.A.T.E was actually another big aspect of the reason I wanted to go with Cambridge Spark for my apprenticeship because of that real-time feedback. As I've said, I wanted to get it done quickly, and learn a lot and be able to apply it quickly and for me, the idea of having to submit projects or submit assignments to another person to mark before I could continue was really off-putting. It was so impressive that I could live code and be able to see where I was going wrong and get that feedback instantly.

There's also that aspect of it really gamifying your assignments. Trying to push your completion rate up, getting your success rate from 90% to 100% is a massive motivator. Having one place to keep everything organised was super useful as well. It’s a really great platform.

How would you say the apprenticeship is helping with your professional and career development? Do you think it's going to help you in the long term?

Yeah definitely and it already has! I've just finished the apprenticeship and I've been promoted to a HR Operations Manager. I think a lot of that can be put down to that confidence in using data and having conviction in what I’m doing and saying. I feel a lot more confident to actually be able to say ‘no, this is what we need to do’ or ‘I know I'm right about this.’

Especially as a woman in data, it really helped me to improve my confidence to confirm that I did know what I was talking about and that I was good at what I did, and I’m now able to support others to understand how the system is working.

I'm really proud to say that I've finished this apprenticeship. I've done it, and I had zero data skills other than good Excel skills, didn't know how to even open Python before, so for me to have come from that and wrote a script for example where I can reduce a day's work to under one second is a massive accomplishment to me and I'm happy!

I can't wait to put it on my LinkedIn profile that I've got this qualification behind me to back that up and going into my new role is really exciting as well. So yeah, in the long term I think it's going to have a really good effect on my career.

Discover more about our apprenticeships and training programmes

At Cambridge Spark we offer a range of data science and AI apprenticeships funded by the government's Apprenticeship Levy, as well as a number of commercial training options for organisations who don't qualify for Levy funding. 

We cater for entry-level learners curious about increasing their knowledge of and how they engage with data, right through to data professionals keen to advance their careers in data science

Fill out the form at the bottom of the page and one of our consultants will contact you directly to answer any questions you may have about our full range of training options.

Read more Level 4 Data Analyst apprentice stories

Check out some of our other case studies exploring Level 4 Data Analyst experiences with Cambridge Spark:

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