Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazers: Jonathan Armstrong

  • Name: Jonathan Armstrong

    Role: Manager, Data and Anaytics - EY Northern Ireland

    Hi Jonathan, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you transitioned into Data & Analytics.

    I always find this question a little hard to answer as I don’t know where to start! I suppose it’s relevant that, although originally from Northern Ireland, I was brought up on the other side of the world in Brazil, where my parents are missionaries! That meant that all my education was in Portuguese right up to university level where I did a 5-year degree in Mechanical Engineering.

    Near the end of my degree, I was looking for a thesis subject and started working in a research lab using AI to model a Coal Fired Power plant. This was at the very start of AI gaining some traction when even the definition of Deep Learning was disputed! From then I have never left AI, moving to Northern Ireland for a job on the KTP program (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) working with Queens University, Belfast and a Medical Software company.

    I was responsible for introducing Computer Vision into the company with the help of QUB academics. This was really fascinating to work with some of the top Consultants in the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast building and annotating pathology slides of Colon Cancer to train my AI models – It was especially surreal seeing as I had trained as an engineer!

    The fascinating thing about AI is that it can be used in any discipline, so when I was approached at the Big Data Belfast conference and told of all the amazing work EY was doing in Data & Analytics, especially in the Health and Life Sciences sector, I couldn’t resist coming in for an interview – and the rest is history!

    Since joining EY I’ve worked on a variety of projects, from electricity analytics to AI and some Health initiatives. I really love the incredible number of interesting opportunities such a well renowned company like EY offers. Externally I’ve been involved in developing PoC’s (proof of concept algorithms) for organisations and giving talks on subjects like MLOps, whilst internally I have had the opportunity to help with our Health accounts, looking at the future of AI for Health and being a member of our brand new Wavespace AI Labs where we show customers our AI capabilities through workshop sessions.

    What is a common misconception about your role, and can you demystify this?

    One of the most common misconceptions I see is that “Data” is only an Excel sheet and sitting in front of Excel all day is boring. The splendid thing about Data Analytics in EY is the variety - no two days are the same.

    From managing a team based in 2 or 3 countries, to using Azure cloud to build an algorithm for predicting customer churn (customers leaving a company), and then having a week of workshops with a client to understand how they can better manage their data, no two days are the same and there is opportunity for all sorts of people.

    What is the best career advice you ever received?

    A great piece of career advice I’ve received when dealing with some awkward situations, was given to me by one of my university professors. It’s an old proverb that says “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on” – speaking of the caravan trains in the middle of the desert and how those on the side-lines shouldn’t be allowed to affect the destination, don’t let others comments/criticisms affect you.

    What advice would you give someone trying to decide whether to join EY?

    I would strongly suggest you reach out to someone you know in EY or even via LinkedIn find someone that works in the area you’re interested in and have a chat with them. I am definitely more than happy to speak to people and know my colleagues would be the same.

    What skills and characteristics are the most crucial to succeeding within Data and Analytics?

    From a skills point of view, I really feel a strong STEM background is indispensable, but there are a couple of other things that are essential too. Firstly, a willingness to ask questions and learn, and secondly networking – I’m a great believer in meeting as many people as possible and understanding their backgrounds and what I can do to help them.

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