Barre. Every ballet class begins at the barre. Ballerinas use the support of it to exercise one side of their body at a time. Barre consists of a series of exercises including plie, tendu, battement degage, Rond de jambe. After warming up, dancers move to the center of the room for more work. There they perform port de bras, grand battement, pirouette, fouetté. Catherine Rekhert, today’s first female Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional (MVP) of Kazakhstan, as a young girl, knew every term and every move, but her heart belonged someplace else.
In a classical gymnasium of arts, Catherine’s specialization was choreography and ballet dancing. During her high school years, she got curious, was an active volunteer and that is how she received a scholarship to attend a camp where teenage members were supposed to build their own democratic society.
While other kids in the camp played hide and seek carelessly, she did something a bit different. ”We had our currency, even elected our own government. This is when I became the Minister of Finance and Economics and was responsible for the government budget, salaries, taxes. At the end of the camp, I received an Honorary Ever greener award as the first Finance minister in the history of this camp that did not let the country and government go bankrupt,” Catherine remembers.
This is how she chose that her professional path would not include pirouettes. Economics seemed like something she could be successful at, but it also appeared as a solid ground that would give her a fundamental understanding of how everything works in financial world. At University, she discovered that statistics was her favorite subject. On the other hand, she hated econometrics. Today, as a Data Scientist, she uses both of these sciences and has a love-hate relationship with them.
In her ballet classes there were more girls than boys. However, later in life, when she started working in IT, she noticed more male employees. Sometimes she had to put in more effort than everyone else on the team. Glass ceiling and gender stereotypes are present in Kazakhstan, but as someone who prefers to stay focused on solutions, not on problems, Catherine broke the rules. She learned how to communicate and negotiate better, to take initiative, to manage and plan her career.
”I believe that women need more role models and an encouraging community around them to consider a career in IT and make their first steps towards it. That is what helped me a lot when I was making my first steps. I joined several meetups, attended lots of workshops, programming nights, and conferences where I met women who had a similar path to mine. Sharing problems with each other, working together through solutions helped me overcome many obstacles and doubts,” says Catherine.
When she started her career in IT, she did not know much about it, but it didn’t take much time for her to discover a program for young leaders from Central Asia that helped young professionals get cultural and work experience. After she applied and successfully went through their selection process, she learned all about Data Analytics/Data Science job families.
“You were the only one whose eyes lit up when we asked about Excel, you should really try Data Analytics,” said two CEOs from the US companies who were interviewing her at the final round. “They also recommended that I learn PowerBI,” explains Catherine.
After five months of analyst training, she fell in love with projects involving PowerBI. Now the terms she learned did not include plie, tendu, battement degage. She loved building dashboards, using new words like API, ETL and she picked up SQL, which helped her do her work more efficiently. Soon after reviewing her progress and results, she got an offer to work on a project with Microsoft.
”I couldn’t believe it – IT giant, and me, ex-ballet dancer (imposter syndrome detected). I thought it was better to try and fail, than always regret if I didn’t try. I moved to a different team and started working on Microsoft projects.”
“Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different”. Jane Austin
After three challenging months with lots of work and procedures – she received a promotion! The back-end team was the place where she could also help as a DBA. As someone hungry for knowledge, she was constantly asking teammates for extra tasks so that she could learn more quickly, understand better, and practice what she was learning. And she learned quite a lot.
It took her four years to earn a prestigious award – the first Lady MVP in Kazakhstan.
”I have always thought this award was strictly technical, but as it turned out, the award also recognizes exceptional community leadership. By that time, I had already founded a community with over 3,000 members, conducted multiple events, and had taught PowerBI skills to over a hundred women.”
Somedays, being an MVP feels like drinking from the fire hose: NDA information about upcoming updates, Microsoft Summit, monthly MVP community meetings, meetings with Microsoft product teams, getting to know other MVPs, learning about resources and benefits available to MVPs — lots and lots of new and exciting things are coming up every day.
But now she has more resources and support, which makes things easier, more fun and she won’t stop there. By constantly learning and working, she always wants to achieve more. Fascinated by the developments in the field, her goal is to try to maintain a steady career path.
Data. Every Data Scientist’s job begins with the data. Piles of it. Selecting it, customizing it, upgrading it. There’s an algorithm design here and there. After warming up and some data preparation, modeling of the algorithm comes along. Later on, Data Scientists evaluate and analyze the results.
Like ballet, this job is a dance, too. A lot of training and a lot of work will bring a remarkable award. You just have to learn the steps and the floor is all yours. Like Catherine did.