Pursuing my passion for data

I’ve always loved working with data and technology.

From the day I got connected to the Internet, nearly 20 years ago, I’ve been excited about the possibilities of using technology to manage information and make change.

I spent years working as an IT professional, learning a wide range of desktop, network, and database technologies, and was inspired early-on by the free software and open source movements, which I actively participated in. We all saw free software as a way to liberate our computers and treat them as a public good, and now we have an incredible ecosystem, from Linux to nearly all of the Web technologies in use today.

Along the way, however, I grew concerned about the efficacy of taking a technocratic approach to solving every problem, and became very interested in political and economic justice movements. I enjoyed the power of thinking and problem solving with an economic lens, especially, so I pursued a college degree and professional career as an economist.

This satisfied my logical and quantitative personality, and for a while I enjoyed doing research and analysis—often using data and visualization tools—and presenting my findings to decision makers and the public. But I quickly hit limitations on what I could accomplish, often because of the lack of readily actionable data and an organizational culture not ready to yet take action on it.

Numbers became exchanged with more words, and analysis became more limited to policy recommendations with only elementary quantitative elements, which even then often sparked negative and counterproductive reactions. It seemed that data was viewed as a threat, and political debate seeked to avoid it altogether. For me, personally, this was a huge disappointment.

The recent civic tech movement and the rise of open data again inspired me, and I saw a promising future opening up, just as before with free and open source software. Governments were formally publishing data that had to be web scraped before, and discussions began centering around the same information that was accessible to everyone, from crime statistics to public spending.

I felt reinvigorated by the momentum of the open data movement, and did my small part by creating an open data platform for the City of Reading and serving as the Chief Data Officer, pushing for all major data sources to be published and better utilized both inside and out of City Hall.

This work re-awakened my passion for data and technology, and I’ve since decided to study Data Science as the perfect blend of all the things that interest me and the ideal path to continuing to pursue my passions. There is a steep learning curve involved, and I hope to share my personal journey as a way to make it a little easier for others on the same route.

This past January I entered a graduate program at Lewis University, where I’ll be completing my Master of Science in Data Science. As a supplement, I’m also working on a Data Analyst Nanodegree with Udacity, to help sharpen my practical analytical skills and prepare me for a new career.

I’ll be using these posts to document my journey. Off we go!

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