Mandy Hong is a Data Scientist at Keurig Dr Pepper. Originally from China, she started her journey in the US studying Radio-Television-Film as an undergrad, before pursuing a Master’s in Marketing, at the Univerity of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). She translated her passion for creating documentaries and music videos into content creation and media marketing, before landing a data science role that combines her creative background and quantitative skills.
How did you end up studying film?
I moved to the US in 2017 for UT Austin (UT). Before that, I went to an international school in China where most students would go to a university abroad. I was undeclared when I joined UT, but they have a really good film degree, so I thought, “I like editing videos, I might as well just choose it.” That’s how I decided on film at the time.
Why did you decide to pivot from film to marketing?
After I started the program, I felt like I wasn’t as passionate about film as other students. I didn’t really have a clear goal in the degree. Some people really wanted to be a director or a cinematographer. Ultimately, I realized I didn’t want to have a career in film.
Part of my decision was also driven by my being an international student because it would be hard to get a job in the entertainment industry. I don’t know any international student who has done it successfully. It would be difficult to stay in the US, so I decided to pivot.
Coming from film, how did you gain hands-on experience in marketing?
I decided to try a lot of activities outside of film. I joined a theater club at UT where I did a lot of producing. I was in the choir and I was doing some creative work, but I ended up becoming a producer for some of the projects. I also became a publicity officer for the club, managed their social media, and did copywriting work. This was how I got started with content marketing.
Because of that experience, I got to do some other internships in content and social media marketing including:
- Interning with a music app and doing photography and content marketing.
- Working within video editing with Live Nation C3 Presents, a big company in Austin that runs the ACL festival, Lollapalooza, and a bunch of other festivals in the US.
- Interning at the UTeach Institute at UT and managing social media and web analytics
After graduating from my undergrad, I got an internship at L’Oreal in China, where I did e-commerce analytics.
Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in marketing right after undergrad?
My friend told me that UT has a bridge program where I could apply during my junior year for a Master’s degree from the McCombs School of Business. The program would allow me to finish the summer classes during my junior year and then continue in the fall after I graduated from undergrad.
I picked this program for its more analytical syllabus; there were some classes related to coding. I wanted to explore the analytical side of marketing and become more competitive in the workspace.
What were your goals with this degree?
Previously, I did a lot of internships in social media and content. I was mostly making content or writing copy, but was ready to move toward a new direction.
Marketing is such a big field. From my degree, I learned that there’s a lot you can get into. You can do brand management, you can do pricing, and so much more.
What was most interesting to me was marketing analytics and dealing with data. I decided to get into data science after I finished the IBM data science certification on Coursera. Outside of my program, I made sure to explore extra projects to gain knowledge in the data science field, which really helped me land my current role.
How did you land your current role as a data scientist at Keurig Dr. Pepper (KDP)?
I got my job from a recruiting event at my school. A few companies like IBM, Keurig Dr Pepper, and a fintech startup were interviewing people from the business school. I actually wrote a cover letter to my now-director. He was hiring and said he could host me during the lunch hour on Friday. I got invited to the interview, they invited me for the next round, I did a case study, I interviewed with the VP, and then I got the job.
Was sponsorship important to you?
I didn’t know that KDP sponsored international students. Actually, I had a mentor from the same company and they just told me they don’t sponsor. I had another international friend who gave up on signing up for a slot because he didn’t want to waste his time on a company that didn’t sponsor.
I didn’t have any interviews anyway and I wanted to practice interviewing. Even if they didn’t sponsor, I would still get the experience, which is why I went for it. It turns out they did sponsor on a case-by-case basis.
If there’s a role that you think you are a good fit for, you should try. Unless they explicitly say that they don’t sponsor, I think there’s still a chance, especially if it’s a data-related or technical role.
What made you a great fit?
They were very clear that they wanted to look for a person from the business analytics program, such as a technical person who was interested in marketing, or someone in marketing that was interested in data science. It was a role that had a strong focus in marketing, which was exactly what my program was for.
I was also very interested in consumer packaged goods because I worked for L’Oreal, and L’Oreal was my dream company at the time. Being a data scientist, I felt it would be a really good stepping stone, in case I want to go into tech in the future.
My experiences were also a good fit for the role because I had CPG experience, I had a marketing degree and I was doing a lot of data science projects.
As international students, there are a lot of things that we can bring to companies and we can create a lot of value. You just need to really showcase your unique selling points.
What are some takeaways and advice you have for other international students?
Growing up in China, we have a very different culture; I didn’t have a lot of confidence growing up. It was hard to look for a job and get an interview and offer, especially in the US. I started doubting myself, “I applied to all these jobs. I’m not sure if they rejected me because I needed sponsorship or because I was not good enough.” At first, I thought they just didn’t want to sponsor. The more I applied, the more I started feeling like maybe I wasn’t good enough.
Even for American students, it’s hard to look for a job right now in this job market. It’s a really difficult job market right now, and there’s no need to doubt yourself or your abilities.
As international students, there are a lot of things that we can bring to companies and we can create a lot of value. You just need to really showcase your unique points.
- Be open to opportunities. Initially, I didn’t think that KDP was going to sponsor international students. I took my shot because I wanted to practice more interviewing. I think it’s good to practice interviews a lot. Even if the companies don’t sponsor, you should apply.
- Utilize all the resources that the university gives you. My school has a lot of rich resources and partnerships with companies. That’s how I landed my job.
- Connect with alumni from your school. They are usually happy to help with referrals or other job search advice. It’s good to reach out to international alumni because they have been through the same struggles, and you know that the companies they work will likely sponsor.