Leah Bowers, Lead Consultant of Data-driven Strategy at Sangfroid Strategy, joins us to discuss her transition from a PhD in Physical Chemistry to her newest role using data to drive social impact in the non-profit space. We also cover her advice for job searching and finding a role you are truly passionate about.
Leah Bowers is a solution-driven, data strategy analyst with 7+ years of computational research, data analysis experience, and has interests that spread the gamut! In graduate school for chemistry, Leah led a graduate rights group that developed, distributed, and analyzed a survey that assessed how chemistry and physics students and postdocs felt in their departments and lab groups. The results were striking and forced the department to create department-funded support groups,.
Seeing the power of people-centered analytics, going through COVID, and experiencing the renewed fire of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Leah graduated with her PhD in the summer of 2020 and shifted her career aspirations from academics to one that created more immediate positive impact.As Leah moved from Chapel Hill, NC to Pittsburgh, PA to Princeton, NJ to Brooklyn, NY, she's helped grassroots direct democracy ballot initiatives, renovate local community spaces, carry out COVID vaccine drives, and expand transportation access for senior neighbors.
After a very intentional job search, Leah now works at Sangfroid Strategy as a Lead Consultant in data-driven strategy for social impact, non-profit clients in Cleveland. Every day, she gets to utilize her mutual aid experience with her expertise in research, data analytics, and programming to help grow Sangfroid Strategy's own data infrastructure and that of our clients to drive further positive, sustainable impact.
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- The Long Game (Book)
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[00:00:08] Lauren Burke: Welcome to Women and Analytics After Hours, the podcast where we hang out and learn with the WIA Community. Each episode we sit down with women in the data and analytics space to talk about what they do, how they got there, where they found analytics along the way and more. I'm your host, Lauren Burke, and I'd like to thank you for joining us.
So welcome back to Women in Analytics After Hours. Today we have Leah Bowers joining us. Leah is a Lead Consultant of Data-driven Strategy at Sangfroid Strategy, which is a firm that uses data to help their non-profit clients increase their social impact. Leah has a PhD in Physical Chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill and has joined us to discuss her unique and really interesting path into the data space, and also her passion for using data to make a positive impact.
I am very excited to have her here with us today. So welcome Leah, and thank you so much for taking the time to join us.
[00:01:13] Leah Bowers: Yay. Thanks so much for having me.
[00:01:15] Lauren Burke: Absolutely. So we actually have something in common outside of data. We are both alumni of The College of Wooster, so really excited to have some more Wooster representation on the podcast.
[00:01:27] Leah Bowers: Woo. Go Scots.
[00:01:29] Lauren Burke: Awesome. So since Wooster, you have forged a really unique path that has taken you to many interesting places from a PhD in chemistry to computational research on renewable energy, defining ways to support grassroots efforts with analytics.
Can you dive a little more into your background and the path that's led you to data?
[00:01:49] Leah Bowers: Yeah, sure. So, like you said, we both went to the College of Wooster, a very amazing small liberal arts college right smack dab in the middle of Amish country in Wooster, Ohio. With that sort of tight knit, uh, liberal arts degree, I was able to kind of explore all of my interests. We got a good core foundation of a variety of different things, and I almost even got a minor in anthropology and majored in chemistry.
So I was going through all my chemistry courses, liking some, hating others. Really found a connection with physical chemistry. Which anyone who's taken physics or majored in it in college knows that that's in your last year. And I was just shocked by how much I loved it. Uh, it really explained a lot of what general chemistry sort of brushed over, and so I was really appreciative of the deep dive into the whys of the chemistry world.
And so from there I said, “Okay, well, how can I take chemistry and my love of all other things, anthropology, art, music, anything else, and kind of tie those together.” And so I was able to do that with a senior thesis project that focused on the degradation of, or decaying of a dye molecule that's commonly used in paintings to help prevent that degradation under different sorts of conditions where a piece of art would be displayed or stored.
And I loved going through that research. Um, I loved having ownership of a research project. I loved that I got to combine chemistry with art in a way that kind of excited me and made anyone else around me excited. They would say, “Hey, I never knew that chemistry could intertwine in other fields like this ever before.” And I said, “Me neither. I'm so glad you're also excited.”
And so from there, didn't really know what I wanted to do after Wooster, but decided to take a gap year and applied and got into an internship at the Smithsonian, at the African American History and Culture Museum.
[00:04:07] Lauren Burke: How cool.
