Career progression can take many forms, but there are few people who have gotten to where they are today without some help along the way. Mounica Urity, a data scientist at a Fortune 500 financial services company, highly values the advice and assistance she has been given throughout her career.
“I definitely would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my mentors,” Mounica says. “I am thankful for everyone who helped me, both men and women. I’ve had mentors in every technical space I worked.”
Mounica also had mentors who walked her through the difficult times as well, such as problems at work or having concerns about when to speak up. “I had sponsors, that not only taught me, but also went out there and advocated for me,” she adds. “That’s how I got to where I am today. Other people believed in me and said, ‘I think you should hire this person.’ ”
Now Mounica is at a point in her career where she can pay it forward by mentoring the younger generation. She also hopes to get more women into STEM-related fields.
“This is something I’m very passionate about,” she says. “I truly believe this is something that has to start at a very young age. By the time that women join the workforce or college, it’s way too late.”
Mounica stresses the importance of early education, and of encouraging girls to get involved in STEM fields in elementary and middle school. She says it’s important to show them that STEM is fun while highlighting the success and enrichment other girls have experienced.
“Show them a role model, someone that says, ‘I’m a girl, this is what I do, and I love doing it,’ ” Mounica advises. “There are so many organizations that really help facilitate that. For example, Hour of Code every year. You go into schools and you help little kids code using block logic, and it is crazy what kindergarteners can do with just one hour. They can build a whole game and they have so much fun doing it.”
Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and NC Wit encourage girls to get into STEM as well. “There are so many different organizations that are dedicated to helping young girls learn about STEM, that it’s fun, and it’s something they can do when they grow up,” Mounica says. “I think that’s a huge part of it — going to the schools and showing them that this is something you can do.”
When it comes time to enter the workforce, Mounica wants women to remember that it’s important to speak up. “If you want something, you have to ask for it,” she says. “People will enable it – they don’t know until you tell them.”
She also encourages women to try something new, even if they feel underqualified. “Be curious, be driven,” she adds. “Ask questions, and just throw yourself into something new.”
She also has some advice that most people overlook when planning their career: Focus on business value. By demonstrating one’s knowledge in STEM and how it can help an organization succeed, applicants can set themselves apart from the crowd.
As far as her own career, Mounica’s main priority is on natural language processing (NLP) and all the problems that can be solved with the technology. “I’m focusing on how we can make our process better,” she says. “What are the friction points for our members? Do members have any complaints about what we are doing? What are we doing well, how we can do more of it, and enable better service overall? We can find a lot more information using free form text or conversation than we can in traditional data structures.”
Mounica was first inspired to pursue a career in technology while in college. She wasn’t sure the field was right for her but enjoyed the classes and wanted to learn more.
“I was in a networking class my sophomore year that really opened my eyes to how cool computers are,” she says. “I think we tend to take for granted what a computer can do. I just expect that if I go to a website, it will automatically be available to me.”
She was especially impressed by all the steps and processes that are necessary for a website to load so seamlessly. “It really gave me an appreciation for how cool technology is, so that really made me delve more into other aspects of technology,” she continues. “I took a data analytics class and learned about a variety of things you can do, and it truly opened my eyes.”
Mounica appreciates how vast and varied STEM has become, knowing that there is always something new to learn.
“For me, it’s that it’s always changing,” she concludes. “You can never know it all. You have to constantly learn something new to stay relevant. I know that sounds scary, but it’s actually really cool because you’re never bored. You’re working with other people who are also always learning and always have that curiosity to be better. That, to me, is so exciting – that I can work in this field and never get bored.”