Contiuous Learning

Today I want to give a bit of insight into what resources I used in order to improve my knowledge and skill set for data analysis. Although I have many years of experience in software development and using Python, I felt like I was no longer in touch with the latest developments technology wise. Furthermore, although holding a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and therefore knowing how applied data science kind of looks like in this field, I felt like a more generalized and formal view on data science would be great to be prepared for the future. – So, whether you are just starting or you are already an expert – maybe this blog-post can help you to create your own learning curriculum to gain and enhance your skills or even prepare for a new job.

And so, yesterday I finished the last of the five courses of the Deep Learning Specialization from at Coursera.  Finishing this specialization for me marks a milestone in solidifying and extending my knowledge of data analysis algorithms, tools and methodologies which I started at the beginning of the year. In early January (way before the Corona crisis reached Europe) I created myself a learning curriculum which had the goal to

  1. update my Python knowledge to the latest technologies (where I already considered myself  an expert with more then 15 years of experience) and formalize the data science process using the Python environment,
  2. get deeper insight to more machine learning techniques in order to extend my toolbox for data analysis,
  3. learn more about methodologies to manage research/data science projects, as I lead a large astronomical survey, observing 100 square degrees of the Galactic plane,
  4. and finally open the door to the field of deep learning, which becomes more and more important also in astronomy.

Coursera made all this possible: first, I took the nine courses of the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate  to get up to date, then Andrew Ng’s famous Machine Learning course, which I was especially curious about and enjoyed a lot. Afterwards I tackled some management aspects by taking the 5 courses of the Executive Data Science Specialization from Johns Hopkins University. The final milestone was then the Deep Learning Specialization from (again with Andrew Ng, who is an exceptional teacher). In parallel I was honing my skills by using different apps (e.g. SoloLearn and Elevate), read a book on High Performance Python and took smaller Courses on DataCamp or updated background knowledge using the Web: YouTube has some very good learning videos/playlists, Wikipedia is always useful when you just want to catch up on something, and Blogs with tutorials, How-Tos or introductions are just right, if you want to get a quick update or introduction to a topic.

There are lot of amazing free learning platforms and resources out there (with SoloLearn as a real jewel), but I found especially the graded exercises at Coursera (you need to subscribe for these) most useful, as they give you a much deeper hands-on experience. Although just watching the videos at Coursera (this is mostly free) already gives a pretty good insight to a topic (esp. the courses from Andrew Ng), I think the comprehensive hands-on exercises make these courses stand out from videos e.g. on YouTube and other resources.

In order to keep track of my learning and adjust the curriculum as needed, I used different apps. Evernote is my main tool here, as it allows me to take notes on my phone where- and whenever something comes to my mind, and I can also access it in a web browser on my laptop. I use it not only to manage what and when I want to learn it, I also use it to quickly jot down new ideas on what could be interesting to learn or what I would have to look up later on the Internet. Furthermore, I use Evernote for to-do lists and as a weekly journal for scheduling tasks at work or at home and plan my learning throughout the week. Combining this with task management apps like Trello and the PomoDoneApp to stay focused, working my way through my personal learning curriculum became much more structured.

It was not always easy, and some days I really had to force myself to keep going – especially on days when you already have been working hard and just want to get to the relaxing part of the evening. – But the feeling of even just doing 30 minutes of mental exercises, and the motivation you get from wanting to apply the newly learned skills, was absolutely worth it.

So if you want to improve or refresh your own skills and background knowledge – there are plenty of opportunities out there nowadays (free and payed, on a laptop/desktop but also for mobile devices). So my suggestion is: review some of them, create yourself your own, personal learning curriculum and get started!

Continue learning today! – For me, this was just the start…

If you register at Coursera through this link, you will get 50% off a course or the first month of a specialization.