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11 Tips for You from My Data Science Journey

Tips to help make your move into data science more successful.

John DeJesus
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

I did it! After about 2.5 years I earned a career change into the data science field. If you are planning to change your career to data science and are worried that it will take you this long don’t be. I was not perfect and may have a different life situation than you. But I will share with you some of the things I wish I did (or did sooner) to help you succeed in less time.

To set the stage on my circumstances:

a) I am a husband and father to a toddler.

b) I have a master’s in mathematics and had almost no coding experience when I started.

c) I was a high school math teacher with an hour driving commute to work.

With that out of the way, let’s get through those tips!

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Remember as a data scientist, you are a problem solver. As you develop an analytical mindset, start to apply it to problems in your domain. This can mean doing your own side projects. Even better, you can find a problem in your current profession that you can solve with data science. I did that at my school to influence the decision to hire additional support for students. Maybe in your company, an opening can be created if you can frequently show how beneficial you are using data science to solve company problems.

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So you have taken a few courses to build-up foundation skills. This is good, but do not get stuck in what is known as “tutorial purgatory”. This is when you just take course after course and that’s it. Apply your skills immediately! The data that courses use is for teaching purposes, but will not always prepare you for real messy data. Experiment with one or two new skills to get the feel for using them for an unknown situation. Speaking of experimenting…

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Play with what you learned. Try out that new function. Get some new data to use a new visualization. Visualize data you never thought you would be exposed to. Turn your workflow into a reusable script. Write a report on your analysis. Try to set up a basic web app. Doing all of these will help direct you toward what you really enjoy about data science.

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You will need a way to show what you are capable of. Find a platform to do that. I have done blogging on a personal website made with Squarespace, blogging here on Medium (of course), made Youtube videos, and shared visualizations and what I was doing on Twitter and Linkedin. Whichever you decide, stick with one and try to do at least one of the above once a month. Doing this actually got the attention of a publishing company that asked me to do an online course on Tensorflow.

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There is a saying that says “Jack of all trades, but master of none”. If your time is limited to an hour a day like mine was, you can’t master Python, R, SQL, statistics, machine learning, data visualization, AI, and the ability to effectively communicate any of the above. You can pick which skills you want to focus on based on what you enjoy using, and/or based on the projects you did. For me, I stuck with Python since it had the flexibility to access any part of data science and allowed me to build web apps. My focus on what tools to use was based on the projects I was doing related to education since that was my domain.

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I was starting to fully get rid of my dad gut when I started this journey. But when I got so sucked into the data science world I started to negate my interests and my health in terms of exercise. I realized that partway through and had to regain all the health progress I lost. I also fell behind a bit in my martial arts practice. Even if it is only doing a small bodyweight routine for 5 to 10 mins a day, do something to keep your body moving. Although we are beings capable of great thought, we were originally designed to move

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Regardless of where you are in your journey, get your LinkedIn profile cleaned up. There are ways you can modify that profile to get the attention of others and lead to potential employers. My profile got a Facebook recruiter to contact me for a position with a starting salary of over $130,000. Some quick modifications based on what I have learned are:

a) Include words such as “Data Scientist” and “Machine Learning” in the space where you would put your position.

b) If you have done data science related work or projects, add them to your profile emphasizing how someone benefited from your work.

Here is my LinkedIn profile to give you some ideas about the above.

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Or at least a second opinion on your work and progress. You will need someone to help you fine-tune your skills. Having a mentor of course is great for that. Given my situation, I could not afford to give up my job to go full time to a boot camp. That is why I went with Sharpestminds. They set you up with a mentor from the field regardless of where you are, flexible with time, have a ton of hiring support, and won’t charge you anything until you are hired.

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Things are of course are a lot easier for you with the right support system. For me, that was my wife. She gave me the time to study, work on projects, and apply for positions for an hour a day. I could have taken more but I tried not to unless it was absolutely necessary. But it did have negative impacts in the way of me sacrificing quality time with her. Compounding that with the complaints I had at times for taking so long to switch careers I at one point pushed her too far. It took a while for my wife to forgive me and put everything else on pause. Remember to balance your life while pursuing your new career. It affects others more than you think.

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I mentioned this before but I am emphasizing this particularly because of the importance of written communication. So far I have needed my writing skills to communicate requests for a project proposal, create a tutorial for using/interpreting a dashboard for users that was released last week, for daily communication on tasks with coworkers, and draft emails for clarification for ad hoc requests. Blogging helps with building these skills. If you need more influence on why you should write a blog, read this article here by David Robinson that was shared with me to influence this decision.

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If you want to do 2+ of the ideas I mentioned before, try to do projects that accomplish multiple things. For example, when I had to do point biserial correlation for a project, I had to learn about it and then apply it. To fortify my understanding of it, I wrote a blog post on it.

So this one project allowed me to solve my problem at work with data science and resulted in a blog post to increase my exposer to the public. This could be taken a step further by doing a walkthrough of the code in a youtube video.

I am actually completing two tasks at once by writing this blog post. I am going to be doing a private webinar with SharpestMinds mentees to share my experience leading up to getting a data science position. With this blog post, I have summarized the tips I will share and created a blog post that will help both you and them. And who says you can’t multitask.

This is not an exhaustive list. If you are interested in more of the tips I mentioned I would be more than happy to chat with you. I don’t use Linkedin as much anymore. Send me a direct message on Twitter mentioning that you found me through this blog post and we can set up a time.

Thank you again for reading! If you are a data scientist reading this please add any advice that I missed down in the comments below.

Until next time,

John DeJesus