How I became James Iremonger, Head of Data Science at VISFO

Meet James, our Head of Data Science and one of the longest-serving members of the VISFO team. Always happy to provide his expertise (and amazing recipes!), we had a chat with James about his journey to becoming a Data Scientist, his top tips for entering the industry, and the biggest challenges of the job.

By James Iremonger

James joined us as a Senior Data Scientist back in March 2018 after meeting with our then-small team of eight. Hearing everyone’s enthusiasm, ideas and goals, he knew joining the VISFO family would be the right decision. Fast forward 6 years, and James remains an essential part of our much bigger team, empowering our clients with impactful, data-driven solutions.

1. How did you first get into your industry?

After completing my undergraduate degree in Medical Microbiology, I worked at several academic research institutes and the NHS genetic diagnostic service. The amount of data I was working with continued to grow until the only way to analyze the results was with the programming language ‘R’ (or very expensive, out-of-budget software!). So, I quickly began learning and soon found that I loved the data handling way more than the lab work! I undertook an MPhil where I studied masses of data with data science techniques which were only just becoming famous. Data Science was a natural progression for me and my role at VISFO is a great combination of that and my biology skills. My background really helps with the broader understanding of the company and the value we provide to our clients.  

2. What do you love about your job?

I love so much about VISFO, from the work-life balance and the incredible people to the variety of projects and the impact we have on people’s lives. I’m the chef in my house, so working remotely and having the flexibility to cook and spend time with my family is great! Saying that though, it’s wonderful to come up to HQ, see the gang and have a night off from cooking, too!

3. Who – or what – has inspired you in your career?

Dr. Alex Rothman was an old colleague who got me started with learning R, so I suppose he put me on this path! When I was trying to complete my thesis, juggling full-time employment and family, I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, and it really inspired me to knuckle down and just get it done. I’ve also been lucky enough to have some wonderful managers in the past who have inspired my own ways of working.

4. What are the biggest challenges about your job?

Our biggest challenge comes from our need for structured and labelled data. For machine learning algorithms to predict outcomes they need to learn from examples. Nearly all of the data we work with starts out as unstructured text. We have developed several methodologies to extract value and develop insights, and the recent advances in GPT models look promising at reducing the labelling burden. I’m excited to see this technology evolve at VISFO!

5. What skills have been the most crucial to you succeeding in your career so far?

Communication is a big one, I love engaging with people! Other than that, I would say having eclectic interests and being resourceful – finding out why things don’t work instead of just looking for another way around. It’s a wonderful feeling when you finally crack it, and you can close those 300 tabs you have open!

6. What education or training would be most useful for someone looking to follow your career path?

A postgraduate degree, especially one with a focus on quantitative analysis – they give you the freedom to think for yourself. Us Data Scientists don’t know everything, we just aim to have enough in our toolkit to decide how to tackle a problem.

7. What advice would you have for someone looking to follow your path?

Work with real-world data – it’s entirely different from example problems so it’s good to get as much experience with it as you can. Working in an industry that has a problem you really want to solve helps too, as it will push you to learn!

Blog author(s)

James Iremonger

Head of Data Science