Maimuna's internship at SamKnows

After Maimuna's university plans fell through due to OfQual's 2020 algorithm, Alex Salter (CEO and Co-founder of SamKnows) reached out to her to offer her a job during the inevitable gap year she had no choice but to take. After the algorithm was scrapped and Maimuna was accepted into Cambridge, she reached back out to SamKnows to ask if she could take up work during term breaks. This is a post written by Maimuna about her experience and the internship she completed at SamKnows.

My name is Maimuna Hassan, a second year reading Engineering at the University of Cambridge. I have recently completed a month-long internship at SamKnows as a data analyst within the Government Team.

My relationship with SamKnows began as far back as August 2020. My education was interrupted by the national lockdowns, which led to the cancellation of exams and as a result my centre-assessed grades from my school were submitted. The Government then announced that those predictions would be moderated using an algorithm that was inherently biased towards private schools. It was based on whether predictions should be changed or remain the same on the specific school’s past performance. I attended a sixth form which cycled through numerous head teachers during my studies there. There was a lot of disruption which contributed to a less than promising grade average across the sixth form and lower school. Despite this, I had held myself to a high academic standard throughout my studies and topped the school with eight 9s during my GCSEs. I was on track to achieving the A*A*A grades that I needed to get into Cambridge or Imperial.

My predicted grades, which I had worked arduously to achieve, would have allowed me to go to either of my chosen universities, but the aforementioned algorithm had downgraded me to an A*AB. This meant that on results day, I had failed to meet the offer from both my chosen universities, and I was left in clearing. I was gutted.

For days, I had to contemplate my next steps whilst still processing what had happened. I was forced into taking a gap year I did not plan, and due to Covid restrictions, I wasn’t able to work, travel or participate in any real activities that could enrich my career.

Frustrated and feeling powerless, I wrote a letter to Boris Johnson explaining how, as one of the many students who had lost a valuable place at university, the algorithm was skewed to benefit students in private education, leaving behind many students of working class and ethnic minority backgrounds to deal with the worst of this embarrassing attempt at standardization. My story was becoming more public, and it was shared across multiple platforms to many, including the CEO of SamKnows, Alex Salter.

Then, my headteacher reached out to me to let me know that Alex had offered me the amazing opportunity to work in his company during my unavoidable gap year. I was ecstatic! It meant I could do something valuable for my career and the paid work experience would also allow me to save for university in the future.

Before I could accept the offer, the Government had abolished the algorithm system due to the amount of pressure from the public, notably the protesting from students and teachers.

I had gotten into university.

I revelled in the news, and I wanted to thank SamKnows for the opportunity to work with them. I also wanted to follow up on it, thus I emailed Alex asking if I could take up some work experience during term breaks, to which he kindly agreed to.

Fast forward to the very end of August, I was introduced to the Government Team, where I would spend my time learning how to use R for data analysis and report making. The staff were incredibly welcoming, and within a week I was introduced to the many teams the company is composed of and had learnt enough R to start working on my own personal project. Under the instruction and guidance of the most senior data analyst, I learned how to use SQL in BigQuery to clean datasets and practiced my newly acquired skills on a large amount of real data.

I had produced two reports which investigated geographical variation of internet performance of a popular ISP company, and if those variations were a result of the specific package plans they offered. These reports were produced using R Markdown which I had also learned during my time at the internship. In my final week, I had the amazing opportunity to present my findings to the entire company. This taught me how to condense information to the most essential details and how to present to a diverse audience. Sharing my work and what I had learned was incredibly rewarding – I only wish the internship was extended!

My time at SamKnows was insightful and gave me a comprehensive understanding of the world of work within the tech industry. By the end of my internship, I learned two new programming languages, made two reports, and produced a presentation. I am confident that the skills learned during my short time there will serve me well in whatever career path I may take, and I am incredibly grateful that SamKnows could play such a big role in it.

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