[00:04:08] Leah Bowers: And so, yeah, it was really fun. Um, I took, you know, what I was interested in and just let that lead me and didn't really ask any other questions. I said I'll figure out what I want to do in terms of higher education after that if I want to, from there. And so I kind of got a glimpse into careers that would really excite me while I worked at the Smithsonian. And so I was able to do a lot of research on these amazing artifacts from the Woolworth stools during sit-ins in the civil rights era to, um, looking and diagnosing the degradation of lead and paint on the windows of a very famous church that Martin Luther King spoke in.
And just having a piece of these historical pieces in my hands and knowing that I could give information, critical information, to people who were seeking it through my knowledge of both chemistry and relying on my collaboration with artists and historians, really just like lit a fire in me. Um, so that's, that's something that I knew I wanted to keep pursuing.
And I said, “ Okay. Well, I think that the next answer is to go into the PhD.” To go into that route, carrying this understanding within me that I could break through any educational barrier whatsoever in my path ahead, future-wise, if I had this PhD under my belt. And knowing that I just was really excited about just researching more, understanding more about what chemistry had to offer and the, and the connections it had with any other field just drove me to commit to that.
So, I attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and really just got to work there. I was able to kind of go through different projects and understand if I liked them or did not like them. And I started on a project that I really hated and it took me a year long to determine that I just did not appreciate, um, just mundane tasks or doing anything related to chemicals actually at all.
I did not like creating solutions. I hated that. I specifically chose physical chemistry so that I would not have to deal with any chemicals. So when people think of me as a chemist, they think that I commonly deal with chemicals and I do not. I went in a different direction and actually started focusing on using lasers.
And more interestingly, for me, using lasers in conjunction with computational modeling to determine what types of materials we should be looking at. So the scientific community and the larger engineering community should be looking at in terms of what materials we should use for the next generation of solar cells.
So the solar cells that we have now, um, really can just take in light and produce energy when the sun is shining. But when the clouds come or night falls, what happens to that energy? It can't be stored anywhere else but a battery. And this next generation of solar cells would be able to take the sunlight, and within that cell, store the energy within chemical bonds.
And if you can do that, if you can solve that problem, then we're talking about solar cells that are, um, one billionth the size of your nail. And that can be used in paint, to paint your car and to actually just take sunlight in, have a higher service area, and really just make your car go. Something like this. So I was really sold on this idea. I was so excited to hear this, um, from, you know, the scientific community in any abstract that I read or any grant proposal, et cetera.
And what I wasn't seeing was the actual implementation, the connection between my research and that output. So over those five years of me being in my PhD in chemistry, I was doing these, um, little laser experiments, checking them against computational models to see how, what I was exciting by the laser, what it was doing upon relaxation. Anything else that would help inform, any other chemist that I was collaborating with or any other engineer that I hoped to collaborate with, would need to know in order to make a better material. But the steps were so small that I would not be able to see a final product, um, for many years.
In my mind I said, “I don't understand why I'm not collaborating more with engineers. Why I can't actually create a prototype with them, what is going on?” And so by the end of my time at UNC Chapel Hill, I was pretty sure that I wanted to get out of academics and really put my skills. Um, I taught self programming, so put those skills and in data analytics and researched to actual work so that we could generate a positive impact now.
And by the time I graduated, that was during the year 2020, so the pandemic was coming, um, had already been there, renewed fights for for black rights, and a renewed call to action came down all at the same time. And I kind of looked around and said, “ I really need to be doing something that is impactful in a way that addresses and uplifts the work of my communities no matter where I go. And this is not it.”
So I willingly took a job, a postdoc at Princeton, knowing full well that at that point my sole goal was to get out of academics. But this was for me, in all honesty, a means to an end, right? I did not know what I wanted to do with my degree at that point. I did not know where I wanted to go. The only way to keep on going was to just stay in the system long enough for me to have stability economically and keep on figuring out what it was that I wanted to do.
So I, instead of doing my post-doctoral work, um, diligently really threw myself into the mutual aid community in Princeton. And so that was really fulfilling for me to be able to do. I worked a lot with vaccine rollout initiatives. People who, uh, yeah, if you remember at the beginning of the pandemic, the only way that you could get these appointments to get the vaccine was if you had computer and time and you knew about technology.
And for a large swath of people in Princeton, you commonly think, oh, Princeton, like everyone's so rich and wealthy, you know. But a lot of people aren't. It's so segregated, just like many of these other small towns and cities. And there are people who really, really need help there as well. So we were commonly, or we were just going into as a mutual aid organization creating appointments for our neighbors and offering them rides, being, uh, Spanish translators for them. A lot of people who were undocumented were nervous about going to get their vaccines, understandably so. So going with them to ensure that no one asked for any proof of identification because they did not need that, nor did they need health insurance.
