Stories/Danielle Smalls
Danielle Smalls (she/her)

Danielle Smalls is a data scientist and deployment strategist working on a project that supports anti-human trafficking investigations online.

#data scientist# deployment strategist# founder

Tell us about yourself. How did you first get started in your career in tech?

Hey there! I’m Danielle :) I was born in The Netherlands and raised in Virginia. Right now, I work remotely as a data scientist and deployment strategist for a company based in Toronto, Ontario. At my company, I work on a project that supports anti-human trafficking investigations online.

Growing up, I was heavily influenced by my father to pursue a career in S.T.E.M. He is an engineer and always encouraged my desire to take things apart and learn how they work. I ended up choosing to study Statistics during my college years and was almost completely derailed during my senior year. In the fall semester of my senior year, I suffered a sexual assault and initially decided not to return to campus to finish my studies. Through the support and encouragement of my family and friends(and a ton of personal work), I returned to school for the final semester.

I’m thankful that I did! During that very same semester, I met with a company who was working on a project that combined machine learning and anti-human trafficking efforts! For the longest time, I thought that I would need to separate two of the cherished commitments in my life, statistics/programming, and the pursuit to assist the abolition of the modern-day slavery movement around the world.

As I become more proficient in my coding skills, I truly fell in love with making! I’ve always had ideas about how to solve problems and felt empowered to make and realize/“see” my ideas through code.

Right now, in addition to working full-time, I make and try to encourage others to make/create with me! I’m definitely that friend that is always trying to teach her friends to code. It isn’t that I think that all of the world’s problems can be solved through code -- they can’t. I just want my loved ones to have another tool in their toolbox to address these problems and create.

What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?

One of the most important skills that I've learned is patience. I've been in many situations where I'm asked to explain or teach a technical concept to someone who maybe isn't as technically savvy but will benefit from the knowledge about the software or tool. Patience is necessary to identify and listen for the information gaps in their understanding. AND, it is super rewarding when I see the "ah-ha" moment on a person's face once they've understood!

Clear communication is also an important skill for me. Truthfully, it is an important skill for everyone but because I work remotely I've had to learn new ways to make sure I am very clear in my intentions and expectations.

What difficulties did you face in your career? How did you overcome them?

I’ve failed a lot. For years, I used failure as an excuse to not push myself and disregarded my successes completely. From failure, roots of shame flourished and that shame fed the weight of imposter syndrome.

I felt imposter syndrome the most AFTER receiving my first offer letter. I was expected to work alongside some of the most respected leaders in natural language processing, domain-specific search and indexing, and subject-matter-experts in human trafficking, etc. Many of them, some of my personal heroes. I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be at the table.

When I would feel bouts of imposter syndrome, I would remind myself to just show up -- fully be myself and be willing to learn. I also began to treat each misstep as a data point. Just like an experiment, you shouldn’t throw out “bad data”, or attempts that you do not like, you have to acknowledge and address each data point appropriately and move forward using the full understanding of the situation.

Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?

  • Say "Yes" to yourself. Be the first to immediately say, "Yes". I've often said no to my ideas for a myriad of reasons: I’m too young for this, or I’m too old to begin that, or someone has already done this before, or this idea is totally impossible...etc. Say “Yes” to starting the work and putting your heart into something.

  • Say "Yes" to building and using your toolbox. Before settling with Statistics, I studied Engineering and what I appreciate most about that experience, is that the program forced us to use EVERYTHING we knew.

You have to show up with everything you have in life. All of your skills, no matter how disparate they are, add to your toolbox. Approach a problem with your entire toolbox and don’t get so worried with trying to make sense of your journey and experiences to make them “fit.”

What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?

Books: I have too many suggestions to name. Right now I’m re-reading W.E.B. DuBois’s Data Portraits. If you like data viz, then you will appreciate this collection!

Blogs: I’m going to mention my favorite documentation websites here: Vue.js and Django. Both documentation websites are refreshingly clear and unassuming.

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Thank you for sharing your story with us. How can we support you?

  • bebacklater: Need a break from social media or texting? Take one! 👋 🌴📵 bebacklater lets the people who care about you most know what you need. I’m building this because I’ve needed it in my life. I think it is important to make social media, text, call, etc. hiatuses expected and accepted as normal. At the same time, it is important to communicate that you need a break to the people you care about.

  • BeeKnd: An app built to remind people that kindness is still abundant in the world. Built from a deep belief that compassion is good for your health and a little goes a long way.