See How Clifford Thompson Went from Math and Science Teacher to Data Analyst—with a Few Pit Stops In Between
What sparks a math and science teacher to leave teaching and pursue an MBA and a data analytics boot camp? For Clifford Thompson, it was more than just a desire for a career change—it was a deep-seated curiosity about the way the world works.
After completing his undergraduate degree at Tulane University, Clifford Thompson settled down in New Orleans and became a math and science teacher. While he was teaching, he began to think about going back to school for an MBA. He knew higher-ups at work who had the degree, and his conversations with them spurred him to more seriously consider it.
Around this time, the school he was teaching at started experiencing financial issues—causing Clifford to take a brief detour along the road to his MBA.
“It wasn’t that rare for schools in New Orleans to end up having financial problems,” Clifford said. “But the issues had affected my teaching job, and I wanted to fully understand what had happened. This led me to pursue a job in accounting—I wanted to see how finance and accounting really worked.”
After working in accounting, the transition to business school happened naturally. Clifford enrolled in the Rice University MBA program, and while there, continued to explore yet another interest—data science.
Looking to gain technical experience with software and programming, Clifford had taken a couple of day- and week-long courses in the past. Now, he was interested in diving deeper. Inspired by the MBA program, he wanted to fully understand data science from a business perspective.
That’s when he came across an advertisement for the Rice University Data Analytics Boot Camp. Before he knew it, Clifford was juggling two intensive programs at once.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “But ultimately it was very successful, and it’s a big part of my job now.”
Here’s how Clifford conquered both courses and found a job that satisfies his curious nature.
Prioritizing time management
For Clifford, a big part of managing the MBA program and the data analytics boot camp simultaneously was understanding the time commitments that each program required. He soon realized that dedicating large blocks of time to work would be more effective than sporadic study sessions.
To make this possible, Clifford organized his MBA course schedule to consist of classes that met for extended periods of time fewer times throughout the week. This freed up other large blocks of time that he could spend on his data analytics coursework.
Developing projects with real-world applications
Thanks to the work he was doing in the MBA program, Clifford possessed a unique perspective and business lens through which he developed his projects. For one thing, he recognized a use for a database containing the curriculums of different schools’ business programs. He decided to develop it in boot camp.
“I developed a web-scraping tool,” said Clifford. “Now, when professors at Rice Business run into curriculum-related questions, they can say, ‘Oh, well what’s the finance department at X, Y, or Z school doing?’ and inform their questions with that information. The tool can also scrape curriculum information from a list of the top 20 business schools and collect it all in one place. That project was a big success, and I was really pleased with it.”
Clifford’s team also created a state map of the U.S., underlaid with demographic data. The user could click on a state and, based on demographic data linked to factors such as age, race, gender, level of education, income, language, and more, the software would generate a statistically accurate state resident. This could be done for any state, with an unlimited number of resident regenerations.
Clifford and his team designed the software as a tool to help policymakers better visualize and think about their constituents.
“That project was really successful,” he said. “When we presented it on Demo Day, it got a lot of interest from employers. I think one of our team members ended up getting a job because of his role in it.”
Learning to communicate effectively
As a former teacher, Clifford found it especially fulfilling to see how much each student in the course was able to improve.
“For the students who put in a lot of work, there was really visible improvement,” he said. “The best kid in our class didn’t have any experience with computer programming prior to boot camp, and since the class he’s really been killing it. Even if I personally wasn’t able to put in as many hours as I would have liked due to my MBA studies, I could see that other students who did were able to really advance their understanding. That was really cool to see.”
Clifford is still in contact with many of his classmates and hopes they’ll remain in touch as their careers take off. As for him? He now works at Houston Methodist Hospital as a project manager for employer health solutions. He’s doing a lot of data analysis that indulges his curious nature, and putting to work many of the skills he learned at boot camp.
The most important lesson he learned, however, isn’t necessarily related to the software itself.
“As a field, data analytics really does require very precise communication,” he said. “I think a lot of the time, we think of communication as a soft skill or play it off as someone who is a good talker. But when you’re thinking about something like a huge data set, where there are all these different moving parts, it’s much more than that. This program taught everyone to communicate extremely precisely, and that is an invaluable skill.”
Of all the changes Clifford made over the course of his career, the leap to tech was one of the most challenging—and rewarding. If it wasn’t for boot camp, that leap might never have been possible.
“Overall, the program was a great personal success for me,” he said.