October 24, 2020

What every aspiring data scientist needs to know about coding

If you’re new to data science, you might be struggling with the coding part. Maybe you sometimes get an error that makes you feel like you might not be able to ever solve it. Maybe you feel like it takes you way too long to solve arising errors. Well, I’m here to tell you that is okay. And in fact, it is actually good. Let me tell you why.

Some of you may know that I launched my online course Master the Data Science Method nearly two weeks ago. That course is aimed at guiding students through the journey of building their first-ever project. So it’s very hands-on and it includes a good amount of coding.

While my first couple of students have been going through the course, they’ve been sharing their experiences with me. And what I’ve seen is that dealing with arising issues while coding has been challenging for students. They struggle with not so much the building of the code but error resolving and debugging because they get stuck with problems they’ve never experienced before.

I provide daily support to my students to help them get unstuck and to make sure they don’t get demotivated, but I thought hearing this would help anyone who is taking their first couple of hands-on steps right now: it is okay to get stuck while coding and not knowing what to do!

The reason you feel like you don’t know what to do is that you never experienced this type of problem before. Your brain needs some time adjusting to the new problem-solving pattern. Solution? Like it or not, is doing hands-on work, getting stuck and finding your way out of it.

One of my students said in a comment:

“One thing that concerns me as I look for a job in this field - is what the expectations are for when a data scientist gets stuck. My own unrealistic expectation is that I won't get stuck.”

This made me realise that many beginners in data science lack an understanding that I take for granted: Getting stuck while coding is part of the job. For juniors for senior for everyone...

I understand how someone worries about the little hick-ups though. I remember my first years at university. While coding, I got stuck many MANY times. And every time I got stuck, I was too afraid to ask for help because I felt like I was the only one experiencing difficulties. I felt like I was a disgrace. I thought I should be better at this. I got mad at myself for not solving issues faster and wasting time banging my head against to wall trying to understand an error. When I looked around at my classmates, it looked like everyone was coding perfectly from the outside. But as I become more confident in my skills, I realised, having errors/bugs and sometimes getting stuck with them for days on end is just a reality of the job. After all, there is a reason there are so many comics like this out there:

Awesome comic from CommitStrip


Or memes like this:

Source not sure, from the internet

Of course, if you get an error, and you spend three hours trying to understand what was wrong then you see it was a typo in the variable name, you might feel like you’ve wasted three hours of precious learning time. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because of this painful experience, next time you see a similar error, believe me, the first thing you’ll check is going to be the variable name. Call it a trauma if you like, it will make you a faster error resolver.

And when you’ve got enough experiences like this, you will become one of the people that you look up to right now with envy who can take a glimpse at a piece of code you’ve been struggling with for days and tell you what’s wrong with it immediately.

So don’t get discouraged if you keep running into errors and it’s taking you a lot of effort and time to fix them. Be nice to yourself and understand that this is all part of the progress. If you look at it from the brights side, thanks to these experiences, you get in on the fun and start laughing at coding memes.

Source: reddit/r/programmerhumour