Baiba Vaišle started studies in the courses for improvement of digital skills, organized by the University of Latvia (UL) Innovation centre LUMIC and Microsoft, choosing to master two subjects at once – data analysis and low-code / no-code programming. Baiba had a very simple motivation – a wish to improve her competitiveness in the labour market, where there is an increasing demand for specialists with knowledge in IT.

To be at home and to study at the same time

Baiba emphasizes that she has benefited from the situation caused by the pandemics in particular in terms of studies. “I most definitely would not have been able to attend studies in person, because at the moment my main duty is to my family. Remote studies allow me to master necessary knowledge at any time and place. I could be not only mother, but also a student and learn what I was truly interested in,” tells the participant of the courses.

Baiba works in the company that produces furniture for children and sells them mostly in the international market. She believes that the ability to collect and analyse data is a strong skill, that is why, while being in child care leave, she used the opportunity to grow and gain advantage in the labour market.

“Although we are creating and using data graphs, we still can do things better, to make business-important decisions that are based on data. This is the skill that is very valuable in all companies”, Baiba says. “If we look at the large companies, they draw conclusions and take next steps in the business, particularly based on data. I wanted to work like that as well”. 

In her profession, Baiba both has planned production work and has been responsible for logistics issues. “We had Excel, we used it to plan everything in production. My next step was to improve knowledge in Excel program, its automatization, and the data analysis followed next.”

A month in virtual internship – with the sense of “not being enough”

Baiba was enrolled in the virtual internship, offered by the company Digital Mind. “We, three interns, created a small robot that sorts e-mail attachments. If the e-mail attachment is an invoice, this assistant tool saves it in the place necessary, creates folders by years and months, and is able to sort, which senders are authorized to send invoices. Therefore, there is no risk that a false invoice will be accepted, and after processing of the letter the robot is able to mark that the letter has been read, or, if there are non-conformities, send a message to the holder of the e-mail account regarding missing information”, B. Vaišle tells.

The program that was designed by the team of interns had to recognize the invoice attachment in the e-mail and also had to be able to open the website, where the invoice was available. “The program had to ensure that the robot would be able to authenticate to this site, access the site, where the invoice was located, download it and save it in PDF format in the required folder. Accordingly the accountant could simply open the required folder and work with the received invoices, and the e-mail account holder did not need to sort e-mails and save attachments”.

The project was a challenge to everyone – among other things they had to learn how to cooperate remotely with two other interns. By the end of the month cooperation was strong and it was almost pity that the internship ended. “I felt that by the end of the month we already were a team, so now I can say that I even miss our cooperation. A month was not enough! I need at least two, if not three!”, Baiba says.

What is the added value of this program – robot? Baiba explains – while the robot is working, a person can perform other obligations, one doesn’t have to waste time for sorting and checking e-mail attachments. “A man can make a mistake, but the computer does not make any mistakes if the correct parameters are set. This allows  to increase productivity. This also helps to encourage new approaches, for example – what else can I entrust to this program to make my daily work easier? There is wide range of possibilities, and this was such a tiny thing that we created during our internship,” tells the participant of the virtual internship.

Baiba has already applied for next courses and is ready for the next challenge to improve her knowledge even more.

 

In the March of this year more than 700 people successfully passed exam in the digital skills improvement course “Business and Data Analysis”. Studies were organized by the University of Latvia Innovation centre LUMIC in cooperation with Microsoft. The offer to the course participants to try the acquired knowledge in practice was a logical continuation of the studies. During the virtual internship Ilva Kauliņa analysed the data of the State Employment Agency (SEA), it even allowed to break a few old stereotypes of the society. Besides, as Ilva stated –virtual studies and participation in the internship for her was an additional benefit and a positivity charge during the time of pandemics.  

A dream of data analysis

“I had wanted to study programming and data analysis for a long time. I am on close terms with mathematics and numbers since childhood. I have a Bachelor degree in Business Management, plus for some time I was living abroad and mastered English language, but mastering data analysis was a long-time wish. And this proposal for improvement of digital skills was just in time”, tells Ilva.

Besides, remote studies during the pandemics period were very cost-efficient. Ilva admits that she could have hardly travelled from Sigulda to Riga to attend studies in person. “In every situation you have to find the positive moment”, Ilva says, “in my situation, it was the opportunity to master exactly what I wish, in a place and time that is convenient to me.”

Are the salaries in Latgale really lower?