Um, we delivered groceries. And this is outside of the vaccine navigation program. The Mutual Aid organization went and delivered groceries. We helped, by knocking on doors of our neighbors every two weeks to just see how they were doing, because this pandemic was a lot. And checking in on our neighbors and making sure that they were okay and just to let them know that we're here if they needed someone to talk to. And slowly gained that trust after being there every two weeks for months at a time really created this beautiful network of just community aid that I really found to be impactful.
And so I said, “Okay, well now I have this great experience with the research and the data analytics and the programming, and I've gone back to what I really love a whole freaking lot, which is these mutual aid efforts, this on the ground work. This immediate impact, this connection with people.” And that got my wheels turning. And I said, “Okay, I really need to just, see what I should do about this. And like, I'm, I'm understanding that I need both the data and the people.”
And so consulting seems like that is a really great path to go down. And in academics, right, we have often the choice to go into more academics, industry, and then now this consulting lane is opening up. There is no lane for a corporate world, an entrepreneurial world. It's kind of only given to us in these three choices: academics, industry and consulting. Which are completely false, let me just say. There are so many more choices than those three. But I'd been trained on those three, right? I knew I did not wanna go into academics. I knew I didn't wanna go to industry because as a chemist, I did not want to just be pigeonholed anymore into chemicals as a bench chemist or, um, just staring at a computer, you know, doing computational modeling or anything else.
So consulting seemed like the next best option. So I applied and like got into learning about case studies for applications for the big three. So McKinsey, Bain and BCG. And halfway through that I said, “I do not care about how many freaking plastic bottles there are in the United States.” Like figuring that out in my head did not matter to me in the slightest, and that's what entirely a case study kind of goes through. So I decided that in addition to not really caring about those details, I also didn't have access to the data. So in these big firms, you're a consultant and you can't interface with the data analytics teams like that.
So I said, “Okay. I think a smaller consulting firm might be it.” Started working at Webb Mgmt and I was able to get my foot in the door there. They are a really cool consulting firm that focuses on performing art spaces and being able to say to a client, clients who normally work for them are nonprofits, individuals, government entities that are looking to, uh, create or revitalize spaces in an effort that promotes their own interests in that of the community to bring more people to their city, to their town and actually provide immense value for the community.
And so I said, “Hey, this is amazing. Going back to my roots of loving the arts and can do a bit of research and data possibly here.” And what I got from that was a lot. And I still realized that I was in that position as a consultant at Webb Mgmt, focusing mostly on the research and the consulting. So data analytics, using technology, using automation, was not there. Um, so I had to try again, but was very excited about getting my foot in the door, right?
Because connections and having that experience is something that I realize is very important when making the transition from academics to corporate. They want to see that you as an academic person aren't just going to think all the time academically and that you care about corporate interests and business and capitalism. So in that vein, I was able to understand how my research could be applied here.
And from there, I kind of just figured out what I was missing in each of those places. And the data was it. And Sangfroid Strategy provided that for me, and so I was really excited by that.
[00:17:32] Lauren Burke: That's awesome. And I love even going back to when you're talking about your experience at the museum, when you're talking about the process that you really enjoy, it sounds so analytical and like what you would go through as a data analyst. Where you're looking for that information, finding the best way to portray that then to the people that are interested in how they can use it to make other decisions or just find out more about it.
[00:17:57] Leah Bowers: Right. Yeah, that's so true. I don't think I can think any other way, to be honest.
[00:18:03] Lauren Burke: That's good. That makes you a great data strategist, right? If already thinking that way before you even get to the field, you're definitely gonna continue thinking that way and just do amazing at it, right?
[00:18:13] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Right, right, right. Exactly.
[00:18:16] Lauren Burke: That's so cool. So while you are now a data strategy analyst, I'd imagine you'd also consider yourself to be a physical chemist at heart. So are there any core skills or practices that you've brought with you into your data roles?
[00:18:29] Leah Bowers: Yeah. So what I am finding that I'm bringing the most into my new role is being able to take this like very cool systems wide approach through a heightened sense of like, observation that I had. Right. I was trained to observe as an academic. I was trained to research. Trained to ask a lot of questions that would increase my understanding to any specific problem, allowing me to gain more context so that any solution that I was thinking about could be revised and optimized to best treat a situation given all players involved, given infrastructure already present at the company. And all of these other factors that you have to consider when, um, saying that you want to incorporate a certain piece of technology or anything else. So research and observation generally are a pretty huge aspect of what I transitioned over from academics.
And also with that, the ability to get along and understand the differences in the people who I'm working with. So understanding, you know, where others are coming from, again, asking those background questions, you know, uh, getting a better sense of who they are and how they think and how they work to also implement into a solution that will stick and gain traction within the group. And that comes from a background in my academic time in these collaboration initiatives where everyone was kind of working on their own individual thing and we all came together and, um, decided how best to move forward.
