Why I Decided to Learn Data Science

Friends and family expressed surprise when hearing of my recent decision to enroll in a data science coding boot camp. During high school and college, I had gravitated toward literature and the humanities, and my parents pictured me practicing law or researching legislative policy, as opposed to being tucked away behind big-screen monitors writing statistical coding programs. So now, everyone’s asking me, “Why did you leave your good job to study data science?” To better answer this question and understand my own motivations on a deeper level, I thought it’d be valuable to reflect on the last few years and think about what got me started down this path.

I will always value my liberal arts college education. My course load was heavy in history, philosophy, and political theory, and I now feel literate and engaged in these subjects. However, during the almost two years after graduation, I longed for more technical skills under my belt — something concrete I could write down on a piece of paper that says, “I know how to do [insert technical skill here].” I can unpack the pros and cons of the U.S. health care system or compare Adam Smith’s theories of morality with those of David Hume, but these skills lack the tangible nature of declaring myself, “fluent in Python, SQL, and R coding languages, etc..” To be clear, I don’t want to learn these tools because I think the humanities are “wishy-washy” — more so, I want to combine a facility for those tools with my humanities-centric education in order to become more well-rounded and make a greater overall impact in my career for years to come.

Source: https://pin.it/1CvnyG6

Following college graduation and a three-month government internship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I relocated to Madison, Wisconsin to work as a project manager at Epic Systems, a multinational healthcare software company that holds more than 250 million electronic patient health records across the globe. Leading up to my job at Epic, I wanted to learn some technical computer skills, but my knowledge of areas to focus on were limited mainly to software and front-end web development (I hadn’t even heard of data science before). Since I wasn’t yet certain of what direction to take in my technical education, I thought that building my project management skills and learning more about the IT side of the health care industry — an area which has always piqued my interest — would provide me with valuable growth opportunities in the meantime.

Source: https://www.inc.com/jeff-barrett/why-madison-wisconsin-attracts-more-millennials-than-any-other-city.html

At Epic, I was immersed in vast amounts of patient health information and realized firsthand how data could potentially be leveraged to improve lives. For instance, Epic is developing an exciting new application called Cosmos, whose purpose is to “provide a network of data submitted by participating Epic hospitals, which can then provide improved evidence-based guidance at the point of care.” Working from a centralized virtual warehouse holding medical records for millions of anonymous patients, one can gather and clean data related to patient symptoms, past medical histories, socio-economic backgrounds, and even genetic makeup. That information can then train machine learning models, which can predict more accurate diagnoses for new patients based on corresponding backgrounds, thereby improving the patient experience and revealing insights to potentially save lives.

It was really exciting to be part of a company that uses data to improve evidence-based medicine. I began asking colleagues and scanning the Internet to learn about technical disciplines related to data analysis, manipulation, and prediction. Enter data science! The more I read about this new and robust field, the more I began to imagine the myriad other ways it could be leveraged in almost any sector besides the healthcare software arena. For instance, with global community health, I learned that one can gather data on past healthcare interventions to observe what’s worked well in the past and make adjustments to future implementation. Or, in the political realm, data analysis can identify pressing issues that a segmented population most cares about. Machine learning models can predict which geographic areas of the world will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change years ahead of time. The possibilities are truly endless and are motivating me to master the array of robust tools and statistical theory behind data science.

Epic Systems was an amazing “first real job out of college,” where I grew professionally and learned the ins and outs of project management and managed care operations. My exposure to the power of data propelled me to take a bold new career step with General Assembly’s Data Science boot camp. I’m excited to see what comes next.

I'm a recent graduate of General Assembly's Data Science Immersive program, passionate to grow every day, and excited to share my journey as a data scientist!