When people ask me what my favourite subject was during my undergraduate degree in Management Science, I always say Data Analytics without skipping a beat. Yet I never would have guessed that would be the case before I started the programme. In honour of International Love Data Week, I’m looking back at the experience that first made me love data.
Fascinating but not quite exciting
Back in high school, I did my A-level equivalent in Computer Science, so I was no stranger to programming – in fact, I quite enjoyed it. Yet when I started doing a Data Analytics module in my first year of university, I can’t say I loved it. Don’t get me wrong – I was fascinated by it. How could a few lines of code be behind virtually everything in our lives? When I watch a movie that Netflix recommends for me, or when I listen to my Daily Mix on Spotify, or when I order an Uber, I know that it’s data that makes all of those things possible. Yet, fascination is not necessarily the same thing as enjoyment, and let’s be honest – the mathematical and statistical principles were not exactly as flashy as I was hoping for. So, I went through the module with a very high level of fascination and admiration, but still a low level of enjoyment.
Then, in term two, I finally got the chance to apply my theoretical skills into practice thanks to a little thing called Scenario Week. A Scenario Week is an intense one-week project where Management Science students work on a real interdisciplinary management problem and try to develop a solution in teams. We worked on many problems in many fields over the years, but it’s the Data Analytics Scenario Week that I remember most fondly. We were all in our first year and many of us had no real experience with coding prior to university. And yet here we were, being tasked to develop a machine learning solution to predict review scores for Google Play apps. We were working with a real dataset, on a very real problem. This was very different to the carefully crafted exercises we had previously experienced.
If at first you don’t succeed…
And…we struggled. Of course we did. This wasn’t one of the simple exercises where you input the independent and dependent variables, write a simple line of code, run it, and observe the results. In a classroom, everything works well. But in real life? Not quite so much. In fact, I still remember exactly what our lecturer told us at the beginning of that week. “Sometimes, things just don’t work”. Not awfully cheerful, I admit. But somehow, it was weirdly motivating for me. It gave me the assurance that things not working out is not the end of the world, it is just something that happens. So when it (inevitably) does happen, you don’t have to lose your mind. You simply go back and try again. And again. And again. And again. But then, when you’re almost about to give up, it finally happens. No red error messages. Just the correct output. It works. What a feeling! It might not sound quite so exhilarating for people who’ve never experienced it, but I’m sure that everyone who ever tried to analyse data knows the exact feeling I’m talking about.
Fascination becomes Love
I’ll always remember that Scenario Week as that was my first experience feeling that buzz. After days of struggling, our code finally worked the way it was meant to, and we were thrilled. The feeling of accomplishment was evident in the team. And somewhere along the way, I realised that I was no longer just fascinated by data analytics. For the first time, I was enjoying it. I was having fun. And after looking around, I realised the others were feeling it too. In an unexpected twist, data brought us together. And in that moment, we all loved it.