So those kind of skills I took, and of course the more technical aspects of my degree with computational programming, is huge, right? So I went into UNC without a lick of knowledge in, in programming or how to code anything, and I taught myself how to code in MATLAB in order to solve a problem, um, because it was important to me. I was curious about it. I needed to know the answer. I wanted a solution that I could customize later on if I needed to fix it. I didn't want something out of the box from a manufacturer. So, I really put in the work to understand how that worked, and that gave me the confidence to be able to learn anything else that I needed to learn in order to get the job done.
So from that foundation, what my role will entail in the coming years is to actually use the data that we collect from clients who want to have a better understanding of how their programs run, how they're impactful, in what ways are they impactful, in what ways are they not. Understanding an idea of cost benefit analysis. Costs not only meaning financial costs, but other costs such as time, people's feelings, et cetera, into that. Um, and really taking that data as we expand and being able to do more of a predictive modeling.
So this, this controlled artificial intelligence piece to this work is something that I'm building up to as we gather more data, understand more internally about our own systems and how they work. So being able to transition my knowledge from that academic space into this new job, always constantly learning, knowing that I have the power to do so, um, are all what come from my academic background.
[00:22:24] Lauren Burke: That's awesome. It sounds like you were able to take a lot with you, which is really cool. I think the communication aspect that you mentioned is really useful. Especially about talking to people who are at different levels of understanding, especially if you are in a very high level analytical role, and you're trying to communicate those insights to someone who might not understand the intricacies of the data or the methods you applied and just why and how those things work, and how the results come from those. So that's really cool.
[00:22:54] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Yeah. Communication is a huge, huge piece of it because if you're the only one holding onto that knowledge, then I don't find it to be of much use in progressing further. Right. You have to be able to disseminate that to where it's needed. Mm-hmm.
[00:23:14] Lauren Burke: Right. The value of what you find in data isn't helpful if you can't communicate that to others who can take that and do something with it, so that's great.
[00:23:23] Leah Bowers: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:25] Lauren Burke: I also like that you mentioned MATLAB, which was one of my first programming languages as well, and I really liked MATLAB. Uh, it's just not free, which is sort of a bummer.
But for those who use MATLAB in their academic practice, do you feel like that gave you a good solid base when you were moving to other programming languages?
[00:23:44] Leah Bowers: Um, yeah, I did. It was hilarious because. So I was, I was actually pre-med in college, so I only got to a specific level in math, and none of it involved linear algebra whatsoever. So the first time I saw a bracket and a matrix was in graduate school. I kid you not, so anyone listening to this who's like, “I have never coded in my life. I have never taken linear algebra. I can't do MATLAB.” Think again because it is possible. It is possible.
Yeah. So, I thought MATLAB was very intuitive. A lot of people who come up to me and ask, you know, what languages I know and I say, MATLAB, they just say, “Oh, I'm, I'm so sorry.” You know? And I'm like, “Why?”
[00:24:32] Lauren Burke: I always thought the same.
[00:24:33] Leah Bowers: Pretty straightforward. Yeah. I'm like if uh, two arrays aren't the same dimension, then it won't go. Like it's very, it's pretty clear. Um, but I, I honestly thought that it was pretty translatable to other languages as well. My next go-to was something that was more universal and that was Python, and I really enjoyed that. And then I have also dabbled in SQL as well, especially with the transition from academics to corporate, more of a corporate setting. I saw in a ton of spaces, you know, like SQL is really what you need to know.
And again, the confidence that I have to just say, “I've never coded in this, but I'm going to just try it,” came from my academic background.
[00:25:55] Lauren Burke: That's great. And I know we like to diss on Excel, but having a really, really good like background and expertise in Excel is actually super useful, especially if you don't have a very fully fleshed out data practice. So if you're good at Excel, know that that is a really valuable skill.
[00:26:15] Leah Bowers: Right, right. Yeah. And it goes back to just understanding where people are on your team and what they'll be able to find traction with. And so that was a huge lesson that I learned early on at this job is just recognize what people are familiar and willing to work with and keep it there. Do the two step around the Excel and keep it going. And I've been really grateful for just like the feedback of team members and just all the support that I've gotten from the Sangfroid Strategy team with that.
[00:26:48] Lauren Burke: That's a great call out, meeting your teammates where they are, and so everyone feels more empowered to work as well as they can with what you have. And the way that you can connect your expertises.
[00:27:00] Leah Bowers: Yep. Yep. And everyone has ownership in it then. So it's like a greater feeling of togetherness, I've found.
