My Top 5 DS Moments

by Gregg Rimmer

With only a couple days before the end of my Data School training I’m feeling prematurely nostalgic. These past 4 months have been a fantastic experience in so many different ways and I thought I’d pick out my own ‘top 5’ favs.

1. A new (data) world of opportunity: Learning to web scrape and connecting to APIs

My background isn’t techie – I studied History at university before moving on to a job in management consulting. It was delving into Excel models there that I decided to pivot towards data analysis, but coming into the Data School I had little real computer science knowledge. Words like ‘servers’ or ‘parsing’ intimidated me at first. The DS helped us come to grips with these fundamentals on top of learning Tableau and Alteryx.

A particular stand-out was API and web scraping week. Only a few weeks earlier I was barely aware that these things existed and wouldn’t have known where to start if I’d wanted to scrape a website. But within a couple days, we had learned the essentials and were merrily scraping away. With the ability to mine our own data, it felt like a whole new world of data possibilities. Our Friday project was to scrape a website and visualise the results in Tableau. You can see my creation – a Wagamama store locator updating dynamically based on your location – here.

2. Getting on top of the client projects

Even with a few years of work experience under my belt, I found the prospect of real client projects to be pretty daunting. It was partly not knowing what to expect that worried me. Yes, I’d dealt with clients before – but not in the data analysis world.

The first project week went well but my nerves were a little frayed after the client presentation. Week 2 was a terrific project. I got to build a model for a customer health score for an e-commerce business – probably my most enjoyable professional experience to date. But I put in some serious overtime to get to the final piece. Over-scoping was my enemy that week.

As the weeks went by, I grew in confidence and relaxed into the Friday presentation. Perhaps most importantly I got a lot better at getting stuck in fast and quickly and accurately scoping the project. By project number 4, I felt like ‘I got this’ and was already looking back at week 1 me as though he was a different creature. Things move fast in the DS!

3. Leading a client project

In the Data School everyone gets to be PM for one of the client projects. It’s a very different experience from the other weeks – to say the least. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, and worried I’d be bored given that I wouldn’t be diving into the data like the others.

I needn’t have worried. Leading the project actually gave me the opportunity to gain an overview of all aspects of the project instead of being an expert in a single one. The challenges we were set and the data we were given were also perhaps my favourite of the eight client projects, so I was very happy to be able to have an admittedly small hand in all of them. Aside from doing the basic PM stuff (coordinating, liaising, ensuring consistency of look and feel across the dashboards), I floated around the team trying my best to offer advice with my outsider’s perspective. In many ways, it felt like being a consultant for the consultants. At first I was worried that I would come across as an unnecessary third wheel, but as the week progressed that didn’t seem to be the case.

The Friday presentations were very different too. Without having to worry about presenting my week’s work I was able to take in everyone else’s more fully. Because of that, I felt more impressed by what people had achieved than I had previously.

4. Noticing my viz progress

Because of the pace we advance at over the four months, it’s actually very easy to miss how much we actually improve at vizzing. You’re in the thick of it, and there’s little time to look back on previous efforts. For me, it took looking back at my application and pre-app vizzes 3 months in to notice how far I’d come. Obviously, from a technical perspective I’d learned new tricks but more notable still were my improvements in design.

5. The welcome party

That’s when I felt sure that I had landed in the right place. Our first week of learning had been really fun and stimulating and I had built a picture of what the coming four months would have in store – and was really looking forward to it. But most importantly, as I ate pizza, sang karaoke and got to know my new colleagues, I realised that I was surrounded by a diverse but like-minded bunch of people. That’s a really important part of what makes the Information Lab and the Data School such a great place to work. I was excited to become part of this community.