I’m struck by Milica Ng’s energy and positivity when we talk. With a number of career moves under her belt, she is living proof that when you follow your passions you will land on your feet – and it’s never too late to find a career that you love.
Milica moved to Australia from the former Yugoslavia to study Computer Systems Engineering at The University of Adelaide. She has navigated a career in Management Consulting, raising two children, building her own successful business, completing a PhD, and joining CSL as an Intern. Seven years later she is Research Head of Data Science.
Finding Your Passion
It took her multiple careers to find her way to CSL, and Milica loves it there. “At the core of CSL is the promise we made to patients 100 years ago – to save lives and protect the health of people.”
Drawn to maths and physics since primary school, Milica got her first computer age 12. She went to a dedicated Electrical and Electronic Engineering high school specialising in computer systems, completed an engineering degree and a Masters in software engineering, mobile and satellite communications.
When she finished studying, Milica moved to Melbourne and took a job in Management Consulting, working for a company implementing SAP systems in global utility companies.
She shares, “It was exciting because it was pioneering work. We had to write a lot of code that was missing because the data base wasn’t very well developed yet.” This innovation is a common thread throughout Milica’s career. “I’m attracted to cutting-edge, exciting work, and solving challenging problems.” Eventually the process became repetitive, implementing the same system across different companies.
Around this time, Milica got pregnant with her first child and left work. “I saw the women before me; once they had kids and could no longer travel they were put in the corner given some toys and kept away from exciting projects.” But also, “When I was younger, I always thought I’d be a stay at home mum,” like her mother and grandmother before her.
Milica got Post-Natal Depression with her second child, saying, “I was trying really hard to be something that I wasn’t. I thought I had everything I ever wanted. I spoke to my father who said I should go back to work, but I thought, ‘I can’t leave my kids!’”
With her constant energy, Milica’s entrepreneurial side got a chance to shine with a multi-level marketing business. In her own words, she’s “geeky and socially awkward,” so learning about sales put her right out of her comfort zone. Never one to sit still, she saw an angle to set up an online sales platform and ran her own retail business for three years. In everything she does, Milica is industry-leading and her retail business was no different. “Back in 2003 there was no online shopping. I was one of the first ones to offer free shipping as an innovative marketing concept, which customers loved.”
Eventually Milica returned to her original passion. She commenced a PhD in Bioinformatics in Metabolic Engineering and “loved every minute of it.” An Internship as a Bioinformatician then came up at CSL, and her success there is testament to her passion for data, engineering and innovation.
Making Brave Decisions
Milica joked that at the end of her PhD, “I realised I’m probably completely unemployable. During my PhD people were questioning whether there would even be work for bioinformaticians.”
“I’ve been through so many different things, I was a bit worried that people who looked at my CV would think, ‘make up your mind.’ But now I have the ability to look at things from many different angles, which is so important.”
Now she says a non-linear resume gives you a different perspective.
“These days you work in multidisciplinary teams. You have to be able to work with and communicate complex concepts to people from many different backgrounds. You work with clinicians, academics, IT, business development, product development, enterprise people. The higher up you are, the larger the spectrum of people you need to be able to communicate with.”
Her nonlinear decision-making has been brave and adventurous; “I really want to have fun. Whatever I’m doing I want to wake up in the morning and be excited. I’m lucky to have skills that mean I can choose what I want to do.”
You never know where that brave step may lead you, and Milica’s advice is;
- Take risks: “Take risks, but you can’t always pursue everything that comes your way at the same time.”
- Experiment: “Try different roles. Through those you get to find out who you are.”
- Do your best: “It’s normal to doubt yourself, but once you decided to take an opportunity just focus and do
The one time that it works makes it all worth it.
Intern to Head of Data Science in Record Time
Milica came to CSL to intern on an RNA sequencing project. She excitedly shared, “Biology has been completely transformed by the amount of data we now have and has become a computational science. By extension, so has biomedical research.”
Charged with creating a brand new software pipeline for RNA sequencing data, her strong entrepreneurial spirit meant she found opportunities to improve computational and quantitative tasks typically done manually in life science. One thing led to another and Milica’s role was made permanent. She credits her entrepreneurial nature, plus “I was in the right place at the right time.”
She has spent the past seven years, “Transferring early academic research methods into robust pharma methods and approaches. After initially employing additional bioinformaticians, now there are biostatisticians at every site and, with images taking over from genomes as the dominant and fastest life science data type, image analytics experts. Scientific big data management is the next frontier enabling Artificial Intelligence applications.”
Getting into a Data Career
For someone looking at a career in data, Milica encourages, “The demand for data savvy talent is not unique to CSL, it’s happening right across the board.” Her tips are:
- Get experience: “Seek internship opportunities. Get as much broad, real-life experience as you can.”
- Go broad: “When you first start you don’t know what you’re going to enjoy.”
- Network: “Talk to people about the jobs you think you might be interested in. People are very open to talk to young talented people.”
- Go big: “Don’t be afraid to work for a large corporate. There is a lot of opportunity and they encourage intrapreneurial efforts”
Personally, Milica shared, “I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of CSL as an employer, but I was really impressed by the culture. Particularly in research, I like to work on difficult problems with smart people, and there are some really smart people in CSL Research!”
“Seven years is the longest I’ve ever done anything in my life, because for me it’s the perfect mix of the things that matter to me. It took a while!”
At CSL, “We really live the values,” and there is no time for noise with people working extremely hard and pulling together for a common goal – Care for Patients.