Data science is a big concept, and diving head first into the foreign world of data science can look intimidating at first. On our third day as interns at CompassRed Data Labs, CompassRed co-hosted the Data Jawn, a conference in Philly for lovers of all things data, featuring a wide range of people presenting their ideas and talking about what data science looks like in their world. We sat in awe as we listened to experts in the field, people who were using data for groundbreaking work, and I wondered what my summer of exploration into data science would look like. I had taken computer science and statistics classes in college, but I wasn’t really sure how they would compare to my experience at a fast-paced data science consulting startup.
The first couple weeks of the internship were structured around introducing us to the projects we’d be working on and throwing us right into the world of data science. The first day, Ryan apologized in advance and told us we’d basically be “drinking from a firehose” the first day, the first week, and maybe even a little bit the whole summer. It wasn’t a traditional learning experience in the sense that while Ryan pointed us towards some great resources and talked us through the basics, the majority of our learning in R came from us looking at a real client’s data set, wondering if we could find a specific statistic or perform a particular task, and going off and Googling until we figured out a way to do it. I had dabbled in R in a couple projects in my first year at college, but I quickly realized how much more there was to learn and explore. Learning with a concrete goal in mind gave us the direction and focus we needed to actually master the material in a way we wouldn’t have by running through a basic tutorial or reading over the functions.
Most of our summer mirrored this approach; faced with the broad task of analyzing the way a clients’ product campaigns affected each other, we could have taken any number of directions or focuses. As we familiarized ourselves with the data, we constantly questioned and wondered if we could do something, and then promptly found out by going ahead and trying to do it. Many searches, while interesting, didn’t necessarily give us valuable information, but many others lead to us discovering something about the data that we hadn’t known or wouldn’t have guessed.
We had a unique opportunity to take the data and do something with it that we were particularly interested in exploring. Rather than being told explicitly what to analyze, we were given the freedom to move forward with what we were curious about and to make mistakes. We gained the confidence to know that if we wanted to do something, we could most likely find a way, even when we had no idea where to start; just a few hours spent on Stack Overflow help pages, endless patience, and bouncing ideas off each other, and we’d get there. We had the amazing combination of really great mentorship and guidance whenever we needed help working through a problem, but enough independence and freedom to be creative and find new tools and strategies to use. More practically, we learned that creating clear, repeatable code with comments is actually really important, (and not just for homework assignments) especially when working in a collaborative environment. When you’re going back to look at your own code and adjust some part of it later, you can make things much easier for yourself and the people you’re working with if you take a few moments to organize. We also learned to always have a purpose in mind when working for a client; if a visualization looks cool, as many do, it’s awesome, but it also has to have a practical, actionable purpose, to be able to form part of a story that the data is telling.
At the end of the summer, this idea definitely came into play as we presented our data story to the client whose data we’d been immersed in all summer. It was really neat to be able to have a conversation with the client through the lens of helping advance their business, and it was clear that the work we’d done had the potential to give them valuable insight into their customers in a way that might influence their strategy. The back and forth between us as the client saw the data analysis we’d done helped our hours of work come to life in a real, exciting way.
In my opinion, one of the most valuable parts of the internship experiences was being in an environment surrounded by people who are constantly challenging themselves and pushing themselves to the next level. We constantly heard big picture, ambitious ideas for projects, techniques, and clients thrown around and brainstormed, not as far-fetched, out of reach projects, but as real possibilities if we could find the right way to achieve them. We saw over and over again as the CompassRed leadership connected with people and clients in a genuine way and proactively thought of ways that either our existing skillset could help them or ways that our skillset could expand in order to meet their needs. Besides our main project, we had the opportunity to help with other projects along the way and were a part of plenty of brainstorming conversations.
One of my biggest takeaways from this summer is that everyone, no matter how senior or experienced someone is, is always learning as they go; if they’re not, they’re not challenging themselves enough. Besides learning about data analytics and data science as an industry, I also learned a lot about myself and the kind of workplace I might want to be in. For me, it’s a must-have to be in an environment where I’m constantly learning every day and challenging myself to try new things. It is really beneficial in every way to be in an environment where everyone is pushing the boundaries of what they can do, one that is constantly dynamic and eager to move forward, not scared to take risks or dive into new territory.