Updated: Dec 29, 2019
I’m changing course from a future in medicine to a future in data science! This is the story of how I decided this was the choice for me.
Why did it take so long for me to decide on data science?
So I spent the bulk of my life thinking that working in medicine would be the life for me. Some might say it’s due to the encouragement of my dear tiger mother, but I’ve come to realise that it’s more so my own fault – I really never considered working in any other industry as a possibility. Going through high school and my first three years of college, I knew that I was personable, empathetic, and I did well in school. It felt like a no-brainer ~ I would work in medicine!
However, over the course of the past few years, I came to the realisation that working in the medical field just isn’t the life for me. I worked as a pharmacy technician for a couple of years and I hated the customer service aspect of it. I noticed that doctor’s offices were just competing for high ratings when I noticed feedback surveys trickle into my email inbox after appointments. I saw my own brother graduate medical school, then struggle to get a residency match for two years. These were all red flags to me, and after working at IBM for the past two years, I think that I am better suited to working in tech.
Why not get a degree in data science or computer science?
Unfortunately for me, before I took a break from school and landed the job at IBM, I completed three years of a biochemistry degree, working my way towards a future in medicine. Prior to my return to university, I considered changing degrees, but I crunched the numbers and found that I would experience a sharp raise in tuition due to legislation from the Texas Education Code regarding excessive hours. Essentially, any student who exceeds the maximum hours (30 hours over degree program) will be charged the non-resident tuition rate of $19,000 per semester.
Prior to my break from school, I was an Air Force ROTC cadet and I completed the program except for the final semester where I was medically discharged, leading me to drop out of school entirely. I was also a part of the UTeach Dallas program – a program by UTD where students take an extra class or two each semester of uni and graduate with a teaching certificate along with a portfolio including teaching experiences and projects. Mash these two programs (both of which have intensive requirements and would award me minors in Aerospace Studies and Secondary STEM Education) together with my degree plan of 120 hours, and I already have excessive hours for the final semester of my biochemistry degree.
If I were to change my degree to something like data science, engineering, or computer science, I would have at least four semesters of excessive hours, meaning my $6,000 semesters would hike up to $19,000 semesters. With a goal of graduating from UTD loan-free, I’m just not willing to do that.
WORKING AT IBM AND DISCOVERING DATA SCIENCE!
So I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I work a blue-collar job. You can read more about what I like to call blue-collar IT on this other post. I would like to preface it by saying that working as a Datacenter Technician, I get paid pretty well. Honestly, after working my way up to the top of the Datacenter Technician ladder from Tier I to Tier III, my salary is probably about as much as I would make working an entry-level job in biochemistry. That said, working as a Datacenter Technician is a bit demoralising at times. I’m working literally the lowest level “technical” role in the entire company. It’s a menial job that pays well, but doesn’t really require much of a technical expertise. As long as you can do the job, you get paid.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s really a great job for those who are not fortunate enough to go through college or trade school, or anyone who just doesn’t like college. However, I felt immense job dissatisfaction, because I felt like I was wasting my potential by working a blue-collar IT job when I know I’m smart enough to do so much more.
ENTER…. DATA SCIENCE!!
After I had passed the Tier III Datacenter Technician test and earned the promotion, I felt like I was in a bit of a slump. I do very well when I’m working towards a goal, but I lose that fire once there are no more clearly defined goals, like promotions, tests, or even short-term projects. Work was busy, so it’s not like I had much time to focus on learning something new, but I craved that mental stimulation. I wanted to learn more…
So I looked at some of the learning modules and online classes provided by IBM and I found some courses on data science! I heard about data science before – I knew it was a buzzword and I knew the job prospects were great, but I didn’t really know what it was, so I took one of the provided courses and earned the Data Science Foundations Badge. I learned about the basics of data science and I was really excited by the idea of cleaning, preparing, and evaluating data – all to tell a story!
Since then, I’ve had a busy year – I worked through a struggling marriage (always working on it!), I lived in Japan for a few months, I started working out and lost four inches around my waist, and I re-enrolled in classes at my university so I could finally finish my undergraduate degree! That said, data science was put on the back-burner as I channelled my focus on these other ventures. However, now that things are settling down and I’m getting into the rhythm of things, I’ve started learning about data science again! I earned the Data Science Foundations Level II Badge and I’m working on the Python for Data Science Badge right now.
I’m energized and ready to learn. I drafted a curriculum for my data science self-study, based on the learning path from Cognitive Class Labs, the curriculum from the SMU Data Science Boot Camp, and three different learning paths proposed for aspiring Data Scientists in IBM. I will include this curriculum in a future post! I now have the direction and a goal that I can work towards, and I can’t wait to see what comes next! In the meanwhile, I have a LOT to learn…