Haley Tatum’s Journey to Becoming a Data Science Enthusias

LSU student Haley Tatum walked into her first computer science course three years ago and panicked when she saw the professor writing lines of code on the board.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to fail,’ ” she says.

That feeling faded quickly, because as soon as she sat in front of a computer screen in the course’s lab, Tatum realized she was a good fit for the field.

“I guess my mind just worked the way computer programs are written,” she says. “I would just fly through the programs and have a blast doing it. I’d finish the program and debug it and see it run. It’s an amazing feeling when you actually write a program and you see it run and actually do something in front of you.”

Today the LSU junior, who is a double major in computer science and information systems and decision sciences, is employing her love for coding and computers by mentoring younger students and preparing for a career in the rapidly growing field of data analytics.


A LOVE FOR SOLVING PUZZLES


Despite growing up with two parents in the computer science industry, Tatum resisted the field through high school. There were, however, signs of things to come, even though her Slidell high school did not offer computer science courses. “I always liked solving puzzles and I was always good at analytics and math,” she says.

When Tatum remained uncertain about what path to take as college approached, her parents nudged her toward computer science. She decided to give it a try and signed up for the Encounter Engineering (E2) Bridge Camp, which aims to give incoming freshmen a head start on their college experience through a series of seminars and group activities. “That was actually really helpful,” she says. “I was nervous about computer science; I thought I would be terrible at it and programming in general. It was scary, but I got into it and I was really good at it and I loved it.”

ENCOURAGING YOUNGER STUDENTS


Now that she’s on more solid footing as a student and programmer, Tatum has taken steps to help the next wave of computer science students.

She’s working with students on East Ascension High School’s robotics team, which is competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition that gives students from across the world six weeks to build a robot that must perform a series of tasks, such as scoring a ball through a hoop or balancing on a balance beam. Tatum sees it as an opportunity to introduce the students to the career opportunities computer science can offer.

“There are a bunch of high-schoolers who have no idea what they want to do, but they’re into robotics and they like programming and they like the mechanics of it,” she says. “As mentors we can tell them what we do in school and how their experience with robotics can help them in school.”

Tatum and another LSU CSC student are working with the high-schoolers through the Society of Peer Mentors, a student organization that focuses on mentoring and leadership for the College of Engineering.

“It’s cool to become close to these students and mentor them,” she says. “I don’t really mentor them in building the robot — I do a little of that — but it’s mostly life mentoring and what they want to do with their careers in the future.”

In addition to the robotics team, this past year the E2 camp she once attended hired her to help mentor incoming computer science students. It’s an opportunity for her to share her own academic journey and help the students take full advantage of the opportunities they’ll have at LSU.

“I see these freshmen, how nervous they are, and I remember being nervous too,” she says. “It can be very intimidating at first, but once you get into it and you learn the language and you learn the way computer science works, it’s very interesting and fun.”


SPECIALIZING IN DATA SCIENCE


Tatum is also working as a business analyst intern for LSU’s Information Technology Serviceswhile she wraps up her coursework and ponders her career options. As she has taken more classes, Tatum has moved away from software development and gravitated toward data science, a field that has grown rapidly as companies find themselves in the midst of an ongoing information explosion. 
“I think my brain just works that way,” she says. “It’s a thing that’s interesting to me and I love to do it, so I feel like I can do this for the rest of my life.”