I come from an interesting line of ridiculously smart people. My dad can do math in his head that I can’t even solve with paper and pencil. My grandfather has a list of inventions that he created while working at Tokheim. My grandmother is a wonderful combination of hilarious and super smart – my favorite story is the one in which she worked in an office and the boss’ child wouldn’t stop touching a plant that she had on her desk. She replaced the plant with a cactus. Problem solved. But I always wondered where I fit in, what topic would be the exact fit for me. Through a process of trial and error, I discovered that data science is my favorite science – and exactly what I should be doing.
I thoroughly enjoy the sciences, but when I focused on just one (forensics, including shadowing a forensic pathologist and working in a morgue), it just wasn’t a good fit. Although I was accepted into a program that combined college and medical school into 6 years, it wasn’t for me. I really enjoyed biology and chemistry in school, but my favorite class had been science research. My science research project was a proposal to do a study on the effects of a different treatment for fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. I really wish I could find the title, but try as I might I think it might be lost forever, unless my parents have a copy I stashed somewhere. I think I saved the floppy disk and/or zip disk it was on but that’s kind of useless to me now. Back in high school, that was the computer technology we were using. There was a point where my curiosity and wonder at the workings of genetics and the human body no longer outweighed the down side of the job.
After the morgue didn’t work out and I was certain that being a physician was not my path, I began working in computers. I’ve had a bit of a background in computing, but it was always a hobby and not a passion. My first foray into programming was in the second grade on an Apple II. The most fun project I did in school (aside from projects for Integrated Civ because well this video pretty much sums it up) that went beyond just meeting class requirements was subliminal messaging program in a high school Visual Basic class. I also had a habit of fixing any manner of tech issues due to living in a dorm for the last two years of high school. Thus began my career in information technology.
I’ve done a bit of everything working in IT, I suppose. Finding the solution to a challenge is enjoyable to me, so working as a technician and Help Desk analyst were fun for me. I also had the pleasure of studying IBM’s Tivoli Storage Manager which was very interesting and led me down the path of MySQL. If it was even possible, I now had more to talk to my dad about since he’s Mr. Database. He probably wouldn’t really like that name, but he does refer to himself as “El Dad”, so I’m taking that as free rein to bestow upon him any nickname that fits the occasion. Plus, it’s totally his fault that I’m writing now because he’s the one who suggested it back when I was laid off from work in 2009 (added bonus, check out that awful pic! That’s why I had new headshots taken…). It was one day when I was explaining how I do what I do when a friend made me realize – there IS a way I’m good at math.
You see, for a very long time in my life I operated under the assumption that I did not get along with math – in fact, that I was terrible at math. It’s true to an extent – I’m terrible at arithmetic. There was a moment a few weeks ago when I honestly thought that 26 came AFTER 32. I just don’t think on that plane, apparently. However, there is an aspect of math in which I excel. I’m a solver. I can solve almost any puzzle I attempt – if it’s a topic that I do not know, I will research it until I find a solution. I learn how to code in different languages by examining code written until I learn the way of it. Trying to take it a step at a time with the ‘Hello World’ trick does not work for me. Let me tear it apart and then I’ll put it back together. And then I’ll move on to something else because it will have become completely boring for me. I realized all of this after a friend of mine pointed out that it’s not math that I’m bad at because I can use math without any issues when I’m attempting to solve something. And she was right.
So I began to dabble more and more, taking on more projects with this new point of view. I’ve been very excited to be able to work with awesome people and learn even more. I was reading a book once (to solve another problem) when I saw a Venn diagram from Drew Conway about the skills required to be a data scientist:
Surprise! Even if I’m not the person with the most common sense in the room (including a room filled with toddlers, I think), I totally fit this description. And so my foray into data science that had already begun, despite me not being aware of the term, continued in full force. Not only is it interesting in a super terrific way, but I am apparently also skilled in it. Plus, it’s the only subject that’s maintained my interest solidly for over a year. If you know me personally, you know that is a HUGE feat. Even though it took me a while to find data science, I’m confident that it truly is my favorite science (sorry Genetics, we were pals for a long time), and that it is exactly the field for me.
Do you have a favorite science?
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