Having completed the theory course, Ilva received an offer to participate in the virtual internship at the State Employment Agency (SEA). She received a dataset of 29,000 lines. Is that a lot? Ilva states – it is not likely that we have an Excel table with at least 1000 lines in our home computer, that is why at first such scope seems very large, but the limit of the data analysis program Power BI is 10 million lines. “So, 29 thousand is nothing for this program,” she adds.

Her task was to compare the data of 2020 and 2021 regarding the available vacancies in different SEA branch offices, offered salaries and their comparison in Latvian regions. “These were real, “live” data, which we have to work with, test and see what works and what doesn’t, and in case it doesn’t work – then why”, says Ilva.

Ilva says that SEA was very satisfied with her accomplishments. SEA is using other data processing program – Data studio, therefore it was possible to compare the data and data visualisations that can be prepared, using each of the programs. “I like to make data visualisations a lot, and I have to admit – the possibilities of Microsoft Power BI were ten times more powerful.”

SEA can utilize the accomplishments of Ilva to analyse the changes in the number of vacancies and the salary level in regions. Ilva herself shares the first conclusions that she gained through data analysis: “You know, there is a stereotype that in Latgale salaries are much lower than elsewhere in Latvia, but the data analysis shows that the situation in terms of salaries is not that different in various regions.”

In autumn Ilva plans to join data analysts

At the moment Ilva’s main care is her family, but in autumn she plans to gradually resume working and will definitely seek work in the sphere of data analysis. The industry does not matter much, the main thing is to be able to use the theoretical knowledge mastered in the courses at work.

Ilva appreciates her internship organizer – SEA, and the mentor who helped her during the internship. Though, she had hoped that the internship provider will have a person assigned who knows the mastered program better than her, but most of the practical part she had to master on her own. “This is another stereotype that in the state institutions everything is so bad, everything is outdated and nobody is interested in anything. It all depends on people. I can only say good things about cooperation with SEA,” says Ilva.

Sindija Strazdiņa has two main interests in her professional life – numbers and organizational work. She tries to combine them both and agrees that data analysis can be perceived as “meaningful organization of numbers and other data”. Sindija sees great potential in data analysis as part of the business and, besides, in Latvia this field is still undergoing development, so one should use any opportunity to master it.

“In  my case it was all simple – I have been looking for long into the direction of data analysis. I started to  take in-depth interest more than a year ago, read information, studied in several courses. When I found out about the courses organized by LUMIC, I had no doubts that I had to apply,” tells S. Strazdiņa, who has just completed studies in the courses organized by the University of Latvia Innovation centre LUMIC in cooperation with Microsoft, during which participants could learn about the possibilities offered by data analysis program PowerBI. Besides, Sindija has completed the virtual internship in the company where she applied in practice the knowledge gained during the courses.  

To make business decisions based on data, not intuition

As Sindija puts it – intuition in business is a good thing but making important decisions should be based on data. “The company where I previously worked as a project manager had a lack of data analysis competence. Nobody in the company did it and I understood that it is an uncovered field, where we urgently have to develop the competences, because the lack of these skills hindered business development,” says S. Strazdiņa.

She started to take interest in data analysis, starting with the “well known Excel, which is still used by many Latvian companies for analysing data”. Later she familiarized herself with the PowerBI offered by Microsoft and used it to create her very first data analysis reports. The courses offered by LUMIC for the purpose of mastering PowerBI “were at the right time and place”.

“In most cases in Latvian companies data analysis is either not done at all or done by an accountant or the company manager, if he has such knowledge, but there are still very few competent data analysts. Data analysis in Latvia is really still in its infancy. This is a field with immense growth potential. When browsing through job advertisements, we see that the demand is growing day by day, because all big companies are looking for data analysts. This is the direction to go, here we have huge growth potential”, S. Strazdiņa argues.

Internship assignment – with serious research potential

Sindija “embarked” on the virtual internship journey to the company ZoomCharts. Mentor did not offer to work with the company data, but rather left it to herself to choose the subject to study. Sindija chose the information available in open data regarding number of women that have graduated information and communication technology (ICT) studies during the period from 2010 to 2019. “I was very interested whether the number of girls graduating from ICT studies is increasing, considering that nearly for five years already both the public and the non-governmental sector have had intensive discussions regarding the fact that we have too few women in the ICT sector – both in studies and in work. I was interested to research if something has changed. Unfortunately, I had to conclude that it hadn’t”, Sindija concludes.

