Working at Backr as a data scientist & ML engineer
A little bit about me
My name is Elijah Cavan. I’m currently a data analytics and ML engineer at Backr. I’ve also worked as a data analyst at Loblaws Companies Limited, as an instructor with the Princeton Review and as an upper year teacher at a private high school. I have a Masters in Mathematics from Wilfrid Laurier and a Bsc. in Mathematical Physics from University of Waterloo. I’m planning on going back to school in the fall!
Backr gave me a real shot when they hired me. I was working out of Jupyter notebooks and didn’t know how to properly push to GitHub before they came around. Duncan must have seen that I had a strong work ethic and a will to learn and challenge myself- but I have to say it was scary going from learning on your own to being in an actual software development atmosphere with experienced pros. Luckily, the team made me feel welcome from day 1.
It’s crazy to look at what I do now in my day to day and how far I’ve come in just these short 5 months. It’s not only a testament to my work here, it's also a testament to the support and leadership from the team at Backr.
What compelled me to work at Backr
I’ve always wanted to see what it was like to work at a startup, and Backr was my first. Specifically, I came to Backr because I thought it was an opportunity to challenge myself and accelerate the programming knowledge I was gaining through my own self study.
My role & how it changed over time
My role at Backr was a data scientist/ analytics and ML engineer. Some of my responsibilities included preforming data experiments to investigate key metrics that determine creator success, developing internal dashboards to visualize and present data to clients and leadership, optimizing fan score sorting algorithms and finally, deploying a machine learning model to predict fan churn rate.
My thoughts on leadership at Backr
I’ve worked quite a few jobs now in my 26 years; and I’ve definitely come to find that the leadership is often the single most important part of a job. The people you report to quite often determine whether or not you are happy at your job. The reason I am so enamoured with Backr is because everyone on the team shares the same idea of having a strong work ethic, and in supporting others when they’re working hard. There have been so many times when I’ve seen Emily, Duncan and Miki take work home and work on the weekend or at night, and they have never encouraged me to do the same.
They understand that their roles as leaders of the company is to support the growth of their companies with their own blood, sweat and tears. That just makes me want to work harder and harder for them. During my time at Backr I was paid with a government grant; Miki, Duncan and Emily weren’t paid at all. They could have easily just ordered the team around like startup Monarchs. Instead, they actively listened to my ideas, they mentored me, and if I ran into trouble they were there to support me.
The best parts of working at Backr
1. Ownership of your projects- One super appealing part of Backr is the ability to see your work influence their product on the short term. I’ve worked at major corporations, and sometimes even the smallest projects can take months to complete, and every ‘boss’ above you wants to implement their own features. Not at Backr; at Backr every member of the group gets their own input but it’s up to you (with conversations with leadership) to drive the development of the features you’re adding.
2. The mentorship- The leadership at Backr fully appreciates the fact that they ask you to go outside of your comfort zone and to challenge yourself with the projects they give you. But if you have issues, they’ll always be willing to support you and teach you. They have also hired code mentors and paid for Udemy courses to further develop our skills and career.
3. The environment- Between having biweekly parties and just simply being around people who are closer to your age and align more with your interests, being with Backr is like working with your friends. Backr was a second home to me for the 5 months I’ve worked here, and I hope to be back for more months to come.
The only downfall about Backr were the 9:30am daily stand ups, but that’s because I tend to be a night owl.
The type of people who should work at Backr
1. People who work well as a team- So far it’s a small team at Backr, each member of the group interacts with one another on any given project. Similar to what I say in my second point, that means it often works better if you can speak everyone’s language, even if you just pick up parts of what they do by listening to them when they talk about their current tasks.
2. People capable of wearing different 'hats'- During a meeting where half of us (mostly me) were complaining about how using Notion to track our sprint planning was annoying, our CTO Duncan said “we’re not just developers at Backr, we are also project managers." He was so right about this, we had to take ownership of our individual progress and ensure we were updating leadership with the milestones we completed, and the blockers we faced. Some of the hats you should be prepared to wear at Backr include product/ UX designer, product manager, developer, experiment/ tester of features, and presenter. You may be asked to use software you haven’t seen before or step outside your comfort zone, but support is always there for you!
3. People who are unafraid to work with less guidance- Again, because Backr is still a small team right now so you can’t be messaging leadership every 5 minutes; they’re busy. You have to be independent, and think ahead to what task you should be doing next.
Advice for anyone interested in working at Backr as a data scientist
The thing to remember is that ultimately these metrics have to be interpreted by creators, the majority of which are maybe not as interested or mathematically literate as yourself. I remember first presenting some graphs that I was really proud of, but because I didn’t communicate my ideas well enough, the leadership was reluctant to use them in talks with creators. Ultimately, data visualization which is presented well shouldn’t require you to have a math degree, you should be able to ‘see the story’ by looking at the graph (i.e the key metrics and reasons for why the graph was created should be clear).
Where people can find & connect with me!
Portfolio website: https://elicavan.wixsite.com/site