Why Data Science?

TL;DR: I like it, it matches up well with my existing skills, I think I’ll be good at it, and I can modify my current graduate degree to better prepare myself for a career in data science.

When I was searching for a graduate degree to pursue, I knew I wanted something technical that could be applied broadly, and which tied in with my love of data, analysis, and studying how things work, without being either an IT/Database Management type program or a pure Computer Science program. Systems Engineering seemed to fit the bill because of its crossover with many fields I wanted to learn more about: computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, human factors, decision theory, modeling & simulation, etc., and because I had enjoyed the introductory engineering courses I took in undergrad. The focus of the Master’s degree seemed to be “how to understand a system and make decisions about it”, which I liked, and thought would be especially applicable to a career incorporating databases in whatever industry I decided to settle into.

What I found out when I got further into the program was that this university’s version of Systems Engineering is VERY math-heavy. I had taken Linear Algebra from a community college as a prerequisite, and took graduate-level Statistics for Scientists and Engineers as part of the program, and had gotten As in both, but soon found myself in courses such as Convex Optimization which were using matrix calculus and other math I never imagined I’d be doing. (An actual Systems Engineer I talked to said that their company would never expect a Systems Engineer to perform these calculations.)

Learning this content was especially challenging because I’m in the program as a “synchronous online” student, meaning that I sit in on the classroom via the web after (or often during) work, and it is difficult to collaborate with other students or get additional help from the professors. (Luckily, my husband is a physicist, so I have an at-home tutor for those times when I get really stuck on my homework!) I started having second thoughts about whether the program was really what I wanted to do, and how it would help my career, I realized that if I wanted this degree to be useful for my life (and maintain the motivation to complete it), I’d need to focus this effort to learn advanced mathematics into something in which I was truly interested.

Around this time, I started hearing more about something called “Data Science”. I read about how Data Science was used in the Obama presidential campaign. I learned about the Netflix Prize, a contest where people built algorithms which could improve the accuracy of movie recommendations. I followed data scientists on twitter to see what it was they did and talked about. I absorbed all of the information I could about this field, and came to realize that 1) I really loved the idea of becoming a Data Scientist, and 2) it wasn’t a big stretch to mold my Systems Engineering degree to have a Data Science focus. (Also around this time, my university announced that they would be starting an MS in Data Science, but it would start as a full-time 11-month program, and not available to students in my distance-learning program, so it wasn’t an option for me.)

The more I read about the field of Data Science, the more it felt like my whole education and career path up to this point had been leading me toward it. I have some formal education in programming and statistics, along with a career in data analytics. I pride myself on having a good grasp of both the business side of data and the technical side of working with it. I was already fascinated with the possibilities surrounding the fast-growing field, and it also didn’t hurt that articles were being published showing how much money a good data scientist could make ($100K+), though that wasn’t my primary motivation. It seemed wise to steer my Systems Engineering Masters Degree to include as many Data-Science-related courses as possible, as “Data Scientist” came into focus as my dream career.

So, I signed up to take a Machine Learning course the next semester which would count as an elective toward my degree, bought some Data Science books, signed up for some online self-paced classes, and got started! I’m about a month into the Machine Learning course now, and we’re about to start our first project, so I decided to start this blog to track my activities and document the hurdles and achievements along the way. I’ll use it as a reference for myself to keep track of resources I find useful, and have a record of the projects I’ve completed. I hope it is interesting enough for others to enjoy reading, and I also hope it provides a sort of “path forward” for those interested in Becoming a Data Scientist, too!

To learn more about my “starting point” on this journey, see the “About Me” page.

I’d appreciate if you fill out a comment below telling me what brought you here, and what you look forward to reading about on this blog!


  1. Mark
    Dec 23, 2014

    Thank you, I’m on a similar journey though just started, I’m taking the python course and CS50 at the same time. I work fulltime as Linux Administrator and make great money, but I feel in a few years it’ll be a data heavy field so I have to change now, before it all DEVOPS.

  2. Anna
    Mar 18, 2015


    Thanks for the Girl Develop It Google Hangouts on Air Meetup! So I’m checking out your website for resources.

    I just want to introduce myself. A couple of years ago, I was researching potential grad school programs and careers online, and I first heard about the term Data Scientist. As I learned more about it, I was like, that’s so me. That’s exactly what I want to do. So I am a couple of years behind. Is it ever too late? I’ve been too busy musing about this :-)

    Not sure how I can get started. I am already on codecademy – I guess I should start with Python. It’s hard enough to keep up with programming languages, and I was this close to start elsewhere, but recently it’s dawned on me that Python is the way to go and that is the programming language I should learn next.

    For fun, I have been taking Ruby on Rails courses and thought it was really fun, so I’ve been trying to develop a bit more skill in Ruby on Rails. I have a class on Ruby on Rails tomorrow night. A new project. I run Linux on my computer. Computers have been my passion since about 1995. Unfortunately, I was an English major in college. I should have majored in Computer Information Systems in college instead. But I didn’t want to do computers, or so I thought.

    Anyway, if you want to chat, you can email me :-)


    • Renee
      Mar 19, 2015

      Hi Anna!

      Thanks for introducing yourself! Do you think you’re going to apply to a data science graduate program? Few schools had data science degrees when I started my master’s program, but many have started in the past few years, so there are a lot of options at various schools, including online programs. You could also “test the waters” with some online courses first to see if it’s for you.

      I don’t think it’s ever too late to get into this field. I’m 33 years old and just now getting my master’s degree, and just started really exploring data science a little over a year ago. I was like you in that the more I read about data science, the more I knew it was the next step in my career path! I had a technical undergrad degree, which did give me a “head start” with a few beginner programming and database classes, but my major was very “generalist” focused, so I felt behind the people that had CS or physics degrees when I first started looking at data science and learning on my own. However, I have now realized that there is such a need for people in this field, and so many resources available, I would recommend for anyone with a strong interest to go ahead and try it out! The skills are transferable to many different areas, so they’re all good to learn no matter where you end up, and you might find out you’re really good at it!

      As an English major, you may want to take some math and programming courses before applying to graduate programs. I had to take Linear Algebra (I took it at Blue Ridge Community College online) before I was even eligible to apply for my masters in Systems Engineering program, and I took an accelerated course that summer and applied for the fall semester at UVA. I would assume most data science programs would require basic programming and statistics as prerequisites, so you may want to get college credits in those areas if you don’t already have them.

      I’m happy you can join me in this learning path and would love to stay in touch!


    • Anna
      Apr 1, 2016


      How can I keep in touch with you? I am hitting a wall and could use someone to speak to. I’d like to forward an email to you with an issue that I am experiencing with a company that is offering courses in data analysis, an important step in becoming a data scientist. Thanks, Anna

  3. Bruno Gomes
    Apr 17, 2015

    I am in the same point where you started. I am thinking what want to do in future. I want to know what I have to learn to become a Data Scientist. I am graduating Computer Science… and I want to head start in Data Science. Thanks :)

    • Renee
      Apr 24, 2015

      Great, glad to be learning together, and thanks for the note! :)

  4. Devika
    Apr 30, 2015

    Thank you so much for this blog!!
    My company recently plopped me into the IT/Operations department which deals pretty heavily in data management and analytics, so data science is a recent revelation to me. The first thing I read about the field was Paco’s article, which dismayed me before I even felt like I had started learning. Your response made me feel so much better! I’m in the DC area and excited to learn more!

    • Renee
      May 13, 2015

      Glad to help, and thanks for the positive feedback! Maybe we’ll meet up at an event someday – you’re only 2 hrs north-east of me! :)