[00:27:07] Lauren Burke: Oh, absolutely.
[00:27:08] Leah Bowers: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:08] Lauren Burke: So it definitely sounds like while you did gain some more skills along the way, and you intentionally went out and sought ways that you could develop those, you also brought a lot with you. And so when you're searching for your first data role, it's often kind of difficult to demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to succeed as an analyst or data scientist or in some of these other roles.
So when you decided to make the leap, how did you start to adjust your resume or your portfolio or just your online presence to show that you had that relevant experience?
[00:27:40] Leah Bowers: Yeah. So, I definitely revamped everything. And I really took care to make a list. And this didn't happen early on, so no one think that I did this perfectly at the very beginning. Um, But I eventually, after bulk applying to many different roles through easy apply and everything else that I could get a hand on.
This was kind of the process that I went through and it really worked for me. So I did bulk apply. I really did. I said, “These are the kind of jobs that I think I want.” And anything that looked vaguely interesting to me, I applied for. What happened next was that I got screening calls with a lot of recruiters and I was amped by that. I was really excited. I thought, you know, this is the start of me getting a job in the next four weeks. Right? That's how this is gonna happen. We're gonna answer the screening call, and I'm gonna go all the way to the finish line with this. Um, that was not the case, but what did happen was that during each one of these screening calls, I got better and better and better at asking questions, about what the role entailed.
As an academic, who really did. I don't have parents in the corporate world. My mom is an amazing, an amazing advocate worker in the community. She's a doula, a volunteer, a board member, all of this, all of this stuff for our community in Sewickley. My dad is an ophthalmologist in Sewickley, so he's an eye surgeon. And so neither of them had an idea for the graduate life, the academic life in terms of a PhD nor a corporate world.
So, I also wasn't given any tools to understand what corporate roles were from my academic background. No one, no PI. There isn't an academic counselor at the graduate level who will tell you what roles there are. So I had to go seek those out, and I did so by not doing so many coffee dates, but just using those screening calls to get a better understanding of the roles that I applied for and what they meant on the day-to-day.
So I asked that question. What does this role look like on the day-to-day? Who am I going to be interfacing with? What kinds of teams are there? Who reports to who? How can I grow? That's my top priority, is to grow in my career, gain new skills. I'm just really curious. I like your product. I like what y'all are doing, I'm just more interested in learning more. And that centeredness around curiosity helped me as a naturally anxious person to just be calm and cool during those screening calls, right, as I worked to gain more and more information. So I had lots of, lots and lots of screening calls at the beginning.
And then I kind of just took a second, got out of the city, and started whittling things down to understand what skills I had and what skills I liked using. And I got rid of the what I should be pursuing. This word should was terrible, and it was in the back of my mind all the time. You know, like, you have your PhD, you should be doing this with that. Why would you stoop to this level? Why would you like do this or that? You know, why would you apply for this? Um, all of these questions. And like me treating myself terribly in those moments and not giving myself the creativity like expanse that I knew I was allowed.
Um, I kind of got rid of all of that and said, “Okay, I'm applying for these jobs that have a key responsibility in this thing that I know I hate. So let's actually whittle this down into something that I'm really jazzed about.” And so I started going further in my interviews. I started being pickier. I filtered out more, and I got to the end stages of those interview rounds. And at that time I was just, I had pivoted at least twice in what I thought I wanted, right?
So the more and more I narrowed it down to a specific role. Once I had that role in my mind, I said, okay, now I can do the Google research on like what this role, what these people actually do, because this recruiter told me about that role. So now I'm gonna look that up. And understanding the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist was something that I had to figure out.
Um, what did, what did CRM mean? What did, like anything else? What is this corporate jargon I had to piece apart and like put back together in a way that made sense to me. So by the time that I kind of went through long periods of these interview rounds and then got shot down, you know, at the last round, um, told no, uh, four rounds in three different times. It was devastating.
And anyone out there in the job search. You know, I feel that so much. It's really hard to go back to it day after day after day. But you will make it and you will find a job that really freaking suits you to the tee, if you just keep going and just keep putting yourself out there and keep applying. You're going to get that.
But I think one of the best things that I did was just kept applying and kept having these irons in the fire as long as I kept with it. But yeah, I suped up my LinkedIn profile a lot during that time. And every time that I changed my mind about what I was going after, I changed my resume to fit that desire, so that people could find me. And by the end of that they did.
[00:33:42] Lauren Burke: That's awesome. I like that you specifically said that. Because yeah, like no matter what you have done in the past, what you've studied for, you're allowed to have and find and work in a job that you like. And just because you have other skills, if you don't like doing those skills and using those, you don't have to do that. You can find something where you don't use those or you use those as little as possible to do the things that you really enjoy doing most of all.
