Tag Archives: why

Why I’m Becoming a Data Scientist

First  of all, this post exists because I’m currently in New York, studying the art of Data Science with Metis. It’s a 12-week boot camp focused on training us to use all the tools needed to pull insights from massive mountains of data.

I’m here because I want a job as a Data Scientist.

Usually when I say this, people respond in three ways:

  1. But I thought you wanted to be a journalist?
  2. Aren’t you getting your masters degree in journalism?
  3. What the hell is data science, and why would you want to do it?

My reasons are both philosophical and practical, so here’s a short explainer.

What is Data Science?

Our entire world is recorded in bits of information. Thanks to technology and the internet, human beings create and store more information now than at any point in the history of our species. From birth to death, our entire lives are recorded with paper documents, Google searches, emails, pictures and Facebook statuses. Every day trillions of data are created by billions of humans.

For example, this is how much information people create every minute of every day:

DataNeverSleeps_2.0_v2

That’s a monstrous amount of information, and we’re only looking at a slice! Many firms across hundreds of industries are also recording their own information, as more of our world goes digital. Thanks to constantly improving server memory, it’s cheaper than ever to save all this information, so most of this stuff is just sitting around, unused.

But what if we could use all this information?

What if the data revealed patterns? What if we could look deeply at the information and discover the who, what, where, why and how of our world, to empower people, companies and governments to make better decisions?

People are starting to do just that, and they’re already making waves. Mandatory reading, for examples: Big Data, A Revolution.

That’s data science. And it sounds hella awesome.

Why do Data Science?

While I was doing my masters degree in Data Journalism at Mizzou, I realized data scientists and data journalists are basically the same thing. We learned lots of amazing tools like D3.js, CartoDB and Highcharts to tell stories with data. One major difference is that professional data scientists have stronger backgrounds in mathematics, programming and statistics, which would seriously help data journalists. As I created data-driven projects and infographics, I thought a lot about how I could use data to tell stories. Soon enough, it wasn’t satisfying to make a chart or a graph here or there. I wanted to do something bigger with data.

I also realized my journalistic skills – analysis, research, inherent curiosity and storytelling – were a perfect fit for a job as a data scientist. This inspired me to think outside the box and join this bootcamp, where I could get the programming and statistics needed to complete my education. This Venn Diagram explains the rare and challenging mix of skills needed to be a great Data Scientist.

data science

There’s also the practical motivation: Data Science as a profession is exploding, and every industry, from entertainment to healthcare, is hiring. Demand is high, and so is the pay: the median salary of a data scientist is around $107,000. Companies are hiring people right and left. Compare that to journalism as a profession, where median salaries usually sit around $31,000 a year for newspaper reporters, and layoffs loom around every corner. The storytelling opportunities could be deeper if I was involved with data science research.

Data science is still emerging, and with it, the potential for good or evil. I want to put the skills and ethics I learned as a journalist to use in this industry, so I can help establish responsible, ethical and useful uses of data to improve our world.

That’s it, pretty much. Right now, I’m looking to join a data science team that echoes those values, so I can learn better the skills of the trade. Thanks for reading this far and letting me explain this. Every week or so I’ll be blogging here about this camp, if you’re interested in learning more.

For more on Data Science, read the groundbreaking Booz Allen Hamilton Field Guide to Data Science, online for free.

Also, yes – I’m still working on my thesis. I haven’t forgotten about you, Mizzou.

Why Every Journalist Should Go See Rosewater

In case you poor souls don’t watch The Daily Show, TV comedian Jon Stewart wrote and directed a just-released film titled Rosewater.

Right to left: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.
Left to right: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.

Rosewater is the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was imprisioned by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009. After pressure from human rights activists and international leaders, Bahari was released just days before the birth of his first daughter.

I’ll leave criticism to the critics. Rosewater is emotionally powerful, wildly hyped and sometimes utterly hilarious. Star actor Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty convincing.

It’s also the most important movie you, as a journalist, could watch this year. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Because you probably cover tons of utterly boring stories each week, probably some against your will, and there’s probably been some points where you felt like a glorified press release writer. This movie will remind you that journalism isn’t just a job – it’s a life choice that gets people kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered, all because they tried to tell the truth.

2. Because in 2013, 211 journalists were incarcerated worldwide, the second worst year on record. For many, this is just a number on paper. You need to watch Rosewater to be reminded of how your fellow journalists around the world suffer, to see what they experience firsthand. Unlike Bahari, many of these journalists will die in prison, getting life sentences for something as simple as a letter.

3. Because journalism is the vassal of democracy, and at some point while writing a story about a goat running wild in small town Missouri, you might have forgotten your job is a sacred one. Witness firsthand how totalitarian governments, losing control of the flow of information in our modern age, become terrible, desperate entities.

4. Because Rosewater is a single anecdote in a wave of happenings around the world. From the Arab Spring to the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong and most recently the uprising in Mexico, the free flow of information empowers the people. Cellphones are becoming the ultimate tool of democracy, making every citizen a witness. The internet makes it impossible to conceal the truth. The youth of the world, aware of the oppression around them, are finally standing in revolution. Free information and the chokehold of regimes cannot coexist, and we can tell who is winning.

5. Because you need to see Jon Stewart’s first movie so that he’ll make more. He’s an advocate of powerful, intelligent journalism, and Rosewater is advocacy embodied. Go see the movie and support relevant journalism.

And while you’re at it, every episode of The Daily Show is posted on Hulu the day after it airs. Get watching.