Julia Silge is a data scientist at Stack Overflow, with a PhD in astrophysics and an abiding love for Jane Austen. Julia has had a wide-ranging technical career, starting in academia where she researched galaxies and taught undergraduate students. She worked for several years in ed tech, and then transitioned to data science where she applies her technical skills as a data scientist working for the largest, most trusted online community for developers. She is the author of Text Mining with R, with her coauthor David Robinson. Julia enjoys making beautiful charts, programming for statistical analysis, text mining, and communicating about technical topics with diverse audiences.
With groups creating programs to encourage females to consider STEM, what is the biggest barrier to entry that is still prevalent today?
The biggest challenge for broader inclusion in STEM and tech, for women and other underrepresented groups, is the existing culture in these areas. Talented girls and women see how much interesting work there is to do (and love!) in STEM, but women leave these fields at higher rates than men because of widespread problems with the industry/culture that push them out. The culture as a whole needs to shift, with better training for managers, concrete diversity goals from leaders, and valuing collaboration over competition in our workplaces.
What or who inspires you?
I love learning the stories of real people from history, women and men, who discover or solve amazing technical problems. One example from statistics is William Gosset, who revolutionized how data is analyzed as a statistician at the Guinness brewery! Another is Annie Jump Cannon, an astronomer at Harvard (who suffered hearing loss) responsible for a huge part of the earliest work done classifying the stars in our Galaxy.
What is your proudest moment/accomplishment?
I have gone through several professional and personal "reinventions" over the course of my career, from academic to stay-at-home-mom to data scientist. When I think about what I am proudest of, it is navigating those dramatic shifts and thriving in new roles. Women's lives can change dramatically from decade to decade, but I see this as an opportunity to know who you really are and find a path that offers you the right challenges and joys.