Growing up in the Basque city of Bilbao, on the Atlantic coast of northern Spain, Iñaki Longa wasn’t envisioning a career in the technology and information management industry.
He attended the University of Geneva in Switzerland to study translation and interpretation, but ended up earning his bachelor’s degree in economics in 2009. And even after graduation, Iñaki took extra time soul-searching for a career that met his interests in learning and spoke to his skills.
Then in 2013, an application to the U.S. Department of State’s Diversity Visa Program (commonly known to applicants as the Green Card Lottery) changed Iñaki’s fate. “I was very lucky: I won a coveted Green Card upon my first attempt!” he enthuses.
Soon he was on his way to the San Francisco Bay Area—and kicking off his data analytics career at Google Maps. Let’s retrace the path that Iñaki traveled to get to where he is today, and look at how he continues to build skills for his future.
After you graduated with a bachelor’s degree, you interned in the Business Management Department of the Latin American Wealth Management Division of UBS. On your LinkedIn page, it looks like you performed high-level data analysis for the division to help senior management improve outcomes. This sounds like a high-level introduction to data science. Was it?
After graduation, in Switzerland it is somewhat common to do an internship both to acquire some relevant work experience as well as to better discern what path—whether in academia or elsewhere—to follow and what the focus should be. At the time, I thought that finance could potentially be a match for me. I learned a lot during this internship, but the rigidity of a big bank did not suit me so I did not pursue that route.
However, it was still a corporate job that required some data analysis and data manipulation, and it provided a high-level view of analytics.
During the next few years, you took time to think about the future you wanted to have, exploring Cologne, Germany, and some time in Paris before coming to the United States. Was a shift in your career focus on your mind when you applied?
After the internship, I took a gap year to live in Cologne, where I studied German full time and worked as a waiter. I only have great things to say about Cologne. It’s a fantastic city that will forever remain in my heart.
The reason I chose San Francisco is funny: I had previously visited the city a few years back during a lovely, warm September. From that trip, I remembered San Francisco as offering the quintessential, warm California lifestyle—which is a lot more realistic for SoCal. I wanted more of that balmy lifestyle! Then when I arrived a couple of years later during a frosty, foggy August, I was in a state of shock. I’m very glad the at-times inhospitable San Francisco weather did not deter me, and I stayed in the Bay Area.
After arriving in 2013 you found contract work as a country specialist/geo data analyst with a market focus on Spain at Google Maps.
My initial plan was to resume higher education soon after my arrival in the U.S., but instead I worked full time.
When I landed the contract job at Google, I couldn’t believe it myself. At the time, this felt nothing short of a miracle. This was my first job in the tech industry—I am immensely grateful for all the doors it opened.
It was a global cross-functional collaboration with product management, engineering and operations to lead continuous improvement and enhancement of the quality of Google Maps. I produced new, simplified data-editing policies for operations; led quality-assurance audits on existing data and proposed editions and amendments; solved a high volume of geo data inquiries and bugs that engineering and operations teams had difficulties comprehending; and created training materials and mentored new hires in data editing and product policies.
However, this contract had a time limit, so I only stayed at that position for a little more than a year before I found an opportunity within Apple.
In 2015 you began as a country lead/data analyst on the evaluation team for Apple Maps, again focusing on Spain, Mexico and other Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets. What about this role made you decide now was the time to pursue continuing education?
This first role at Apple was somewhat of a transition for me in that it started as a non-technical role but progressively developed into projects that had potential to be enhanced by technical skills—in particular, coding. I analyzed metrics to provide data of the product's strengths and weaknesses to engineering teams to lead resource-allocation decisions, produced training materials on geo data analysis and conducted several workshops to train teams, and signed off on code releases based on summary statistics, among other projects.
It quickly became apparent to me that if I wanted to advance my career, I’d have to invest time and effort into learning new skills that are valuable in the tech industry. I found myself limited in what I could do and I wanted to reach higher. This was the turning point as I became highly motivated to invest in my continuing education.
What drove your decision to begin our Certificate Program in Software Development and Programming?
The good reputation of UC Berkeley was a main factor. I liked the structure of the certificates, and many of the classes in the programs have interesting content. The downtown San Francisco location was great for me to reach by Muni.
By 2018, you moved to the position of operations analyst at Apple Maps, which you hold today. As this role includes business intelligence alongside management and analysis of high-level operations data, did this career move influence your return to us to pursue the Certificate Program in Data Science in 2019?
Only indirectly. The main reasons I pursued the second technology certificate were because I wanted to have more exposure to machine learning and take my newly learned coding skills to the next level.
At this stage, my role at Apple is already benefiting from my new skills. It is a very rewarding virtuous circle: The better my coding skills have become, the more interesting the projects that I can work on have become, which, in turn, motivates me to keep learning even further.
Looking back on each of those programs, which courses and instructors made the biggest impact or influence on your career goals?
All the Python-related classes I completed—Introduction to Computers and Programming, Programming Python, Mastering Python, Python for Data Analysis and Scientific Computing—had a big impact. I started the certificates knowing essentially no Python at all. After taking these classes, my Python proficiency is now impressive.
Also, the SQL classes I took—particularly Introduction to SQL, Data Mining Using SQL—taught by Michael Kremer were incredibly good. In a relatively short amount of time, I became very competent with SQL thanks to these classes. They were very well-structured, and the exercises were challenging but fun. I highly recommend them.
Before COVID, I took some of the classes self-paced online; the Canvas platform always worked great. When COVID hit and all classes moved online, I took four Live Online classes.
Python looks to become the preferred programming language for AI and machine learning. What lessons learned do you refer back to in your daily work?
I frequently use my aggregated notes for SQL and Python; a lot of the content comes from the classes I took. I make a deliberate effort to keep notes and summaries and write documentation. When I write code, having easy access to past notes is invaluable.
I am extremely lucky in that both Apple and my team have always encouraged growing my skills and advancing my career, and have supported those goals through an educational assistance program, as well as through projects where I could put my newly learned skills to use.
“I started the certificates knowing essentially no Python at all. After taking these classes, my Python proficiency is now impressive.”
Beyond your work, how has what you learned helped you on a personal or professional level?
In 2022, I started the Online Master of Science in Analytics at Georgia Tech. I would not have been able to get admitted to this master’s degree program had I not completed the two certificates. They were fantastic preparation for this rigorous degree at a reputable school. I got letters of recommendation from my UC Berkeley Extension instructors to attach to the application, which helped me get into Georgia Tech.