Start more projects, please | Data Science Some days

And we back. Welcome to Data Science Some Days. A series where I go through some of the things I’ve learned in the field of Data Science.

For those who are new… I write in Python, these aren’t tutorials, and I’m bad at this.

I haven’t written one of these for an entire month. My mistake… time flies when you procrastinate.

I want to spend a little bit of time talking about learning Data Science itself.

I won’t say how long I’ve been learning to code and such because I don’t really know the answer. This isn’t to say I’ve been doing it for a long time, I just don’t have much of a memory for this stuff.

I will, however, say one of the big mistakes I’ve made in my journey:

Not completing enough projects.

Any time I start a new project, I feel figuratively naked – as though all the knowledge I’ve ever gathered has deserted me and I’ll never be able to find it again.

I find it difficult to do anything at all until I get past the initial uncomfortable feeling of not having my hand held through to the end. Will I fall over? Yes. But learning how to get back up is a really useful skill, even if you fall over after another step.

Photo by cottonbro on

Let’s talk about tutorials

There are a lot of tutorials online about all sorts of things. Many of them are good, some are bad, some are brilliant. When it comes to programming, you will never have a shortage of materials for beginners. As a result, they’re tempting and the entry point is quite low. Many even have no idea where to start.

Tutorials are also easy to get lost in because they do a lot of the heavy lifting in the background. That’s the more helpful way to teach information but perhaps less useful for the learner. This isn’t to say all tutorials and courses are “easy”. Far from it. Rather, no one has ever become a developer or programmer purely off the back of completing a handful of tutorials.

Don’t get attached to tutorials or courses. They can only take us so far. It’s also difficult to stay entertained by them for the long haul.

Learning just enough

My new enjoyment of projects comes from a video by Tina Huaug on How to self-study technical things. She mentioned a helpful principle:

“Learn just enough to start on a project”

This divorces you quite quickly from an attachment to completing courses or selecting the “right one”. If you’ve got what you need out of it, then move on and use the knowledge to create something. Fortunately, the information doesn’t disappear if you tell yourself you might not complete it. It’s fine to refer to them during projects, anyway.

You’ll get to the difficult parts more quickly which lets you understand the true gaps in your knowledge/skill. It’s perfectly fine for this to be humbling. Getting better at anything requires humility.

It’s more fun

Being the person responsible for creating something is a really satisfying feeling, even if it sucks. (It likely does, only in comparison to those who are much more experienced than you, which is unfair. Comparison is a fools game.)

You can point to a model you’ve trained or visualisation you’ve created and say “That was ME”. And it’ll be true.

When you look at a list of potential projects, you’re more likely to add your own twist to it (it doesn’t matter if that’s just experimenting with different colours). If you’re following a tutorial to the T, you miss out on something important:


The difficulties and successes are yours.

Leave yourself open to surprises

I’ve noticed a few things in a recent project of mine (more on that in the next DS Somedays post, it’s nothing special):

  1. I know and understand a bit more than I gave myself credit for
  2. There is so much more I can add to my knowledge base to improve the project
  3. Courses, tutorials, tools are just there to help me reach my end goal. It helps explain why I always have so many tabs open

They can be challenging, which might also explain why they’re easy to avoid. However, I’ll definitely have to work towards doing more. If not for my portfolio but general enjoyment.

Project-based learning is the way forward.

Further resources:

  1. How to self-study technical things.
  2. Project based tutorials (many different programming languages)

The two-week experiment|The Sunday Monday Post

We’re two weeks into 2018.

How many new year resolutions have been broken and revitalised already? How many are still going strong?

That doesn’t matter too much. We all hear the same advice – make it a habit. Shoot for sustainable change rather than drastic alterations to our lifestyle. If you slip up once, get back on track as quickly as possible.

I agree with all of this advice because it’s helpful. However, it doesn’t address the main problem I find with New Year Resolutions.

They’re often boring and create too much pressure for perfection.

Who cares about being healthy when Pringles are £1? or exercise when it’s raining and windy?

2018 isn’t special. Neither will 2019 be. There is nothing grand about the change of year. We all know this, yet depend on it anyway even if we decide not to formally create any resolutions.

Why is this a misleading mindset?

Let’s take a quick look at the term “resolution”:

The firm decision to do or not to do something

“I’m going to exercise more”

“I’m going to eat less junk”

“I’m going to call my parents once a week”

Whatever the form, the underlying philosophy is that “this is the time I finally make a change!” When we make resolutions, we often treat them as though we should make a specific change and if we fail, we are failures. That isn’t true – it’s a misleading train of thought.

Experiments and Projects

I returned to an idea I probably heard from the likes of Tim Ferriss and that is the two week experiment and six month project. 

Experiments are an opportunity to try something new or do something slightly differently. They view failure as a possibility rather than something which must be avoided at all costs.

With New Year Resolutions, we always have the possiblity that we’ll fail but it’s as though we choose to ignore it because we believe we can will ourselves to success (it’s not that easy).

Two weeks is a short enough timeframe for our efforts not to feel unproductive and damaging. If we choose to jump ship early, we haven’t sunk too much time into it. If we enjoy it, we can simply carry on and maybe we’ll stick with it long enough.

It’s also a short enough timeframe for it to stay exciting, I’ve found. It’s like we get to become a slightly different person for a short time! Given how easy it is to get stuck in mundane routines, small changes can be wonderful.

The six month project allows for an overarching theme to come from the experiments.

A six month project: Learn data visualisation.

Two-week experiment no.1: Only utilise data on a sport you know nothing about when creating visualisations.

Two-week experiment no.2: Produce a new visualisation every two days.

Two-week experiement no.3: Work on a detailed visualisation that utilises a new skill and produce a story at the end of the two weeks.

You get the idea?

A current example of mine is the following.

Six month project: Lose weight.

Two-week experiment no.1: Have a vegan meal a day

It’s been going very well actually. They’re fun and a helpful break from the bad and good habits that I’ve maintained for a while.

Try the following:

  1. Write down a goal you’ve wanted to achieve.
  2. Think: six months has passed – what do I want it to look like? That is your new project.
  3. Experiment: what’s an interesting way to make progress on your project? What haven’t you tried before? What has been unsuccessful in the past and how might you make a change to it?

Now, be reasonable. I don’t recommend you try fasting for two weeks or skydiving without a parachute to aid weightloss.

Happy 2018!

What might you experiment with next?

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