If we analyse the number of women that have graduated the higher education institutions every year in all study programs in Latvia, we see that only 3% of the female graduates have graduated from ICT studies. If we analyse only ICT graduates, around 27% of them are women. This ratio has not changed much over the years. 2013 saw the highest absolute number of women – ICT study graduates.

“Since we did not work with the company data, one must say that this was a great initiative for the company – to assume additional obligations and devote its time to interns. Every week I had discussions with mentor on the accomplished results, on the plans, and he gave very good recommendations, at the same time allowing me to decide on the actions to be taken. ZoomCharts has developed highly attractive, interactive PowerBI visualisations. These are highly informative, since data can be studied at various levels – viewed generally or at in-depth level. Working with ZoomCharts visualisations was great fun! My task was to understand these various visualisation opportunities and to be able to use these opportunities,” Sindija tells about her experience of cooperation with the internship provider.

After final presentation Sindija and internship provider discussed what else could be done with the available data, what conclusions could be drawn. “Taking into account that this subject could be analysed in more detail and looking for causes of this situation, I could even say that this subject was worth a whole study. Our goal, naturally, was to master PowerBI and visualisations, instead of undertaking in-depth study, but the subject is really extensive,” participant of the virtual internship states.

Definitely will not stop at what’s accomplished

Sindija plans to continue education in data analysis, so she has now undertaken to master SQL database language and soon plans to master also Python programming language to expand her knowledge in data analysis.

She adds that she would appreciate it greatly if during the next course LUMIC could offer an insight into the forecasting analysis and data science – machine learning and artificial intelligence. Sindija herself has already mastered the first level course available in Latvia on artificial intelligence and is ready to deepen her knowledge.

Mastering data visualisation is just one of the stages on the way to become a good data analysis specialist, says Zane Bērzkalne, participant of the digital skills improvement courses, organized by the University of Latvia Innovation centre LUMIC in cooperation with Microsoft. Last year she chose to improve her knowledge and master data analysis program PowerBI.

Pandemics as advantage for mastering new knowledge

Zane admits – for her the restrictions for on-site studies, imposed by the pandemics, had been more a benefit that an obstacle. Zane lives outside of Riga and was able to devote herself to studies without any delays on weekday evenings, without being pre-occupied with the thoughts of whether the transport will come in time, whether she will not miss it, whether she will get home in the evening. “I could watch the lectures at the time that was convenient to me. Namely, if for some reason you could not be present for the set online time, you could watch the recording later and not miss anything,” says the participant of the courses.

Zane chose to master data visualisation to supplement her knowledge in IT and use it in her profession. “One of my job obligations is related to PowerBI, but I am more the validator and system analyst of the acquired results. I would like to not only be a “supervisor” and testing person, but also the real doer”, Z. Bērzkalne explains her choice.  

What do people watch on Netflix?

After completing the studies Zane joined several other interns and participated in the virtual internship in the company Zoomcharts. In order to apply the theoretical knowledge in practice, the internship provider told to find a subject that is of interest for oneself, to find data available on it and to undertake analysis. “I studied the movies available in film channel Netflix and their rating in IMDB database. The internship organizer helped to find data and then I had to decide which of them were valuable and if necessary undertake data transformation. For example, I had information on the actors participating in the movie, the time, when the movie was placed on Netflix and other data, but in parallel also a table with IMDB rating,“ tells Zane.

“I had a very nice internship supervisor, very responsive – not only in the scheduled individual discussions, but also in mutual chats I could always ask how to tackle this or that problem. He always came forward with ideas on how to do the work better so that the end result would be as good as possible.”

Visualisation is only the beginning

After the internship Zane had concluded – it is one thing to learn data visualisation, but in parallel, it would be necessary to understand data analysis as such. “You see the big data. I, for example, initially had three large tables, which then were transformed into five smaller tables, etc. When you have put everything together, you have to be able to understand the inter-dynamics of data and what you wish to tell using these data,” Zane explains.

“I, for one, gained information on the most popular, highest-rated movies by age categories, but further analysis would involve, for example, how such information would help others to make the decision of whether to watch this movie or not. Or, for example, what is the purchasing capacity of the accounts among the viewers of this movie. Maybe Netflix does not even need this movie, since the income generated by it is just a couple of euros a month.  Maybe one should switch to another age category that gives better income?”

That is why Zane has decided not to stop on the results already accomplished and to continue improving the data visualisation skills to be able to use them more in daily work.