I’m at my all-time favorite training, Data BootCamp, this week, and being here (and the leadup to this week) has been an amazing reminder of how phenomenal the progressive data community is and how deeply we all care about fostering more brilliant, passionate data practitioners. Data BootCamp did so much for us, and now we want to make sure it does so for others.
“Data Bootcamp changed my life.” This has been a consistent thread of almost every trainer’s story this week, including my own. I came to Data BootCamp after a brutal cycle on the 2012 Obama campaign. I was broken and (in true post-campaign, exhausted, melodramatic fashion) was convinced that no one would ever hire me again. So when my GOTV Director, the amazing Sara El-Amine, pointed out that I seemed to really like spreadsheets and maybe I should trying going to this Data BootCamp thing, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
That week changed my life.
Over 6 long days of struggling and troubleshooting (alongside my fellow members of Team Dominate), I learned SQL, Python, and the basics of analytics and modeling from some of the smartest leaders in the progressive data world. I heard stories that sounded like my story, saw trainers who looked like me, and received tons of encouragement that I could do this work and that the community would be there for me while I continued to learn and grow. I left the training with a feeling of, “Holy shit, I need to do this for the rest of my life.”
My path since then has been meandering while I figure out the right home for my skills, but I can definitively say that there’s no way I would have become a data trainer, gone to graduate school for applied data science, or had the confidence to apply my skills to solve challenging public policy problems, had it not been for Data BootCamp. Data BootCamp taught me:
You’re never alone. Prior to Data BootCamp, my image of the “data person” was someone who hid in the darkest corner of the office, who wore headphones and a hoodie and never talked to anyone. They were that person who was brilliant all on their own and didn’t need others to help. Instead, I found a community that recognized that we all are better off as practitioners when we share our knowledge and support others, a community that welcomed me and encouraged me to reach out if I needed support, advice, and even friendship. Because of BootCamp, I gained the confidence to share my own skills with others, which led me to my amazing role as Data Training Manager at NOI.
You don’t know everything and that’s how it should be. Coming into Data Bootcamp, having never held a data job, I definitely felt like an imposter. Thoughts like, “how in the world did I make it through the application process!?” and “when are they going to realize they made a mistake” floated through my mind all week. But hearing the stories of others in the community, learning how new the campaign data world is, and how much space there is to grow within it gave me the confidence to build on the skills I did have and advocate to learn the skills I wanted. Because of BootCamp, I realized I wanted to understand modeling and data science more, which led me to my graduate program.
We’re all faking it. Before BootCamp, data folks seemed like these mythical creatures who somehow could look at a spreadsheet and tell the future. They knew how to do everything and they definitely didn’t have to ask for help (from a person or Google). Instead I met trainers and coaches (all of whom had badass jobs that seemed totally unattainable) who were willing to admit that they didn’t know the answer to my question and to suggest that we Google the answer and learn together. Because of BootCamp, I found the support I needed to make mistakes and troubleshoot errors, which led me to strengthening my Python and modeling skills and applying them to solve public policy problems.
I’m beyond thrilled that the data community came together to make sure that Data BootCamp didn’t dissolve along with NOI, and that I’ve been able to be a part of it. This year’s training been a group effort by over 75 members of our community to put on the kind of BootCamp that we’ve come to expect and that we know our 56 BootCampers deserve. We’re going into Day 4, and it’s been an amazing experience working with the same data folks who trained me and seeing some of last year’s BootCampers train others. I can’t wait to hear this cohort’s stories of, “Because of BootCamp…”