The old adage I was thinking about on this summer day is “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” There is another saying however that says that ‘crazy is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.’ This summer while I was not taking any grad school classes, I wanted to learn basic Python programming. As I talked to more data scientists and others in this growing field, Python and R seem to be the dominant computer languages to learn and have in your repertoire. Today I’m beginning a three-part series on my experience learning Python. This week I will talk about some barriers I had to overcome to begin. Next week, I’ll talk about how I found a class that fit my learning needs and schedule. And in the third week, I’ll showcase some of what I learned.
In January 2016 I began a journey to get my Master’s in Data Science from Indiana University. I talked a little about this experience and my first data visualization class and project in a March blog. Today’s blog is titled “Python is Not Like Spanish” for a couple of reasons. First of all, all throughout primary school and even into my undergraduate education, I like to romanticize that I loved learning Spanish. I take pride in knowing another language at a high level and speaking it often. I dream in Spanish and love most everything about the cultures that speak this language. I like to think this foreign language was easy for me to learn and always fun. This is how I thought learning a computer programming language would be – fairly straightforward and enjoyable.
So imagine my frustration when I started the process of teaching myself Python in May and started seeing lots of red error messages in my code. I had flashbacks to taking a C++ class in the summer of 1999 at my local community college to avoid taking ‘the hard version’ at the university’s computer science department. I barely scraped by with a passing grade in that class and swore I’d avoid programming at all costs until the day I died. (So I said flashbacks but think more like nightmares.) I had put up a mental block against learning this type of knowledge.
The culture of a male-dominated field full of ‘dorks’ didn’t exactly tear down my mental barriers in the past either. I can remember being one of three women in that C++ programming class of about 40 students. That type of ratio wasn’t all that unusual for all the other engineering courses I took during my tenure at NC State University. But I had already repeatedly told myself that I needed to buck up and ignore any gender differences in the classroom. I had, after all, been raised that girls could become anything boys could. And I had always been a super independent female – hear me roar!
Fast forward over a decade to someone that has matured considerably and seen how essential Python programming is to helping me get the type of career that I want and that is fulfilling – namely in the field of data science. After I complete my graduate degree, I want to use data to help end hunger and promote nutrition. Information and food are passions of mine and I dream of having a job where I’d go to work even if they didn’t pay me. I probably can’t do that to the best of my ability without Python and other technical skills so I’m choosing to focus on the end goal rather than the means to accomplish that goal.