Dream Careers in Data Science
Kaitlyn and Jeff Preston

If there ever was a pure embodiment of the term “determined doers,” Kaitlyn and Jeff Preston would be it. Kaitlyn (B.S. Statistics and Mathematical Sciences, ’16) is currently a lead process management analyst at NASA, but just a handful of years ago, she was working at Town Pump in her hometown of Butte, on a forced break after failing two semesters in a row in Montana Tech’s computer science program. Her GPA was so low the University made her take time off before trying again.

“I knew I had to go to college, but obviously, I failed two semesters in a row, and it wasn’t until that forced break when I was working at Town Pump that I realized, ‘I need a degree. I can’t do this all my life,’” Kaitlyn said.

Jeff and Kaitlyn Preston

Kaitlyn decided to switch gears and return to a subject she had been good at during her time at Butte High. “I realized I’m really good at math, and I feel like my first few math professors took me under their wing,” Kaitlyn said.

Jeff Preston

She changed her degree path, and once she gained traction, there was no stopping her. Kaitlyn was on the way to a fabulous career conducting performance analytics for NASA.

“In this new role, a lot of what I do is streamline processes through Power BI, and Python,” Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn and Jeff Preston

But the best part of Kaitlyn’s life isn’t her job. It’s her family, which also has an origin story at Montana Tech. While pursuing her degree, Kaitlyn met Jeff (Statistics and Mathematical Sciences, ’17), who grew up in Butte. The two soon fell in love and married. The pair moved to Washington, D.C. to work, but that wasn't their end goal. They created a vision board where they dreamed Kaitlyn could work from home, and Jeff could work for Disney. Both visions came true.

Jeff now works as a data scientist for Disney. The family lives in Orlando, Florida to accommodate that work. “I’ve been at Disney a little over a year working as a data scientist,” Jeff said. “We need data scientists for everything, but I specifically support the revenue, planning, and optimization organization. We work with partners across various domains including pricing, food and beverage, ticketing, etc.”

Jeff went on to get two master’s degrees in applied math and statistics after graduating from Montana Tech. Although the two are highly qualified for their jobs,they still sometimes pinch themselves to make sure it’s all real.

“We still can’t believe where we are,” Jeff said.

“Tech gave us the opportunity in a small town,” Kaitlyn said. “All of it set us up for success. It’s like the butterfly effect. It’s just wild.”

“We’ve had a lot of adventures, and we say it all the time, ‘We’re so glad we both went to Tech.’ We give credit for a lot of our success to the faculty, but I think meeting each other helped us to succeed in the program,” Kaitlyn said.

The pair has advice for prospective data science and math students.

“I would tell them, get to know your faculty,” Kaitlyn said. “That’s super important.”

During his time at Tech, Jeff was able to perform research with two faculty members and completed several standalone projects that boosted his skills and helped create a portfolio of work to show employers.

“Data science and data analytics are hands-on,” Jeff said. “You can’t just learn it and do it. You have to learn while you do it. Do as many outside projects as possible. If you have the passion, try to find a pet project. If you don’t have a project in mind, I’m sure the faculty will have ideas.”

Internships are also important, as is learning new tools and software that are always changing and being updated. Jeff mentions one of the best ways to keep up with the industry is to listen to podcasts. They give you a realistic view and are regularly discussing the latest research and trends. He says his personal favorite is the Super Data Science podcast.

“Utilize the tools Tech has to keep as up to date as possible,” Jeff said. “You have to find ways to stay relevant.”

The pair have a young daughter, and just started an educational savings account for her. They say she’s good at math and hope that she follows in their footsteps.

“I hope she does go to Tech,” Kaitlyn said. “The education you get from Montana Tech is unbeatable for setting you up for success.”