• Joe Wilkinson

Why did I decide to learn data science?

In the last couple of months, I started Flatiron School's Data Science online boot camp. It wasn't one big reason why but the culmination of a lot of little things.

For the past three years, I've been working on a startup nonprofit, Code the Block. I co-founded Code the Block because I saw a problem in my community and I felt obligated to try to be a part of the solution. It's been rewarding, challenging, and, for sure, stress-inducing. I've met a lot of incredible people. I am beyond excited about how far we have come. Even more excited about what the future holds but teaching was never my passion.

I love mentoring, but teaching is a different beast. For me, on the best of days, it's exhausting. On the worst days, it's frustrating. It's demoralizing. It's humbling. Usually, to the point that I don't recognize myself. I am in constant admiration of the people choose to do it every day for a living. These people are the most impressive people I know.

Code the Block has grown to the point where we are better served by hiring a real educator. We haven't figured out when this will happen or if it even needs to be a full-time position. This revelation has led me to start thinking about what I want to do next.

I'm ready to get back to building things. I've always loved the process of creating something where before there was nothing. That's what has always drawn me toward entrepreneurship. It's what has kept me excited and pursuing programming. So, I started searching for learning resources.

There were certain things I was using to filter out programs that wouldn't be a good fit for me. I wanted to find a program that went deep into the material. I wanted to finish and feel confident I knew what I just learned. I wanted a program that had accountability baked in. Most importantly, I wanted a clear path to success.

Those were good filters to start with, but I still needed to figure out what area I wanted to study. For Code the Block, I've had to learn the basics of a lot different programming languages. It's been interesting to see the differences but has kept me from mastering any. Moreover, it kept me from diving into any complex topics. Additionally, I've done a lot of frontend web development. I worked as a frontend developer for a web development company, Code Koalas. So, I wanted something that was different from what I had focused on before.

There seemed to be three general routes I could go. First, buy low-cost Udemy courses. They are low cost, high content quantity. They are usually pretty good walkthroughs of development topics. The problem I have always had with Udemy courses is that a lot of them aren't built for you to learn and retain the information. It varies depending on the course and instructor. It's always been easy for me to see and understand what's happening on the screen, but difficult for me to implement. So, I checked that option off the list.

The Second route, taking one of the MOOC's. There are a lot of good options, Udacity, edX, and Coursera that come to mind. The course can be stale, but the content is excellent. Since they are university courses, there is some validity guaranteed. They also offer pathways. They order their courses to give students a strong and deep understanding in one field. The certified pathways aren't cheap. That said, they are far from the same price as going to the university itself. I felt like this could be a good option.

The third route was a coding boot camp. I've kept my eye on these for a long time for research for Code the Block. There are plenty of benefits. A deep understanding of a topic in a relatively short period. A community of new learners supported by instructors. Providing relationships to potential employers. An industry-aligned curriculum that is always kept up to date. The boot camps are expensive both in cash and time.

It came down to picking between a MOOC pathway or a boot camp. I found a couple of MOOC pathways that were interesting. With that said, their delivery format has never been the most effective for me as a learner. Then I looked at boot camps. There were online ones and in-person ones. The online ones tended to teach web development as a large portion of their curriculum. Most in-person ones did too. Some taught interesting tech suites that would push my backend knowledge further. The problem became that none of them were in Kansas City.

Then I saw the Flatiron School was launching an online Data Science boot camp. It checked off all the boxes for me. Flatiron School had always been one of the most impressive coding schools to me. They had great reviews. The curriculum went deep into the subjects they covered. They have seen a lot of growth as a company, so the academic and career support was strong. By choosing the online program, the price was much more manageable.

Not only was the program structure what I was looking for, but I've also always been very interested in exploring the subject. Big data and artificial intelligence have piqued my interest for a while. I just haven't made the time to delve into it. I'm eager to learn a skill set that has the potential to make a significant difference. The future of automation, deep learning, and artificial intelligence have always been intriguing to me. I'm excited to be an active part of that movement.

I know the journey isn't going to be easy. I was never a strong statistics student. Statistics is a necessary and significant part of data science. However, the courses that I struggled with as a student were always the ones where the theory was taught without the context. If I couldn't draw a straight line from an idea to a real-world application, it was hard. I had trouble internalizing the information. Having done Flatiron School's prep-course, I can already see that they do a great job of solving this problem. I'm also confident that a few more years of maturing will lead to me being a better and more committed student.

Self-paced courses come with their inherent struggles. For me, keeping a regular schedule is difficult. Not having class or external deadlines makes everything more fluid. So the onus is now 100% on me. I have to hold myself accountable, or it will be easy to fall behind schedule.

Historically, I've jumped from interest to interest. Each time I start with a ton of motivation. When I reach a foundational understanding, I come across something else that arouses my curiosity. Sparking me to dive into a new topic. Emilie Wapnick does a great job of describing it in her TED talk in which she calls it "multipotentialite." So, there's an element of fighting against this urge that will be difficult.

While doing the online self-paced version is less expensive than other alternatives, it's still a considerable sum of money. Spending this much on a course will add motivation to get the most out of the course. Even more, motivation to get through it fast and into a higher paying job.

Even with these challenges, I'm thrilled to be on this journey. I'm looking forward to seeing where this ends up taking me. It's a skill set that is very versatile and valuable in a wide range of fields. So, I am enjoying learning with an open horizon ahead.

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