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Computer science student faces doubts head on to win national government programming competition

Posted by Becca Rawcliffe on December 3, 2020 in Awards, Alumni & Friends, Students, Big Data & Machine Learning, Graduate
Tahajjat Begum’s challenge was to use publicly available data sources to generate timely estimates of nominal Canadian GDP. (Provided photo)
Tahajjat Begum’s challenge was to use publicly available data sources to generate timely estimates of nominal Canadian GDP. (Provided photo)

Without the support of her supervisors, Master of Electronic Commerce student Tahajjat Begum feels that she would not have had the confidence to achieve everything she has during her time at Dalhousie, including winning a national programming competition.

She was recently surprised when she was announced as the 2019/20 winner of the Statistics Canada Business Data Scientist Challenge.

“I have this imposter syndrome. Sometimes, I feel I’m not worth it or maybe my skills aren’t good enough,” Tahajjat says. “I told my supervisor I’m scared of failing or maybe I’m not good enough, but he said, if you don’t participate, you won’t understand.”

Making real predictions

The annual Statistics Canada Business Data Scientist Challenge invites graduate students and senior undergraduate students in economics, data science, computer science, mathematics and statistics to apply data analytics or analysis techniques to increase the Government’s understanding of data trends and opportunities.

Tahajjat’s challenge was to use publicly available data sources to generate timely estimates of nominal Canadian GDP. 

“Any business sector from agriculture to IT or fisheries has data available,” explains Tahajjat. “I developed this dashboard using R shiny where you can select a business sector and the dashboard will update using predictive analytics. This is based on real Canadian GDP data, so this is a real prediction. This is how GDP might actually fluctuate over the next 10 years in Canada.”

Tahajjat will present her winning dashboard to Statistics Canada virtually later this month.

Combining business and technology

Coming from a business background, Tahajjat initially struggled to break into the technology sector. She was thrilled when she was accepted into the Master of Electronic Commerce (now the Master of Digital Innovation) program where she has had the opportunity to combine business and technology.  

Since wrapping up her program a few months ago, Tahajjat has been working as a data scientist for an IT consultancy firm in Halifax.

“People might think people from a business background might not be good in IT but I found that I love IT more than business,” Tahajjat says. “Coming to Dalhousie was the best opportunity for me and the best decision I have taken because I wanted to go into IT and they opened this for me. Now if I want to do a PhD or other computing degree I could.” 

A network of support

One of the highlights of her time at Dalhousie, was meeting the faculty members who she credits with encouraging her to enter the Statistics Canada competition. In particular Drs. Israat Haque and Colin Conrad.    

“Israat is who I always went to for advice. I used to study for hours in her lab and I really got help from the people in her lab when I was doing the contest. It’s a great place for students like me who need inspiration and motivation because she is so supportive,” Tahajjat says.

“I learned a lot and the one thing that I really appreciate about faculty in Computer Science is they always encourage students to take part in programming competitions

Now, she’s encouraging other students to take part in competitions outside of the classroom to develop their skills and experiences.

“My focus was to learn R programming, R shiny and I needed a motivation or pressure. That’s what happened. I wanted to learn this. I had no intention of winning it. I started out thinking I wasn’t good enough. If people participate in competitions, it will help their resume they will be able to showcase their skills and you don’t know, maybe you will win it. That’s what happened to me.”