This is an article that I've been meaning to write for a long time. After nearly 4 years of practicing both data science and writing, it's long overdue that I share my feelings on how the two interact.
Data science is a multi-dimensional field. It's often visualized as a combination of programming, statistics, and domain knowledge. Data Scientists are expected to be logical analysts, versatile problem solvers, and capable programmers. This is more than enough to keep you busy, but it overlooks the foundation that all of these skills depend on: Communication.
What's my number one recommendation for data scientists? Take the time to write. Write code? No, like actually write.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this is coming out of left field or just reinforcing an idea that you may have heard before. Regardless, it's important enough to merit a couple hundred words on the subject. If I can convince one person to try writing more frequently, then hey, let's call it a success.
Communication Is Impact
From analyzing business problems to building machine learning models, if you can’t communicate what you did, how you did it, and the appeal of it, then your hard work will likely have been for nothing. I've written about this before in When Your Job Is Done as a Data Scientist:
Data Scientists are hired to inform decisions and make an impact on the business. All of the behind-the-scenes exploratory data analysis and visualization that you do will often manifest itself in a report or a well-informed decision of some kind.
Data scientists should ruthlessly prioritize impact. When so much of our work is informing decisions and persuading others to think how we think, communication is essential. Whether we like it or not, writing is our primary tool for communication.
Telling A Story
Another skill that data scientists should master is the art of storytelling. Data storytelling and journalism have taken off over the past couple of years due to increased data literacy and interest in numerical reasoning.
By turning your findings into a story, it makes your work not only easier to understand, but also more interesting to your audience. For an example of data storytelling done right, look no further than Hans Rosling. Watching just one of his talks can change how you think about data.
A Creative Outlet
Working with data all day can take a toll on you. All of us have some way to unwind after a day of analyzing data or building models. It’s natural and vital to a healthy lifestyle.
Writing can be a great creative outlet for you to take up. As data scientists, our creativity mostly manifests in the form of problem solving techniques. Writing feels like a different form of creativity.
The art of creating and shipping something new feels different than building a model or reporting on some exploratory data analysis. Try it out and challenge your mind to work in a different way than usual. It’s good for you.
Accelerate Your Learning
This is why I started writing in the first place. I was trying to break into data science, following a bunch of newsletters, reading blog posts, and trying to make sense of it all. At some point, I realized that I would learn this stuff better if I put it into practice and tried teaching it to others. So I started a blog. This advice from David Robinson summarizes my thinking behind it:
I’ve given this advice to almost every aspiring data scientist who asked me what they should do to find a job: Start a blog, and write about data science.
I can’t emphasize enough how important this kind of practice is. No matter how many Coursera, DataCamp or bootcamp courses you’ve taken, you still need experience applying those tools to real problems. This isn’t unique to data science: whatever you currently do professionally, I’m sure you’re better at it now than when you finished taking classes in it.
This isn’t mandatory by any means. Not in the way that programming skills, technical knowledge, or domain-specific problem solving are. But mastering writing, our primary tool for communication, is undoubtedly helpful. How do you master anything? With practice, of course.
So go write and ship something!
Writing can be the super power that makes everything else more effective. At least it has been for me. Try it out and let me know how it works!
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