Starting Out Data Science: Never Coded

Alright, this article is for anyone who is just started out in coding and needs just a little guidance on what to do. Below are things that I did from starting from no coding experience to becoming a full fledged VP, data scientist at a Fortune 30 company.

Finding Motivation

When starting any new big project, hobby, or whatever, you need to start from your WHY. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, your work in that chosen project won’t last. Think about it. Have you ever did anything long term without having a deep underlying reason why? Probably not.

The beautiful part is your why can be any reason that motivates you. In my case, I reverse engineer my goals or big projects. Basically, I pick something I want to do that’s going to take a while and plan from the end goal going backwards to what I think I’ll need to do to get it done. You don’t have to get it all right at this phase. You just have to get it down and review it daily. On more on how to reverse engineer goals, I got the idea from the book 6 Months to 6 Figures [1]. Since you’re reading this article about coding, you probably should set it for getting X (data scientist, web developer…) job, making Y ($80k, $150k…) money, etc.

Enter the Struggle

I’m not gonna lie. Coding is hard. After you learn the fundamentals of coding any language, programming in the real world is a mix of art and science. You have the elements of coding, but they are so amorphous. What I mean is there are many ways to automate a predictive analytic model, and it’s up to you the developer to make it how you want it. Also there’s the process of coding itself. Your code never comes out perfect 100% of the time. You have to debug, client demands change, you find something better, etc. The frustration and struggle in coding is always there, but accomplishing the task is very rewarding. For getting through the struggles on the road to success, I highly recommend the book Principles by Ray Dalio [2]. Dailo explains that learning a new skill or gaining expertise is like a feedback loop. You try something, get a response from the environment, you adjust your actions, and you try again. Rinse and repeat to excellence.

Forming the Habit

We all heard from somewhere that forming a habit takes roughly 21 days give or take a few days. This is one of the most critical points in your ability to success on coding. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell gives examples of large scale events not occurring until they hit a critical mass level [3]. In your case for coding, it’s lasting until the 21 days. Besides looking at your goals daily to push you through, alter your coding environment too. For example, I love Cheetos, but I know they aren’t too healthy for me. So, I simply don’t have them in my house. And silly as it sounds, it works even when I have a grocery store across the street from my house. Same thing for coding. Put your laptop in a good spot, with a nice cup of coffee, and your best fuzzy slippers.

Compounding Skill

Here’s the final kicker in case all that stuff above didn’t do it for you. From the book The Talent Code [4], top performers are built and not born. Let me save you 3 hours of reading and give you the main point from that book. Work on coding for AT LEAST 20 MINUTES A DAY. For some reason, our brains are wired to become really good at something, when it is continuously worked on. A similar example from the book was they had students practice an instrument for 20 minutes a day in a year, and another group who did the same minutes total minutes but in half a year. The students who practiced consistently for one year out performed the students who practiced for six months. I mean think about that. Daily practice over time beats concentrated practice even if the same amount of time studied was done.

Conclusion

In developing high skill in coding for the long run, first begin with the end in mind. Why do you want to code? Remind yourself every day of that why. Write it down as a goal and all the steps you need to get there. Basically, you have to remind yourself everyday why you want it. Goals summon that energy that you need to get you over that hurdle of failure. Next, face the struggle of coding with a grain of salt. This pain is part of the process of you growing into the better coder you. It’s actually kind of like working out. Once you get all that down, start doing it for at least 20 days. It doesn’t matter how, but keep on doing it. My suggestion was to make it really easy for you to code everyday. Make it a nice place you want to go to code. Lastly, the timing and how long you do it counts. Practice coding for at least 20 minutes a day. This part is so important. Cramming a skill does not work. Your mind needs time and consistent practice to adjust to the person you want to be, or, in this case, the skill you want to have.

All the above, helped me go from not knowing how to print text from code to building automated predictive analytic models. If I went from knowing completely nothing to being fluent in code, you can too. Just commit and step into the better you — 20 minutes at a time.

If you ever wanted to get in touch, shoot me a message at LinkedIn!

Disclaimer: All things stated in this article are of my own opinion and not of any employer.

[1] P. Voogd, 6 Months to 6 Figures (2014), Game Changers INC

[2] R. Dalio, Principles: Life and Work (2017), Simon & Schuster

[3] M. Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2006), Little, Brown and Company

[4] D. Coyle, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.(2009), Bantam