Follow the data: SAIT grad shares path to giving his career a "reset"
Written by Nicole Brandt | Photo by John Ulan
Machine learning, boot camps and the Alumni for Alumni Bursary: Tony Sassine's path to a new career as a data scientist.
TONY SASSINE HAS AN INNATE ABILITY TO FIND PATTERNS. With analytical and problem-solving skills gained from studying Electronics Engineering Technology (he graduated in 1996) — combined with his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree and career experience in working with data — Sassine sees connections between issues, information and trends that might, on the surface, seem unrelated.
But what he couldn’t predict was the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on his career.
That career had taken Sassine overseas where, after several years, he says he began missing a routine life. As the novel coronavirus spread around the world, Sassine’s project work came to a halt. Threats of suspended travel increased, and his desire to return to Canada was now a certainty.
“I came back to Canada in early 2020 and then the COVID-19 lockdown happened. The fragility of the economy and the world felt so much more palpable,” Sassine says.
As the pandemic upended global systems — everything from manufacturing to transportation to supply chains — Sassine’s curiosity was piqued. He wanted to know what strategies were being used by businesses, both big and small, to pivot in uncertain times. It all came back to one fact — you need to follow the data.
“Data is everywhere. It’s in everything we do, from storing pictures in the cloud to searching for something online to energy use,” says Sassine.
He began exploring what was being done with data collected around the world and came across machine learning — a blend of computer science and artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning enables a program to learn to recognize patterns in data, to use those patterns to derive its own algorithm (or series of steps), and then to refine those steps into feedback to automate, predict or improve an outcome.
“I was familiar with data and analytical concepts as a programmer. The bootcamp sounded like the ideal program to build on those skills,” says Sassine, who will be pursuing a new career as a data scientist.
“Since I live in Edmonton and in-person programs are not an option with COVID-19, taking the bootcamp online was perfect for me.”
While going through the interview process for the program, Sassine learned of the Alumni for Alumni Bursary. Created in 2020 to celebrate SAIT welcoming its 250,000th graduate, this pilot bursary project helped him and nearly 700 other SAIT alumni enhance or grow their skillsets through a continuing education or professional studies course.
“If you believe in fate, it’s like I was meant to take this course.”
This story was originally written for the print version of the Spring 2021 issue of LINK — Raw, risky and full of joy.