Hidden Figures: NASA data scientist discusses computer science


Laura Siahaan explains how programming can be used in data science and analysis. Credit: Saba Nia/Chronicle

Saba Nia

NASA’s Lead Data Scientist for Business Operations Laura Siahaan spoke to Girls Who Code club members and other students about working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and how girls interested in computer science can pursue a career in the field Jan. 29.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to be here and help the students learn more about data science and to see so many eager students in this field,” Siahaan said.

After introducing herself and explaining how she uses computer science to analyze data for JPL’s business and hiring purposes, Siahaan described a few projects in which she utilized her knowledge of statistics and programming.

“It made me realize that institutions like JPL involve so many different fields that are all equally important,” Wong said.

After reviewing Siahaan’s graphs and learning how computer science can intersect with business, students said that the speaker’s presentation opened their eyes to how organizations can use computer science in a variety of ways.

“I found the variety of careers very interesting,” Clara Ross ’19 said. “I never really thought about it before that within organizations such as JPL and NASA there are people using the same scientific and statistic skills to work on administration, not just sending objects into space.”

Students said they appreciated hearing about Siahaan’s experience and felt inspired by the insight she shared with them.

“Speakers give us firsthand experience [in] the field that the club represents,” Jenna Wong ’19 said. “It’s nice to interact with someone of a particular field that I’m interested in and see how my club interests have real-world application and how fluid applications of certain skills can be, such as computer science.”