[00:34:10] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Life is too short, baby. Mm-hmm.
[00:34:13] Lauren Burke: Seriously. It really is. Um, I liked that you were talking about how you started asking more questions. And one of the really, one of the most impactful pieces of advice I got when I was starting my job search after college was that it's a two-way interview. And they're trying to figure out if you're a good fit for them, but you're also trying to figure out if it's a good fit for you.
And so you're allowed to say, yes, I feel like this is a good fit. No, I don't. And ask those questions that help you figure out those specifics of what you do and don't want to do. And you should never feel bad for being an interviewer in your own right and to advocate for yourself, just for you. To figure out what you do or don't wan not feel like you have to commit to something just because it's what you should do. So I love that. I think that was an amazing piece of advice.
[00:35:03] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Very, very important. I love what you just said too. It's critical to. The job search is so time consuming as it is, so being able to quickly through a series of screening calls, coffee talks, conversations with friends and family, internet searches, to whittle down as quickly as possible what it is that you really, really, really want to do.
It's gonna get you there and save you that time. And I have had no qualms about, you know, just saying thank you so much for your time to recruiter, but you know, this is actually not what I'm looking for, but I thank you so much.
[00:35:38] Lauren Burke: That's awesome. Yeah, the ability to be able to do that saves you so much time. If you're trying to find a job, it can be a full-time job, especially if you've just graduated. So that's awesome. I love the way you're approaching it and hopefully others will be able to take that advice and use that to follow a similar process.
You also mentioned that you've really found LinkedIn to be very valuable during your process.
[00:36:01] Leah Bowers: So, there are some key things that I did not know about when I started the search. So I am on LinkedIn Premium and I got it for my job search period. It's $40 a month. I'm not, like they're not sponsoring me or anything. But, with it you get access to LinkedIn Learning, um, things like this.
But I do know that for anyone going into data analytics, there are also, and I did not know this until later, but there are also ways to get your skills up for free. And there's of course Coursera, Udemy, and there are a lot of others that I'm sure you've talked about on this podcast before.
But LinkedIn Learning was something that I went to to kind of get a better understanding of like how the corporate world worked as well. And understanding what project management meant. And again, once I learned a new role, went to LinkedIn Learning, and they have the day in the life of each of those roles really kind of laid out nicely.
Another thing that I used LinkedIn to do was I immediately went ahead and I recorded my name there. In the intro there were things like I could add my pronouns, I could make sure that the projects that I was doing to learn things like SQL or Tableau were now in my featured section. So any recruiter who said, “Hey, who is this Leah person? Would they be a good fit for this role? Let's see.” And then it's there right in the front center. So I have a few of the projects that I independently worked on in order to bolster those skills.
My about page, that was the one that I was talking about before about, um, really getting up to speed every time I learned something new about myself through these screening calls. I also edited many, many times my experiences and the skills associated with each of those to go under the roles that I was zoning in on, right? As I continued to look for different jobs. So those descriptions and the skills associated with each of those roles, changed often during this job search period.
I shamelessly asked all of my friends to endorse me on everything. I also, when I felt confident enough, took these skill tests that will give you a badge if you're, uh, if you're proficient enough in that skill. And also, any licenses and certifications, I was not, um, shy to tout those too. And people I had worked with wrote me recommendations there.
I also kind of went through and documented my job search experience as I experienced it. Which was a really fun way to form solidarity, find community and like, know that I wasn't alone in the job search. It helped me build out my connections, so that anytime that I made a new connection with someone, there was a greater chance that we had a mutual connection. So just sending connections to people. I did that every time I had a new post. So I would post something on LinkedIn and then I would connect with maybe 80 people, not exaggerating.
So those were kind of the steps that I took while I was searching for jobs that really helped. When I was in the job search category in LinkedIn, I would again make sure those filters reflected the skills that I wanted to use and could use. And I was constantly updating those filters, too.
So yeah, LinkedIn has been pretty incredible for me. And the main reason how I got this job. So the CEO of Sangfroid Strategy, Heather Lenz, shout out to her. She sent me a personal message just that my profile looked interesting and if I would be willing to talk with her about an open position for a lead consultant in data-driven strategy.
And I said, oh my gosh, um, six months into this job search, I would be thrilled to talk to you. Upon further inspection, it really looked like the perfect opportunity. What I'd been missing. Like I told you before, I'd gotten that consulting understanding from a few jobs. I'd gotten the research side, I had just left the purely data research programming of academics. And the data-driven strategy work at Sangfroid freaking tied it together in the nicest bow ever, in being able to provide clarity on how to build capacity in a way that is understandable and makes sense for nonprofit organizations.
