#DataBootCamp 2016

I just returned home from one of the craziest and most stressful but most fulfilling experiences of my career to date: rebirthing Data BootCamp.

Less than 50 days ago, Wellstone Action asked me and Cristina Sinclaire to join their team of staff and progressive data practitioners working to relaunch Data BootCamp. I don’t think either of us knew what we were getting into: there was a ton to do, not much time, and a lot of emotions surrounding this training. Over the years, Data BootCamp has changed lives, and it remains one of the only trainings specifically aimed at developing new progressive data talent. With a presidential election on the horizon, it was incredibly important that we make this training happen in early 2016 to set the movement up for success in the fall.

Today, after a lot of blood, sweat, tears and lots of crisis management, we launched a group of 56 new Data BootCamp alumni, sending them off with the confidence to change the world with their newfound data skills.

A TON of work went into making this week happen, and it couldn’t have happened without a massive community effort by those mentioned specifically here as well as countless others:

Developing Curriculum. Shortly after joining the team, I worked with a curriculum committee to develop training objectives. I worked with Cristina, Russ Rampersad and Kym Neck to turn those objectives into an agenda. Staying true to Data BootCamp’s experiential learning roots, we chose to center the training around an anti-fracking ballot initiative. I recruited Brian Capuder and Matthew Phillips to build an entire fake campaign data set, and Dessa Gypalo and Bianca Mounce helped set up VAN and SQL instances for our participants. Benjy Messner, Jess Garson and Carter Kalchik all edited the participant guide so that participants had a reference for the skills they learned all week.

Recruiting Coaches and Trainers. Cristina, Russ, Kass DeVorsey and I developed a trainer and coaches targets list, with an eye to maximizing diversity (we ended up with nearly 75% of our trainers and coaches being women, people of color and/or LGBT). At the same time that we worked to recruit a badass team of trainers, I recruited an amazing group of practitioners who dropped everything to come serve as week-long coaches (Brian, Carter, Pete Backof, Emily Callen, Audra Grassia, Tim Lumpkins, Bianca Mounce, Eric Nelson, Herschel Pecker, Sonya Reynolds, and Trevor Wong). Additional folks came out just for SQL, to serve as floating coaches and ensure that participants were supported through those challenging sessions. As trainers worked to develop their sessions, Rachel Gutauskas and Kate Dahl helped me with curriculum review, ensuring that slide decks made sense and that we were being creative with our approaches to the material.

During the Training. Lastly, during the week, Benjy and I served as cruise directors, introducing trainers and helping make connections in participants’ minds on how sessions connected to one another, and Cristina held down the “back of the house”, ensuring that annoying things like temperature controls, power outages and timekeeping were under control, as well as made sure every evaluation was ready to post and every impromptu survey was created. Following a suggestion of Elyse Ross, we set up a Slack team for BootCamp (a very popular decision – over 8000 messages were sent over the course of the week), which helped us stay connected and share resources. We also used the Progressphiles Slack as a method to collect feedback from the wider data community on the homework assignments that participants completed throughout the week (Cristina ran a badass Get Out the Comments campaign to make sure participants received solid feedback).

Throughout the week, as amazing data community members came to train on everything from Excel to SQL to developing vote goals, we watched the BootCampers cycle through the “6 emotional stages of BootCamp” (h/t Jen Higgins) – starting with the unbridled enthusiasm they had upon arrival to the bitter, angry disappointment of debugging SQL to finally the “rational data’ing” mindset that “you won’t learn it all in one week, but you’re now part of a community that will support you as you continue to grow”.

When one trainer called in with the flu, I even got to train on analytics and modeling! It was pretty cool to train alongside Dan Scarvalone, who first got me excited about modeling back when I attended BootCamp, and to have that opportunity now to get others excited about modeling as well.


After pouring countless volunteer hours into ensuring that Data BootCamp survived beyond NOI, I have no words for how it felt to see participants’ excitement and eagerness to continue learning as well as to hear their enthusiasm for joining the community of folks who love this training and want it to continue.

Ending this training on Valentine’s Day was pretty poetic, given the amount of data love I’ve felt today and all week from the community. One of my favorite parts of this training was always this community aspect, the feeling of family and solidarity among data nerds. I left BootCamp feeling so (for lack of a better phrase) “warm and fuzzy” inside, knowing that this family lives on and knowing that we all came together to make this happen.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped for the next Data BootCamp! (Just maybe I’ll sleep a little first…)


4 thoughts on “#DataBootCamp 2016

  1. A friend just found out about data camp and wants to know when you might do another one. I see you’re pumped for the next one. When might that be, and where? How much time do I have to raise the money?

    Progressively yours,

    Will Pipkin


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