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How Gilt’s Free R Class Set Me on the Path to Study Data Science


Written by Vivian Peng, Columbia University graduate (Public Health Informatics, 2014), professional designer and data science trainer

A year ago, “R” meant no more to me than any other letter of the English alphabet. Today, it represents the door that has opened a host of opportunities and a newly discovered passion into the data science world.

For those of you who are not familiar with R, it is an open-source programming language that’s widely used by statisticians and data scientists to explore data sets and conduct analyses. I first stumbled into R last fall, when I signed up for the Intro to Data Science course at Columbia University. As a second-year grad student at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, I was lured in by all of the buzz about data science and interested in learning “enough about programming to be able to speak to developers.

On the first day of lab, I received an email stating that our session was rescheduled to the following day because our professor had a scheduling conflict with the New York Open Statistical Programming Meetup. This presented a scheduling conflict for me—I had to work that day. Furious about having to miss my first Data Science session, I Googled our professor, Jared Lander, to see what his deal was.

Not only did I learn that Jared the organizer of the aforementioned meetup, but that he’s also the author of R for Everyone, a corporate trainer of R and data science, and the founder of his own consulting business. In conducting my Google search, I discovered that he was teaching a free, day-long R course at Gilt the next week, and immediately signed up to attend. In my application, I candidly wrote, “Jared is my professor, and I really need help on my homework." 

In retrospect, I am incredibly grateful to Gilt for accepting me to the course for a couple of reasons. First, it saved my sanity that week, as I felt more prepared and better equipped to complete the assignment I was working on at the time. And most importantly, it was the first time I realized that I really enjoy coding. Little did I know that, one year out, I’d still be coding–and passionately helping others to code as well. 

 Since taking Gilt’s R class, I’ve continued to pursue my ambitions in data science by building data visualizations that raise awareness of public health issues. And just this week, I got the opportunity to assist Jared in his training course at a big investment-banking firm in NYC. It’s funny how life comes full-circle, and how the frustrations of our present can pave the way for possibilities in our futures.

Thank you Gilt and Jared Lander for setting me on this path!

Have you attended one of our free Gilt courses–and has it helped your career or started you on an unexpected path? Ping us on Twitter and let us know. :)

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