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A Tangled Path, A Lucid Vision

Mar 13, 2016

A Holistic Distraction

When I came to Case Western, I was interested in doing something with biology and programming. I decided to start as a Computer Science major and move towards biology once I knew how to program.

However, I had always been interested in Mathematics and held a high degree of respect for mathematicians. Once I met my dear friend and mentor Gavin Brown, a Math major, my academic interests shifted from biology and computers to math. At about the same time, I met another close friend and mentor, Paul Ryland. Paul was an English major so our acquaintance was unlikely, but I could tell that I had a lot to learn from him. After long conversations with Gavin and Paul and other friends from various backgrounds I realized that Math and English were both essentially working branches of philosophy. Both disciplines sought a means of expressing truth, though Math employed rigid, logical formality and writing used words to grasp the visceral, inexplicable emotive truths that evaded the grasp of logic. I switched my major to Mathematics after my first semester in order to search for truth. Additionally, I started writing even though substituting my logical talent for the visceral was difficult and unfamiliar.

Later on, I met Joseph Lerchbacker and Maria Kuznetsov through my job at the CWRU Student Affairs IT Operations Group. Joe was a Mechanical Engineer and Maria who had not yet declared a major. Both were passionate and knowledgeable about design and art. Transfixed by these disciplines as further means to search for truth, I started following design blogs like Minimally Minimal religiously. Once again, my logical predispositions were substituted for an interest in Art. The subtleties of modern, minimal design captivated me. The black and white photography class I enrolled in taught me more about the creative process than any of the core engineering courses on my transcript.

Returning to my Roots

By the end of my first two years at Case I felt much more intellectually whole than when I graduated from high school, but at the same time I lacked focus and dedication towards a single discipline. I still wanted to write code, but I had taken mostly math classes and had little actual development experience after my second year at Case. I was offered a software engineering internship at the Cleveland office of Answers.com the following summer. At Answers, my passion for software and code was reignited. I learned as much as I could about web technology, and knew that I wanted to pursue software development as a career.

However, I found myself staring at the myriad of nuanced paths a nascent computer programmer could follow. I had done mostly web development and was blossoming into a competent full-stack web developer. Web development allowed me to be creative through the visual design of webpages and through the actual infrastructure of the website. But I found myself becoming unsatisfied with churning out websites for someone else’s passions. I was nearly finished a degree in math, and became interested in distributed computing. Another one of my friends, Jacob Gross, kept telling me about his work in Category Theory, Representation Theory, mechanized proof, and analytic philosophy. I was introduced to a graduate student working on a system of logic based on Buddhist teachings. Once again I felt intellectually motivated to seek the truth, but building websites wasn’t cutting it. After long discussions with my software developer peers, I opened my eyes to see the resolution of this debacle starting me straight in the face: Data Science.

Data Science

The more I learned about Data Science, the more appealing Data Science became. Data science is the product of business, programming, math, and statistics skills combined with the creativity necessary to tie these disciplines together. My education thus far aligned closely with these requirements. I have the math background from my math classes. Between the computer science classes I’ve taken and the hard engineering skills I’ve been learning through web development, I have the programming background. I admit that my knowledge of business and statistics lag behind my other qualifications but feel confident that I can close that gap in the near future. I am planning on establishing an LLC for my web consulting work. Finally, my holistic interest in the search for truth through creativity ties everything together into data science.

A breakdown of different categories of data scientists and the skills they use: Data Science Skills Breakdown Source: http://radar.oreilly.com/2013/06/theres-more-than-one-kind-of-data-scientist.html

At first I most closely fall under “Data Developer” due to my stronger background in math and programming, but weaker business and statistics skills.

I withdrew from Case this semester because I needed to explore my interests and felt too restricted by my schoolwork. Taking the semester as a loss to figure out what I truly want to pursue, then dedicate my time to that pursuit made more sense than feeling lost while trying to catch up on my classes after spending weekends hacking.

For the rest of the semester, I will be splitting my time between working as a web developer and teaching myself data science. I have a few interviews for software engineer positions remaining, but it seems likely that I will continue doing web development consulting (and of course Data Science) this summer. I am going to apply for Data Science internships for the Fall 2016 term (in order to balance not finishing the Spring 2016 term) and the Summer 2017 term. I will complete my last two semesters at Case in Spring 2017 and Fall 2017, and plan to start working full time in 2018.