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My data science journey

Let’s start from the beginning. I grew up in rural Ohio and was a total bookworm, explorer, and tinkerer. You could find me up a tree reading a book or getting in trouble for sneaking a book under the dinner table. I loved sci-fi and fantasy. Anything involving a spaceship immediately got my attention. If I wasn’t reading, I was exploring. Expeditions included: building my own dam in the creek, hand labeling my toad collection, and capturing bugs (and even a bird once). I lived for exploring odds and ends in my grandparent’s basement. I had some great memories fixing up old record players, bikes, and cameras. I never stopped asking questions, thankful for my parents who put up with my constant inquiries.

I was very over the top about schoolwork – very competitive about anything, really. My personal challenge was figuring out if I could ask a question the teacher didn’t know. From my perfectionist nature, I would never fail to be the last person in the class to finish taking a test. I loved reading as aforementioned, but also was a big fan of science and math when I got into middle school and high school. I liked complex math instead of mental math problems (again, the whole perfectionist to speed ratio was a bit troublesome for me). I honestly adored standardized test days, quite the adrenaline rush for me. I was also a big fan of any scientific experiment. My everyday challenge was to do my absolute best in everything (this applied to sports and academics). It didn’t matter if one percent higher on a test wouldn’t contribute to my overall GPA – I was going to get the one percent higher just as humble internal bragging points.

When the later years of high school arrived, I realized there was a big looming question of what I wanted to do with my life. That was an extremely intimidating thought to me. I had so many passions and hobbies, how would I ever choose? I prided myself on being equally technically and creatively minded. But this made it difficult to find a career route. There was a time – after reading/watching October Sky, I will admit – that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Then I realized that money had to come into the equation. I wanted to be able to afford college, so if graduate school was a path I wanted to pursue, I could financially make that leap. I was fortunate to have athletics that I could rely on for extra scholarship support. This did, however, limit my school choices – as I needed a place that could stack academic and athletic money, which made DII a happy medium. However, with DII, I had to reconsider career choice. Since I was still indecisive, I didn’t want a degree that would pigeonhole me into a very niche career. Unfortunately, my small rural school didn’t have any coding courses. If there were the case, my degree decision might have been a lot easier to make. Upon getting a good offer at a DII school, I happened to meet with the computer science professor at the university, and that sealed the deal. Techy, mathematical, and innovative, I decided to give the coding world a whirl.

College was my first experience in coding, which was quite rare for a computer science major. Thankfully, I feel like I was able to grasp concepts at a decent rate to catch up to speed. However, I still had an inkling of resentment that I had never been exposed to the fascinating world of coding before. We programmed almost exclusively in Java. Spoiler alert I’m not the biggest Java fan. However, I was able to get some web development experience from my side hobby of photography and blogging. This was my creative release and also added a new technical component, which was quite satisfying. From there, I was offered several freelancing gigs from companies in need of website revamps. I stayed busy as always in undergrad – college soccer, student government association, started a yoga club, resident assistant. I always found myself accidentally making my schedule jam-packed. I do feel like I was able to make the most of my small college experience – big a big fish in a small pond as the saying goes. But I always had a slight desire to expose myself to a larger college with more academic opportunities. As undergrad started to come to a close, I was faced with the same stressful fear from high school of “what are you going to do with your life.”

For some reason, the computer science world still did not totally click with me. I couldn’t see myself spending all day cooped up coding in Java. I wanted something in which I could use more of my math background (I had considered switching to math/physics majors multiple times during undergrad). Computer science was the smart career choice to stick with, but it didn’t feel like “me.” I researched graduate programs that could somewhat align with my current background. Most applicable programs were along the lines of a Ph.D. in computer science – but that was swaying me back into that line of work I didn’t foresee for myself. My parents urged me to look at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) – they always wanted to move South. I happened to stumble across an M.S. in Data Science program at the university, which took me down a rabbit hole of researching what this beast “data science” is. I saw the program was relatively new, but excitingly enough, they did lots of practicum projects in interesting subjects – including environmental conservation! I researched more data science programs, but nothing seemed as hands-on or intriguing as the advertised program at UNCW. Upon talking to my undergrad professor about the graduate program, he handed me over a book on neural nets, and boy was I hooked.

So, I applied. My parents told me the famous saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” but for me, that was the only program I wanted to be in, so that was the only place I applied. Lucky me, I was accepted and bonus points it was financially doable. I was satisfied but still lived an anxious summer hoping that data science was indeed the right career path for me. Once I began – I was enamored. This was what I had been looking for all along! Data science was innovative, continually evolving, diverse, mathematically and problem-solving based – the perfect blend. Not to mention, Python programming was a godsend – it made so much more sense to me than Java ever did. I finally found a home where I could happily go from class to binging data science articles/podcasts at home. I had found my passion.

Now that graduate school is over; I have accepted a position at the Silicon Valley Next Talent Rotational Program at SAP. It is my dream opportunity as it allows for a more exploratory path to find what niche of data science fits me. Data science is beautifully complex, so my journey is at its infancy. I hope to keep this blog up to date with my techy experiences and side projects. I am a little sad to leave my cozy little beach town in North Carolina, but beyond enthused to start a bustling career-driven path filled with new knowledge!

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