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Data Science - The journey that started with baby steps

This article is part 2 of the series 'How can you become a Data Scientist in 2021?' It talks about what real-life experiences of a Data enthusiast becoming a Data Science professional look like . It focuses on the wide range of obstacles one faces learning the skills (especially online) and finally, it gives some possible ways to overcome them.

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Most of the students who join Data Science courses at Code Academy Berlin have attended more or less 5 Udemy / Coursera / Udacity courses on average. No doubt, online classes are pretty good in terms of quality & standards, but they are found to be effective for a small proportion of the students for some reasons. Before we get deep inside, let me tell you a story about when I was a teenager.

I used to compare how I performed in exams compared to the top students of the class (disclaimer - I never came as a topper in most of the classes). It was not what I wanted to think, but the surroundings were like that and I think almost all of us faced this thing at some point in our lives- be it at school or universities. At some point, when I started putting so much effort into studies & exams and still could not get the first position in the class, I understood it's impossible for me. And, it was. I rephrased my incapability to my parents - ‘So many failed students did so many great things…Look at Rockefeller, Bill Gates,....they never finished college and still achieved so much…..’ (pause). My parents looked at me with huge disappointment and you can imagine the rest. Sadly, my dad was the principal of the school where I studied.

A few years passed, I just stopped comparing myself to anyone in the class. Rather, I started to focus on myself: what I want, why I want it, and how to get there. I made a routine and tried to stick to it. My first week routine of the month matched 90% with the schedule, the second week 80%, and the last week of the month 40%. I felt disappointed. I stopped following any routines. Fair enough: no pressure, no deadlines and I am good like before. It happened a few more times before I stopped the routine thing completely. However, I did not give up the exploration.

There was a birthday celebration of my friend’s elder brother who was turning 18th. His dad was a professor at a renowned college in my village, so it was kind of a huge celebration. There, I met a person who used to teach kids at a primary school. Somehow, we talked a lot, and eventually, I started telling him all my concerns about following a routine. He pointed out that I do not lack intelligence ( I felt very good, of course). I asked - ‘then what? ‘. ‘Motivation’ - he replied. I said I knew it. But, I do not know how to stay motivated. He asked - ‘What do you want to be? ‘. I said, how can I tell you, it is so weird. I faced this question a lot more when I was a kid and I used to choose randomly, sometimes I said teacher, sometimes doctor, though, I wanted to be a bus driver in my heart. I did not like him and decided to stop discussing with him.

In the back of my mind, I kept telling myself - how did he know about it in the first place? Maybe he guessed randomly? I was curious and searched for some books online on this topic: the majority of the books talked about the same problem as it is so common. I felt glad this is so common and of course, it was so easy to tell someone you have this issue.

Later in my life, I faced this issue quite a lot even in universities or jobs. But, it was never easy to stay motivated and I needed purposes for that. I needed to see a clear goal and determination. A clear goal was very hypothetical for me as I could not have this vision most of the time I wanted to have. But determination, yes. I could choose to. Also, at some point, I learned that stubbornness and determination are far different but can be confused with each other pretty easily. Let me come to the topic now.

I did many online Data Science courses using many platforms. I found all of them very informative, contentful. I started with the course ‘Machine Learning’ offered by Stanford University in Coursera and I found Andrew Ng as the perfect guru to learn from. I was so involved that I got a grade of 100.

That was not difficult as you can try multiple times. I was happy and put it on my CV thinking it would change my profile a lot. I found these online classes so interesting that I finished tons of them in a span of 2 months. The more I finished, the more ads started coming on my email: a new course has been launched and it is a perfect fit for your profile. No doubt, their AI system is pretty smart. Very soon, I realized a few friends of mine had the same perfect grade in most of the courses I did. Not a good sign.

The next step for me was to apply for positions that matched my new skill sets. Some recruiters questioned my immaturity as I put links of 10 courses on my CV and the HR person felt that I did not have any work experience at a first glance. Just to let you know I was working full-time for an IT company. Again, not a nice impression, and I learned that it is not so fascinating to put all the courses I did on my resume- too overwhelming for recruiting companies. More than 6 months passed. I got a few calls and got rejected most of the time. I learned a lot of stuff but without any concrete results, I could not see a clear picture of what I want and why I am doing it. My motivation level dropped.

As one can observe, it was not only tough but also a roller coaster journey before I really knew what to do.

I felt a few things:

  • I liked the videos from Andrew Ng ( the Stanford professor in the first Machine Learning course I tried) as it motivated me to learn the subjects, but when I am stuck at some point, I can not ask the expert immediately as I have to email and book a meeting and do so many things before getting an answer to my question. Some of you might wonder what is the big deal in it. But, what if I get stuck very often and I felt ashamed to ask anything as it might even be a stupid question.
  • I lack a structure for myself. The courses are super structured, probably contain everything I need but I require some guidance who can tell me what I could have done to improve myself daily. Getting a good score in the exams is just the first step.
  • I need to measure my skill levels and I would like to see a better me next time to make me feel that I am progressing in the right direction.

Most of my feelings made me conclude that I need to attend a program on-site where I can get my questions answered spontaneously and I do not have to go through a lot of barriers before reaching the expert. Also, I can have an expert around me whom I can consider a role model (It might not be true for many though). I do not only learn the subjects, but understand the way he/she explains stuff, and last but not least, ask a lot of questions.

I did not waste a lot of time and started an on-site program with a structured road-map. I knew the subjects more or less which helped me to finish the program smoothly. I was a bit lucky to get a good mentor, however, it might not be the case always, so choosing a program is also important. I would suggest checking the background of your mentor, the contents of the program are very crucial before one makes the final decision.

Coming to the beginning of the discussion why a small proportion of the students benefit from online courses:

  • I think one major reason is Determination. It is not at all easy to stick to something when you do not see the results.
  • As you might have guessed, Motivation. A common problem. If you do not see the clear goal, you would not feel motivated. Only an expert can help you have a clear vision as this can vary based on your personal interests.
  • Most of the time, we are not very serious about some online courses as we have enough freedom and this freedom can be used in both ways.

I would conclude the discussion here, next we would learn a bit about the Data Science tools in demand for 2021 before having the roadmap for the course. For any suggestions, please write to us. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

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