So nonprofit organizations can, and a lot of the times do, have this great massive amount of data that is very intimidating, right? From many years. How do we work through this and actually come out of the end with concrete actions that we need to take daily in order to get to the outcomes that we desire. And to go from this massive amount of large and um, just all-encompassing data, qualitative and quantitative in disaggregate form. So much of it.
How can we move through this complexity together in a way that makes us not pull out all of our hair? And so Sangfroid Strategy, Sangfroid means cool headedness in the face of chaos. And so to be able to move nonprofits through this massive amount of data together with them in a way that they have ownership of the project throughout the entire beginning to end, is what I'm able to help our clients do now on the day-to-day.
So it is amazing that I've been able to do that both for our clients and also make sure that Sangfroid Strategy is operationalized itself internally to grow at the pace that it wants to grow in the next three years. So having both that external and internal look at technology, data, um, and actually driving projects forward for our clients and Sangfroid Strategy has been honestly a dream. And it took that DM from LinkedIn to get me there.
[00:42:48] Lauren Burke: That's so awesome. I honestly feel like keeping your LinkedIn profile updated is more important than keeping your resume updated because it's so public facing, right? Not everyone's always gonna be looking at your resume unless you send it somewhere, they request it.
But LinkedIn, if you're on there, your connections can potentially be looking at you to fill any role at any given point in time. And if you have it updated, you're at a really great advantage for that.
[00:43:15] Leah Bowers: Absolutely. That's so true. I'm very, very grateful that everything was aligned in all, all areas. Both for, both for Heather and I and, uh, Sangfroid as a whole.
[00:43:29] Lauren Burke: Sangfroid sounds extremely interesting and I know nonprofits are usually really, really lean, so I imagine just having that support for their data is a immensely helpful addition to what they're already doing. But what do you find most interesting about working with this nonprofit data?
[00:43:48] Leah Bowers: Yeah. So, what I find most interesting is that it's something that, and I'm going back to a theme that I brought up before. It's just this integration of data with something that you wouldn't think go together, but Sangfroid makes it come together in the most harmonious way that really considers all parties involved. And makes sure that any data collection, evaluation processes that we do on our end, are understood and owned by the client all the way through.
So, we talk about a lot of the time just like how nonprofits, not nonprofits really, but just like the struggles in the world. You know, homelessness, food scarcity, inadequate access and unequal access to adequate care, have been problems for a really long time.
And it is very difficult to understand how they haven't been solved by now, if we've been looking at them for this long. So the way that data can be used as a tool to actually get to the bottom of why a problem exists, why it's recurring, what needs to happen to figure out how impacts and progress are actually made. Being able to collect data again and again, much like corporate organizations collect data on any marketing campaign that they do to test that it's functioning well.
We can use the same data for nonprofits to track the goals that they set and make sure that progress is being made toward them on a monthly, quarterly basis rather than using the data anytime a grant is due. To make sure that it's making long lasting impact for a much longer time than that. And actually not just centering funder's needs, but also centering the community needs as well. And making sure that what is saying will happen happens, and, um, having ourselves stay accountable to those goals and the end result.
So I really liked that data was being included in something that maybe people don't think that it would be included in. And I also resonated with Sangfroid Strategy's questioning of how problems weren't being solved, even though we've talked about them for a long time. I had the same sort of thinking and frustration in academics saying, okay, well we're doing all this research, but it's so, it's so bite sized and I'm not seeing the bigger picture of this and how it's like leading us to where we want to be and we're not seeing that.
And so tying that together in the way that Sangfroid Strategy does is pretty cool. And I'm super excited to be a part of it because it's pretty extraordinary.
[00:46:58] Lauren Burke: Honestly, that's one of the most valuable things that data and analytics brings about is answers to questions. Instead of us thinking about things in an opinion-based way where we're like, “Oh, well we think this is happening because of this.” Or we think this, and just kind of shooting out idea after idea and thought after thought about why this might be happening.
Data allows us to really get that answer and then solve some of those problems, or at least begin on that path to some of the things you're talking about where, right, why if this has been going on for so long, haven't we started to figure out what we need to do to solve it and actually started down that path.
[00:47:36] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Yeah. Being very, very intentional about it. And it carries both the data and the qualitative mindset and the being able to talk and be personable and understanding in a facilitation sense with the client. So neither of those can be separated at any time to make this work, which I love leaning into.
[00:47:57] Lauren Burke: That's so cool. And earlier we were talking about how creative thinking and the ability to kind of find new sources for ideas really helps you in an interdisciplinary role like that. When you're thinking about solving problems outside the box, where do you go to look for new idea s?
