Why don’t you try it out?

Will Karnasiewicz
Apr 1 · 5 min read

A constant refrain I heard from my instructors in the first few weeks of my data science bootcamp at General Assembly was “why don’t you try it out?” Initially it’s easy to hear that response and indignantly think “why can’t you just tell me the answer?” But I quickly realized the beauty of that rhetorical question is that it has encouraged me to (1) develop the ability to independently find solutions (whether by simple trial and error, or with assistance from Google and Stack Overflow) and (2) remain curious (by not immediately dismissing imperfect ideas). It’s an important lesson to remember: regardless of the situation, try it out!

Let’s rewind to a little more than a year ago. I’d been working in NYC as a financial valuation consultant for the past seven years. I was lucky to have worked with a wonderful, close-knit group of colleagues and some great clients, but I couldn’t shake a longing for a change professionally. Plus, it didn’t help anything (besides my Amtrak Guest Rewards balance) to be in a different city as my significant other. So last March, I took a leap, quit my well-paying job in NYC and moved down to Washington D.C. full-time. After all, there’s no time like the present!

I started my sabbatical in D.C. with a few aspirations in mind: (1) travel, (2) relax and enjoy D.C., (3) learn new technical skills, and (4) explore a few potential career pathways.

Me and Charlie Papazian, the father of modern American homebrewing

I flew to Portland, Oregon (aka ‘Beervana’) for the 40th Annual Homebrew Convention and tried out some excellent food and beverages and learned some new brewing techniques. I traveled to Scotland to play golf and I explored the streets of D.C. with a Capital Bikeshare membership. But the point of this blog is not for me to detail my travels or offer my restaurant and bar suggestions. Rather, let’s circle back to goals (3) and (4), learning skills and pivoting my career.

Throughout my academic and professional career, I’ve always been drawn to quantitative subjects. While studying economics and math at Georgetown and finance at Washington University in St. Louis, I took courses in statistics, econometrics, programming, data analysis, and derivative modeling. But I quickly realized out in the ‘real world’, if you’re not using your programming skills regularly, not only does the ‘muscle memory’ of the coding fade, but the technologies may evolve as well.

Working in the business valuation industry, my job was to determine the most accurate valuation of a variety of hard-to-value items: intangible assets, complex derivatives, earn-out agreements, etc. While the industry continues to evolve its best practices, valuation appraisal is by its very nature not a risk-taking field. If a new model is developed it must be scrutinized internally, it must be readily explained to and understood by the client, and it needs to pass the inspection of the client’s auditors. Although Microsoft Excel is a versatile and ubiquitous tool of the business landscape, it can easily get bogged down by too much data or calculations. But in an industry that relies so heavily on review and reproducibility, all participants must be on the same technology, no matter how imperfect.

On my ‘sabbatical’ and now awash with more free time, I explored the world of online courses: including Jose Portillo’s Complete Python Bootcamp on Udemy, exercises on Datacamp and Dataquest, and another Jose Portillo course on Full-Stack web development. (Jose’s a great teacher!) While these courses certainly helped further build out my programming foundations, the lack of structured requirements in MOOCs can necessitate a wealth of extra initiative to translate your newly acquired skills from hobbies to careers.

Ready to get back into the workforce and excited to explore a new field, I joined Accion Venture Lab as a full-time volunteer (read: unpaid) analyst. Accion Venture Lab (AVL) is a truly inspiring investment fund. One of the pioneers in seed-stage impact investing, it focuses on funding global early-stage financial technology startups that incorporate financial inclusion in their mission. Microinsurance to reach the masses in India, alternative credit scoring and consumer credit solutions, lending to underserved micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Latin America and Africa are just a sample of the business models supported by AVL. I encourage everyone to subscribe to AVL’s VentureKast podcast to hear more about the entrepreneurs and businesses in which they invest!

As I explored Impact Investing, I came to the conclusion that I was most excited about the technologies and the underlying companies themselves. And with a yet-unused gift certificate for a workshop at General Assembly Washington D.C. from my victorious 2018 March Madness bracket (had a chance for a repeat until Gonzaga lost over the weekend), I decided to take a full-day Saturday Data Science course using Python taught by Matt Brems. And thus when I was deliberating what to do post-Accion, my mind kept circling back to data science.

So I guess I ruined the surprise with the first paragraph, but let’s jump back to present; I’m fully subsumed by the Data Science Immersive program at General Assembly. Having just completed Week 5 (a little behind schedule with my blogging), I couldn’t be much happier with the decision. To borrow a term from the popular career design book, Designing Your Life, I often find myself in a state of ‘flow’ — a feeling that had disappeared as of late from my professional life. I’m encouraged and impressed by my peers, my teachers, GA alumni, and other members of the local data science community. And most of all, I’m excited to keep trying!

The author with a makeshift cape while hiking in Mill Valley, CA

Stay tuned for more posts to come: probably not quite as much diary-esque storytelling, but plenty of tidbits on my own adventures with Python and data science…

Written by

Data scientist; CFA charterholder and financial valuation specialist; avid golfer and racquet sport aficionado; homebrewing hobbyist; TWTR: @wmkarney

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