When researching boot camps online, there always seem to be a lot of mixed opinions. There are a lot of them out there, some more expensive than others, and they all have slightly different focuses while claiming they can churn out analysts, full stack devs, and/or data scientists in as little as 12 weeks. In my experience, education tends to boil down to you get out what you put in, and my experience taking a Data Visualization and Analytics boot camp was no different.
Why a Boot Camp for Me?
I’ve always been interested in computers, but never thought computer science was for me. Growing up, I never felt like I was that good with numbers so I didn’t try that hard when learning math. In high school, I took a course on Java and a course on computer networking fundamentals. Neither of them captivated me, so I decided to keep computers a hobby and ended up studying Scientific and Technical Communication in college.
When I landed my first job out of college as an intern technical writer at a software company, I got my first taste of what computer science was really about. I fell in love with a language I had never seen before: SQL. When my internship ended, since I loved the company, I decided to take a job with their support team. It gave me an opportunity to write every day, pick up technical skills like SQL, and learn about the software development life cycle.
After six-ish years of climbing the ladder in the support department, I felt like I hit a wall. I had transformed into a product expert who was reading and writing SQL all day. Although I had some skills, I felt like getting to the next level was going to take credentials I didn’t have. Additionally, my interest in analyzing data was beginning to take off. For example, I was obsessed with the stock market.
Starting the Boot Camp
While researching what I had gotten myself into, I read a lot of reviews about people not liking their teacher. I was super lucky in that regard and got a fantastic teacher. He was humble, patient, knowledgeable, and good at keeping the class interesting. One of the benefits of taking a boot camp that offers in-class instruction is getting to meet like-minded and motivated people face to face. It allowed me to make some new friends as we all struggled through the process of going back to school and tackling fast-paced content.
I went into the course with very little Python experience. I had written a couple scripts to scrape some stock data from finance websites, and I messed around with scikit-learn to make a few predictive models, but majority of my technical skill set was SQL. Within the first third of the boot camp, we had worked through fundamentals of Excel and VBA, and started working with python, APIs and JSON data. It was an overwhelming amount of content, but it really made me push myself to focus and learn. My free-time evaporated as I dedicated it to homework.
Creating a Portfolio of Projects
The boot camp focused heavily on creating a portfolio of projects that could get employers interested. They were mostly group projects which was nice since it forced us to strategize merging code and gave us experience developing on a team. We were able to form our own groups, pick whatever topics we wanted (for the most part), and then were off to the races. We had almost zero restrictions as long as we met bare minimum requirements.
If you’re an over achiever or have experience with any of the languages, the projects acted as great opportunities show off a bit. Some of the people in my cohort had advanced degrees, and the collective background of the class was broad. There were quite a few people who had a PhD or MBA, and there were people who had never written a line of code in their life. Because so many people came from different fields, there was no shortage of interesting project topics. The projects also gave us a chance to work on our presentation skills since we had to present them to the class once they were complete.
You can see some of my projects here:
Generating Wine Recommendations
Visualizing World Cup Data
Extract Transform Load with Comic book data and MySQL
Analyzing Midwest Murder Data
Visualizing Options Trades
Criticisms of the Boot Camp
We covered a lot in a short amount of time… almost too many topics, actually. Just when you start getting comfortable and ready to do more advanced things, they change the topic. It is really up to you to decide what direction you want to take things outside of the classroom. For example, I am focused on python the most because I wanted to get into data science.
The coursework focused more on visualizing data than analyzing it, which might be great if that is what you want to learn. I was hoping to get more feedback on my assignments so I could gauge how I did with my analysis. The only stats we covered were things like Gaussian distributions, standard deviation, ANOVA, Chi-square, student-t, hypothesis testing, and a few other stats functions that I can’t remember from the SciPy Python library.
Life After Boot Camp
After boot camp, I felt like I accomplished a lot and was able to develop a foundation of coding skills. It opened the door for me to advanced my career. A couple months after completing my certification, I landed a job as a Software Product Analyst on the Data Science team at my employer. Now I get a chance to work with experienced data scientists, software engineers, data engineers and data analysts. I developed a passion for coding and an enthusiasm for data science. Beyond the coding and career development, I made some new friends in the boot camp who I still hope to see from time to time. The boot camp changed my life for the better because I busted my ass and kept a positive attitude even though I had to sacrifice a lot of time and dedicate myself to learning something new.
Boot camps aren’t for everyone, and if you’re thinking about taking one, make sure to research what the course offers. If you think you’re up for doing the work, they can definitely change your life and start you on a new path. The boot camp worked for me, but I already knew SQL and already had a passion for data. If you’re on the fence, check out all of the free MOOCs or online content that can help you decide if the topics are right for you.
Check out my github if you’re interested in seeing some of the assignments and projects I completed in the boot camp.