Pieter has worked on a training programme to teach the computer programming language, R, to analysts more used to working with SAS.
“Not only does this new language offer a huge variety of new and interesting techniques for analysts – it’s also free. That’s often a big plus point in the Civil Service!” says Pieter.
Understandably, he’s been selected as a mentor on the government-wide Data Science Accelerator programme. “My mentee is from the Department for Education,” he says. “The problem she is solving will have a direct impact on the public purse – and she’s keeping me on my toes!”
Pieter has also had several opportunities to sharpen his data science skills at hackathons, including DWP Digital’s Hack the North event, with members of the public and other government departments.
“Hackathons are really fun, because I never fully know what the problem statement is until the day, and I get to co-operate with, and compete against, other data scientists. It’s a huge opportunity to learn from people I might not meet in my normal day.”
Pieter admits there are challenges in his role. “I’m getting to grips with unsupervised learning – not my favourite – and I’m learning from a colleague who has years of experience with these techniques.
“I’ve had to think really hard, and make difficult technical decisions because of tight technological constraints. It really tests your knowledge of a technique, and your understanding of the problem when there’s just not enough computing power, data or time available.”
This year, Pieter is looking forward to helping and guiding a new generation of data scientists.
“I’ll be building our capacity by improving our data pipelines, so that we can do more interesting stuff,” he says. “I’m also looking forward to exploring new hardware environments, for example AWS, Amazon’s cloud computing service and Azure, the Microsoft equivalent.”
He’s also looking forward to this being the year when his team will really strike out and produce some ground-breaking tools and widgets for DWP.
“For me, data science at DWP Digital is genuinely a dynamic and fast moving world,” he says. “Three years after joining, I’m still here, and I’m still loving every minute of it.”