[00:48:16] Leah Bowers: I love reading. Uh, I love reading period. And when I read, I normally have at least two books that I'm currently reading at a time. One is some work of fiction. The other is non-fiction. For example, I just got through Braiding Sweetgrass, and I am also reading Futureproof.
And having both of those doors of my mind open at all times has really been helpful in kind of not shutting me off to anything that graces my LinkedIn timeline. Because I'm only on LinkedIn right now. I can't handle Instagram or Twitter or anything else. But it keeps me open, I would say like the reading, the listening to podcasts on all topics also helps me with that.
Yeah, and when I talked about connecting with people on LinkedIn and the friends I have and everything else it's just, are you a cool person? You know, like, are you? I'm not trying to find people who are exactly like me. I think that that always keeps me open and honest and just helps me stay creative. So yeah, those few things.
[00:49:34] Lauren Burke: I think that's such a good point too. Just having a varied like array of interests, but also connecting and just being generally involved with people that also have that wide array. Because every time I've worked on a team with people that have different backgrounds, different interests, just kind of different ways of approaching things, I feel like we come up with more unique and more beneficial solutions.
That just applies in every area of your life. Like variety is important in your job, in your general life and right. We're, we're in the data space, but we don't only have to entertain ourselves with data and technology and science stuff.
[00:50:14] Leah Bowers: Yeah. Yeah. That is certainly true.
[00:50:17] Lauren Burke: Um, but our last question I always ask is, what is one resource that's helped you in your career that you think might help others?
[00:50:24] Leah Bowers: It is really hilarious that you said one person already brought this up. The meetups thing. That is honestly like one thing that I recently went to in New York. It was like a tech meetup and I kind of just scroll through Eventbrite sometimes and just see what events are happening near me. And I go alone. And just have zero expectations for the night or the day of this event. And go to generally meet people. So when you said that, I was like, oh, darn. Like someone already said this, this is awesome.
And then two, for anyone who loves, I talked about reading already. But like two books that I've found incredibly fantastic and helped kind of open my world up during the job search, are The Long Game by Dorie Clark. And this talks about often when you're searching for jobs at the beginning everyone's like, go on coffee dates, ask this person for something. And it feels so dis-, you know, like
[00:51:36] Lauren Burke: Disingenuine. It really is.
[00:51:38] Leah Bowers: Yeah, it does. It does.
[00:51:40] Lauren Burke: And really, it's a two-way street. Yeah.
[00:51:42] Leah Bowers: I was like, yikes, I don't know if I can do this. And so I did that for a few and then kind of just sat in the seat of, okay, a recruiter's being paid to do this, so I'm gonna ask them about what this role is all about and got some good conversations that way.
But The Long Game by Dorie Clark really emphasizes the meeting of people at any time in your life and just being curious about them asking questions. Kind of just keeping up and being open to always trying new things and meeting new people in those settings. Because you never know how this person might reenter your life at some point, way down the line. You can be giving each other opportunities for years to come, in years to come, you know. Um, so I really appreciated that book. It helped me kind of sit back and relax and not worry too much about pestering every one of my, like, second tertiary friends or acquaintances for referrals or anything like that.
The other book is Range by David Epstein. It was an amazing read and really, highlights the need for people with multiple interests in these industries. And you know, just really specifically true to this new kind of AI generation that we're seeing with being able to future proof, like Kevin Roose in his book said yourself kind of in all of these ways to gain back that humanity and make sure that your other interests are shining through because it's just good for your own mental health and good in general to make sure that you're advancing in your career.
So I was just really happy to see that as like, oh, okay, good. This is exactly who I'm trying to strive to be more like. To just incorporate all of those in my career, all of those interests.
[00:53:43] Lauren Burke: That's awesome. Both of those sound like a great read, so I'm definitely going to link those in our section for everybody to check out.
[00:53:49] Leah Bowers: Yeah, they're good.
[00:53:51] Lauren Burke: But how can our listeners keep up with you?
[00:53:53] Leah Bowers: Like I said, I'm only on LinkedIn. So you can, if you wanted to follow me, I'm there.
Feel free to connect. I love new connections. And yeah, happy to endorse anyone and everyone who's looking for a job. I really do think there are some hacks that need to be done for LinkedIn in order to get you that job.
[00:54:16] Lauren Burke: Awesome. Well, I hope you get some LinkedIn connections from this, but thank you so much for joining me today, Leah. I thought this was a fantastic conversation with a ton of really valuable advice and insights about how you can go about the job search process, not get too bogged down, and know that you'll come out on the other end and find something that you truly enjoy and feel like you belong.
[00:54:39] Leah Bowers: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much, Lauren, for having me. It's been so awesome.
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