I recently started a data science bootcamp with Metis in San Francisco, and over the course of 12 weeks we’ll be creating five projects that take us from basic to more advanced concepts and techniques. A growing amount of time is dedicated to each project, and the first one is meant to be completed within the first week. It shouldn’t be that challenging, in theory. But it’s a group project with people you just met, using tools you haven’t fully learned yet, analyzing a dataset you don’t get to choose. Before there’s time to get too comfortable, a proposal is due and just a couple days later the team delivers a presentation and project write-up.
Given MTA (New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority) turnstile usage data, we decided to pitch a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop opportunity to Valrhona, a premium chocolate manufacturer based in France. If you haven’t heard of them, your nearest Trader Joe’s which should should have their bars.
Nine years has passed since my last group project during the senior spring of college. It was a capstone project for my Strategy & Policy class, the final core requirement for a Management degree. I’ve always thought the purpose of group projects was to prepare you for the collaborative work of the real world. Surely there’s plenty of experiences outside of school where you need to corral a team, brainstorm, develop consensus, allocate duties, and then actually work through solutions. Tying together everyone’s contributions in a coherent way is of course key, otherwise why bother creating a team in the first place? You start as a group and finish as a group.
What’s odd is I haven’t actually found that group project work was a part of any of my jobs after college. I’ve definitely collaborated with one or two other colleagues on short- and long-term assignments, some of which required spending a lot of time with coworkers in person, over the phone, and online. The missing piece, though, was ownership of a project from start to finish by a group. Those assignments were never truly our idea, the product of brainstorming sessions where everyone had equal responsibilities or weight in the conversation. The teams had a purpose, strategy, and process that was determined by a manager, and we each played our role in accomplishing the overall task given to us.
On the flip side, I’ve had many of individual projects that I shaped from the beginning with full autonomy to apply whatever methods I wanted or could to achieve a goal. Of course others in my department or similar positions helped along the way with ideas and relevant experience whenever I approached roadblocks. But ultimately I was the only one executing on the blueprint and responsible for the end product.
So this brings me to where I am now, at Metis. It feels outstanding to be in a structured learning environment again, and I know that’s not for everyone. Over the past few years I’ve taken more than a handful of MOOCs, but setting your own tempo while working full time is not ideal, and I’m lucky to have this chance between jobs to pursue this accelerated program. Even though we have only one group project, everyone is studying and working in parallel. Sometimes there’s overlap in our project topics, but moreover we’re all applying time and energy to a common goal. We work together every day (e.g. pair programming), exchange knowledge from distinct backgrounds, and support our classmates’ ultimate success. As a cohort, we start together and finish together. Now that I think of it, the bootcamp feels like one big group project!