If you were applying for a new job and had a choice between working on a project alone or with other people, which would you choose?
Introverts might prefer a project where they minimise human interaction, and some people really do work better if they’re left alone for long periods of time.
I’m not one of those people. I do my best work with others.
Working with Others
When I wanted to start moving from web development to data science, I could have spent my free time doing various online courses to learn the material, working on side projects to sharpen my skills and eventually getting good enough to apply for jobs. However, that would have involved me doing most of it alone. Without the ability to exchange ideas with people, get feedback on my work and get that feeling of “we’re in this together” I wouldn’t have made enough progress. In the end I bit the bullet and enrolled on a Master’s programme, and it was the right decision (for me).
The benefits of collaborating with others is probably higher in data science than other professions, because it’s often so exploratory in nature. Even in software engineering it’s plausible to be the only developer on a project and still create a perfectly good product. I’d speculate that the gains in adding a second data scientist to your team, though, are much higher.
I might be wrong, and there will almost certainly be amazing data scientists out there who are working on their own and wouldn’t gain much from a second team member, but my feeling is they’re the minority. Certainly you need to work with other, non-technical people from the business to make sure you’re solving the right problems and in the right way, so you can’t be completely in isolation anyway.
Others Outside of Work
What about outside of work?
I’m quite an extroverted person and I’m probably not alone in feeling energised by the presence of like-minded people who are motivated by the same things, e.g. data science. Hit Reply, a podcast I listen to, dedicated an entire episode to the benefits of surrounding yourself with others if you’re a startup founder, or just working on a side project with the view to making it into a startup.
I can feel myself being a lot more motivated to work on a side project even if I just talk about it for a bit with other people.
So if you’re like me, what can you do to be around the right kind of “other people”?
The meetup scene in London is particularly big and diverse. You wouldn’t have to go too much outside of your interests to find a meetup to attend every single day. Just searching for the word “data” on meetup.com gives me a list where I could easily pick a daily meetup.
I often joke that if you want to save money on food, go to a meetup that has free pizza every night. On top of getting dinner for free you’ll also learn loads and meet new people!
You shouldn’t do that.
But you could.
Sometimes you want to be part of a community without being physically present. Maybe you want to watch from the sidelines as people talk about topics of interest, or you just don’t have the time to attend meetups all the time. Online communities are a great alternative. Just off the top of my head, you’ll find plenty of content and discussion on:
Some of these are more geared towards general discussion, some are Q&A sites, but they’re all communities where you can be surrounded (virtually) by the right kind of people. Being part of a Slack channel also helps – we (MSc students) use ours regularly.
What do you do to be surrounded by the right people?
Footnote: This is the second entry in my 30 day blog challenge. The momentum is still with me.