Brad Stokes M.A. ’22 earned his degree from the Data Analysis and Applied Statistics program based in Northern Virginia.
What is your academic and professional background?
I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2015 with a double major in economics and political science. I didn't really know what I wanted to do after graduation, so I moved up to Washington, D.C., the summer after I graduated. I had an internship at a government relations firm, which led me to a job on Capitol Hill working in Senator Dianne Feinstein's office. I started there, and I worked there for almost seven years until [recently] when I got a new job. That job was not necessarily data related, it was more public policy related – I did a variety of administrative and legislative roles there.
Tell us about the new position you’ve started.
It's definitely thanks to the [DAAS] program – I just started as a technology consultant with a digital technology consulting firm in D.C. called Ignyte Group. They have a variety of clients – some government, some commercial – and work with their clients to solve some digital and data and technology management issues.
I’m still getting the reins of kind of what the industry is like because it was a big career pivot for me from a more policy/politics role, but that was one reason why I wanted to go back to school.
What prompted you to join the DAAS program?
I chose this program – the Data Analysis and Applied Statistics program – to build on some of the hard quantitative technical skills that I had from undergrad in economics and statistics because I really enjoyed those. Also, from the years working in government I really saw like the power of data and how it can be used for good or for bad in a very simple way. That's kind of what prompted me to go back to school, particularly this program at Virginia Tech. It certainly gave me the tools and knowledge and experience in the technology industry – I don't think I would have been in this new role, if I had not done that.
What is one significant thing that you will take away from your experience in the program?
I think aside from my knowledge and experience with the software coding part – because I didn't have any experience with that before – I’d say the other important thing that I took from it was knowing that communication is key in data analysis.
No matter what you do behind the scenes in the software program, or what algorithms or machine learning techniques you run to solve a problem, it can't have that big of an impact or may not have as big of an impact as you would want, if you can't communicate what the results are saying to both a technical and non-technical audience so they can understand very basically what these numbers mean and how they can affect whatever problem you're looking at.
There was one course in particular titled “Effective Communication in Statistics” and it really kind of drilled in our heads being able to explain those types of concepts and taking numbers and results and being able to explain it. We played a game [where we would] try to explain a concept or a pretty complex thing to like a 5 year old or to a different audience. That's something that I think could definitely be improved on in the industry and something that I feel like I have a good background in politics and communication and writing that I can bring to my new role in working with some of these software programs.
What do you think potential students should know about this program?
I will say that it is a time commitment, because you're working full-time and also doing the program. It was definitely an adjustment to come home from work and then not be able to just relax for the rest of the night. I had to kind of get back into school mode and study and do assignments.
I'd say for someone that does not have any software or technology experience going into it, don't be afraid to ask questions. There were some folks in my cohort who had more experience in that area, so just put your pride aside and be able to ask those people and the professors for help.
Anything else you want to share about your experience?
Overall, it was a great learning experience to be able to add another technical skill to my toolkit, if you will. It was invaluable in helping me pivot from the career that I was in into a new industry and the job that I'm now doing. Without it, I don't think I would be in this role, so it was definitely worth it in the end. It’s something I'll continue to grow and develop professionally from.