Butterflies in my belly; my stomach is tied up in knots. I know I’m taking a risk by sharing my story, but I wanted to reach out to others aspiring to be a data scientist. I am writing this with hopes that my story will encourage and motivate you.
I don’t have a PhD. Heck, I don’t have any degree. Still, I am very fortunate to work as a data scientist in a ridiculously good company. Here’s how I did it (with a lot of help).
It was 1995 and I had just gotten my very first computer. It was a 1982 Apple IIe. It didn’t come with any software but it came with a manual. That’s how I learned my very first computer language: Apple BASIC.
My love for programming was born.
In Algebra class, I remember learning about the quadratic equation. I had a cheap graphic calculator then, a Casio, that’s about half the price of a TI-82. It came with a manual too, so I decided to write a program that will solve the quadratic equation for me without much hassle.
My love for solving problems was born.
In my senior year, my parents didn’t know anything about financial aid but I was determined to go to college so I decided to join the Navy so that I could use Montgomery GI Bill to pay for my college. After all, four years of service didn’t seem that long.
My love for adventure was born.
Later in my career in the Navy, I was promoted as the ship’s financial manager. I was in charge of managing multiple budgets. The experience taught me bookkeeping.
My love for numbers was born.
After the Navy, I ended up volunteering for a non-profit. They eventually recruited me to start a domestic violence crisis program from scratch. I had no social work experience but I agreed anyway.
My love for saying “Why not?” was born.
After a few successful years, my boss retired and the new boss fired me. I was devastated. I fell into a deep state of clinical depression and I felt worthless.
I recall crying very loudly at the kitchen table. It had been more than a year since my non-profit job and I was nowhere near close to having a prospect for the next one. I was in a very dark space.
Thankfully, the crying fit was a cathartic experience. It gave me a jolt to do some introspection, stop whining, and come up with a plan.
“Choose a Job You Love, and You Will Never Have To Work a Day in Your Life.” — Anonymous
Falling in Love, All Over Again
To pay the bills, I was working as a freelance web designer/developer but I wasn’t happy. Frankly, the business of doing web design bored me. It was frustrating working with clients who think and act like they’re the expert on design.
So I started thinking, “what’s next?”
Searching the web, I stumbled upon the latest news in artificial intelligence. It led me to machine learning which in turn led me to the subject of data science.
I signed up for Andrew Ng’s machine learning course on Coursera. I listened to TwitML, Linear Digression, and a few other podcasts. I revisited Python and got reacquainted with git on Github.
My love for data science was born.
It was at this time that I made the conscious decision to be a data scientist.
Leap of Faith
Learning something new was fun for me. But still, I had that voice in my head telling me that no matter how much I study and learn, I will never get a job in data science without a degree.
So, I took a hard look in the mirror and acknowledged that I needed help. But I wasn’t sure where to look.
Then one day out of the blue, my girlfriend asked me what data science is. I jumped off my feet and started explaining right away. Once I stopped explaining to catch a breath, I managed to ask her why she asked. And that’s when she told me that she’d seen a sign on a billboard. We went for a drive and I saw the sign for myself. It was a curious billboard with two big words “data science” and a smaller one that says “Codeup.” I went to their website and researched their employment outcomes.
I was sold.
Before the start of the class, we were given a list of materials to go over.
- Data Science Math Skills — Coursera
- Mathematics for Machine Learning: Linear Algebra — Coursera
- Basic Statistics — Coursera
- Python for Data Science — Coursera
- Excel Basics — Udemy
- Learning the Command Line — Codecademy
Given that I had only about two months to prepare, I was not expected to finish the courses. But, I did them anyway. I spent day and night going over the courses and materials, did the tests, and got the certificates! I knew then that I could get into data science without a degree.
Codeup was a blur. We had a saying in the Navy about the bootcamp experience: “the days drag on but the weeks fly by.” This was definitely true for the Codeup bootcamp as well.
We were coding in Python, querying the SQL database, and making dashboards in Tableau. We did projects after projects. We learned about different methodologies like regression, classification, clustering, time-series, anomaly detection, natural language processing, and distributed machine learning.
More important than the specific tools, I learned:
- Real data is messy; deal with it.
- If you can’t communicate with your stakeholders, you’re useless.
- Document your code.
- Read the documentation.
- Always be learning.
Our job hunting process started from day one. We updated our LinkedIn profile and made sure that we were pushing to Github almost every day. I even spruced up my personal website to include the projects we did during class. And of course, we made sure that our resumé was in good shape.
Codeup helped me with all of these.
In addition, Codeup also helped prepare me for both technical and behavioral interviews. The student placement team taught me how to optimize answers to highlight my strengths as a high-potential candidate.
My education continued even after graduation. In between filling out applications, I wrote code every day and tried out different Python libraries. I regularly read the news for the latest developments in machine learning. While doing chores, I would listen to a podcast, a TedTalk, or a LinkedIn learning video. When bored, I listened to or read books about data or professional development.
I’ve had a lot of rejections. The first one was the hardest but after that, it kept getting easier. I developed a thick skin and learned to keep moving.
It took me 3 months after graduating from Codeup to get a job. When I got the job offer, I felt very grateful, relieved, and excited.
I could not have done it without Codeup and my family’s support. It is possible to start a career in data science without a degree!
This blog post was written by Ednalyn C. De Dios for Towards Data Science: A Medium publication sharing concepts, ideas, and codes. An edited version is being shared on Codeup with permission from the author. You can reach them on Twitter or LinkedIn.
If you’d like to learn more about how Codeup can help you launch your career in data science without a degree (or with!), schedule a call with our team today or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!