Meet the Whereby Team: Georgina Armstrong

This week we caught up with Georgina Armstrong, our South African based data scientist. We asked her to share her experiences working remotely from Cape Town. She loves how she can work on interesting data projects and be home with her daughter.

This week we caught up with Georgina Armstrong, our South African based data scientist. We asked her to share her experiences of working remotely from Cape Town. She loves how she can work on interesting data projects and be home with her daughter and partner.

Let’s start with what your role is at Whereby and where you currently live.

Georgina: I do data science for Whereby. That basically means sometimes I use data to answer questions, and sometimes I use data to solve problems and sometimes I write code that makes predictions or choices based on huge amounts of data and math. I live in Cape Town, South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg.

Why did you decide to work remotely?

G: I knew it would be lovely to work remotely, but I’ve always been following the most interesting data science work. I’m not so great at prioritizing my lifestyle. Anyway, I was delighted to get great data science and remote working in one package. I don’t think I can ever go back. When you have a 3 year old toddler, you get to see a bit more of them, you get more cuddles. She’s so sweet at this age, it’s a tragedy to miss this tiny window, sitting in traffic or stuck in a box of grey carpet, terrible instant coffee and fluorescent strip lights. And you can actually just put the laundry on, rather than storing ALL the random small acts of domestic labour until the weekend. It’s life changing.

Have you worked remotely before?

G: So, this is my first fully remote job. I’ve had jobs before where one or two days a week was at an office, but this is still quite new to me, since I’ve literally only seen one colleague in real life and that was 4 years ago in another job. I don’t know what anybody looks like below the shoulders.

Was it difficult to adjust to working remotely during lockdown?

G: Taking this job coincided perfectly with the start of South Africa’s COVID lockdown, which was one of the strictest in the world. No alcohol, no cigarettes, curfew, no schools, no daycare, no gym, no restaurants or even food delivery and only outdoor exercise only between 6 and 9am. Some of that has eased a bit now, but literally all my lifestyle habits, coping strategies got cancelled just as I jumped into this job. I’m still waiting to find out what “business as usual” will be like.

Do you have a designated working space at home?

G: I have my own workspace luckily. It’s upstairs, behind a custom, toddler-proof gate. It really feels like I’m leaving the scene, and it’s done a lot to teach my kid what “mummy is at work” means. Work is a place, even though it’s just upstairs.

Is it common to work remotely as a data scientist?

G: Data scientists are definitely prime candidates for remote work, we don’t need to be in the same room to deliver value for sure. It’s also a field that attracts a lot of introverts and a happy data scientist is often an alone data scientist.

That said, all sorts of industries have data scientists, and a lot of those industries are absolutely allergic to remote work. A lot of very large brick and mortar businesses can’t fathom “trusting” their employees to be productive at home.

Do you think remote working is going to be more common now?

G: I really hope so because in no small way, it can change the world. We can have less traffic, fewer carbon emissions, higher quality of life and - this is my particular passion - an economic rejuvenation of small towns as young families choose to stay and raise kids and earn a nice income there.

Let’s talk about how you manage to stay connected with the team. We are all all over the place. How do you think we do in making sure that bond is strong when none of us are together?

G: I think we have hired nice people, and so just a little bit of small talk before or after standup meetings every day has added up to having an idea of who someone is, and having a few gentle running jokes in the mix.

The Friday / Friyay party doesn’t really scale to the full organisation size, but I’ve really enjoyed a few of those and they got me to meet people in the business who I don’t work with directly.

The birthday surprises, though, those are an outstanding feature of our culture. You have to collaborate with someone you don’t usually work with, and have to research (and delight!) someone else that you don’t usually work with. So 3 people from different corners of the company end up doing this high-research nice thing that forms a little bond. And you get a birthday present. It’s just so thoughtfully designed and lovely.

How do you let your colleagues know that you’re online working or not working?

G: The #General [Slack] channel system is pretty good, but I’ve noticed people putting emojis next to their name in Slack and that is much better. Elegant. Effective. I’m hella jealous of all those palm trees (vacations) right now. [Note: one way we stay connected at Whereby is to check in and out of a General group chat on Slack. We share where we are working from.]

What about doing things you enjoy in general?

G: I can still do some of my favourite things like video games, baking, reading, knitting, and listening to podcasts.

Do you have a specific routine that you follow before you get into the flow of work everyday?

G: Actually no, just the act of coming upstairs is about it. That’s the boundary that I cross. Maybe I should get a ritual. I try to only work between 9 and 5. I try. But sometimes between 3 and 5 I am a zombie. And sometimes between 10pm and midnight I am a productive demon. That's a little rough the next morning because a toddler has no snooze button.

Georgina’s favorite picks

Absolute Favorite Movie: Galaxy Quest

Absolute Favorite TV Series: The Americans/ Chernobyl

Books recommendations: Circe by Madeline Miller and the Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Podcast recommendations: Noble Blood by Dana Schwartz

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