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About the Women in Data Science Series
A data scientist knows that some of the richest and most intriguing stories can be found in a dataset.
To highlight the stories behind the women in data science at Booz Allen, we’ve created an editorial series on the individuals who are solving today’s big challenges and redefining, in their own unique ways, what it means to be a data scientist.
Explore the profiles and get personal with women from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and experience who are a part of our growing team of data scientists at Booz Allen.
“Organized, but also spontaneous,” Sarah Thompson laughed as she mused on how her friends would describe her.
Appropriately, Sarah came to Booz Allen in July 2011 “by accident and because I wanted change.” Determined to pursue a career in the foreign service when she started her undergraduate degree at George Washington University in DC, it didn’t take many classes for Sarah to realize that it wasn’t the career path for her. She saw a friend who’d worked at Booz Allen post on Facebook about their experience and, after some research and the application process, decided to give a six-month co-op (the predecessor of our Summer Games internship program) a try.
After completing her co-op (where she also unexpectedly met her husband), Sarah joined the cost estimating team at Booz Allen. She worked with the team for a few years until data science piqued her interest.
Now a senior data scientist, Sarah’s been called an “enterprise data scientist” by her manager. For any given challenge, she plays an integral role in figuring out how to build the right team of data scientists, approach specific projects, and create a custom solution that works for clients. Working with a variety of clients over the past few years, “what I like about data science now is the fact that there are a lot of different problems that you can, more or less, distill the same way,” Sarah said. With her bird’s eye view, Sarah is a pro at tailoring each project to the client for a custom fit.
In all areas of her life, Sarah loves the adventure of learning. If something piques her interest, she’s excited to learn more—even if it requires a substantial commitment. Sarah’s past adventures include completing Ironman-caliber competitions and even taking a coding class to learn a new language (C++) while in the throes of planning her wedding. When she takes a break, you might find her at DC’s 9:30 Club to hear music from bands like The Struts.
On the docket for summer 2020 is a climbing trip with her husband. Neither of them has ever tried outdoor climbing, but they’re dedicating the next year to learning how––and that’s the fun of it. “I really enjoy these year-long adventures where we pick something and get really interested in it, dive in and have fun with it… and then try something else,” Sarah beamed.
Following all of her ambitious endeavors, Sarah loves an opportunity to share her experience. She participated in Booz Allen’s Data Science 5K (DS5K), a program that gives Booz Allen employees the opportunity to enhance their data science capabilities in an evolving data science ecosystem. When she returned to her client site from a day of DS5K, Sarah would field a flurry of questions about what she learned and how she could bring it to life in her project work.
Sarah’s team also fosters a knowledge-hungry, collaborative ecosystem. When Sarah thinks of her teammates, she can immediately link people to things she’s learned from their unique expertise. “It’s a really friendly community, and it’s a community that’s passionate about teaching each other,” Sarah said.
She’s especially inspired by a colleague who has a background in nuclear physics. Despite being a challenging subject, “He can explain any topic to a five-year-old,” Sarah says, “He has the heart of a teacher, and he can take the most complex topic and tailor it to who his audience is, and I like drawing that from him.”
To keep cultivating a growing circle of data scientists, Sarah also volunteers at Hear Me Code, a DC-based organization that teaches free beginner coding classes to women. Perhaps it’s to give back for the opportunities that others have afforded her. “At Booz Allen, it’s always been very easy to find the support in accessibility and funding for learning opportunities. My boss has always supported me in these endeavors,” Sarah says, “and it’s awesome.”
When it comes to navigating the field of data science, there’s no right or wrong path to take. “Data science is a broad field,” Sarah explained. “I would encourage people to explore what it is about data science they’re interested in.”
Between Sarah’s deliberate planning and intense curiosity, there’s no telling what adventure she will go on next.