Skyler Sinclair | Software Engineer
Education: B.S. Mathematics, Harvey Mudd College
Career stage: Early
What do you do?
As a consultant, I work on a wide variety of impactful projects. Currently, I alternate between helping a food waste policy organization model where and how food gets wasted across the U.S. food supply chain and working with a global nonprofit to improve COVID-19 vaccination outreach and messaging. Day to day, this involves designing and writing systems that take in data, process it, and report it to stakeholders. It involves talking to other engineers, data scientists, folks who create datasets, and folks who need data. As a contractor at nonprofits, I often work with much smaller teams than one would find in industry, and I am often the first engineer hired at nonprofits that want to become more technically proficient.
What types of skills do you use?
Communication is paramount as a contractor on teams with few technical folks. To help an organization accomplish more with data and models, I need to know what questions to ask to understand a team’s needs and how to get them on board with possible solutions.
How are applied mathematics and/or computational science important to what you do?
I use math and computer science every day in my job! I use computer science to write data pipelines that are dependable, scalable, and easy to test. I use mathematics in running models, generating predictions, checking data for outliers, and making visualizations that clearly communicate model results.
What are the pros and/or cons of your profession/job?
Pro: How much of a positive impact engineering and math can have in the nonprofit space. There are so many key issues out there that need data work and getting the chance to work on those projects is amazing. Teams also tend to be more diverse and issue-driven than your average team in industry.
Con: Sometimes it can be hard to separate emotionally from work when you’re working on issues that feel so important!
Does your job offer flexibility?
Yes! This is something especially important to me because I need more flexibility than most due to chronic health issues. Being a consultant, I choose how many hours I work each week, and which days I am working.
What career path did you take to your current position?
I originally started off in big tech at Google, which was a great place to learn how to be a software engineer. I then went to a food waste reduction startup and then to the nonprofit space, first full-time at a voting rights organization and then at a variety of contracting gigs.
Was your career path well planned or a result of taking opportunities as they arose?
A bit of both. I started off as a math major in college always wanting things to be a “bit more applied” and was always looking for ways to maximize my impact while doing the data work I loved. However, I didn’t know about the rich data opportunities in the nonprofit space until many years out of college, so it took a lot of tries (fellowships, big companies, little companies) until I found the niche I am happy in!
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a similar degree or profession?
Talk to people who have the jobs you are interested in! Every career has so many cultural norms and nuances, and it’s incredibly hard to learn them without asking for help.
Was there anything that surprised you when you started out in your career?
I was surprised by the nonprofit data space! I didn’t know how desperately the space needed engineers, that contracting is often the norm in nonprofits, and that I could control my hours and earn a very reasonable salary.
The range is wide depending on the funding an organization has available, but a full-time engineer in a U.S. nonprofit should be making a baseline of $100K.
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