Choose Your Own Adventure: DIY Professional Development

my function, fibbo, originally uploaded by kendrak.

These are two of my first homemade Python functions. For n, you can compute n factorial or Fibonacci. These are simple enough tasks, but it took me a few evenings of deep thought and concentration to get here. I’m not a programmer and training my brain to think like one has been work.

Why am I learning Python? I had a realization a month ago that I wasn’t in the place I needed to be to do the kind of work I’d like to do. Basically, I was stuck. Not physically, but skill wise. If I want to get more involved with managing datasets, knowing Python (or even Perl), would be very useful and practical.

Often when people come to this sort of existential epiphany, they turn to school for the answer. More degrees lead to more credibility (and probably more debt), but I don’t think that always has to be the case. If I want to get more involved with the messy sides of data, rather than sets as objects, do I really need to get another Masters? Why not just roll up my sleeves and do it?

So I’m doing it… incrementally. I have a project with a goal in mind, and I need to get the skills to accomplish it, which is mostly learning Python to then do some visualizations using Graphviz (or something else free and Linux based).

It’s hard to make time for this but it’s important for me to grow my career. If you want to develop new skills, which may in turn create new opportunities, you need to make that a priority for yourself. Be selfish and just do it. It’s very easy to get stuck in the rut of your job in front of you, and I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world if you expect to coast it out until retirement, but how likely is that scenario any more. Particularly for people working in the public sector, things are changing and they’re out of our control. We need to be flexible and agile, and a big part of that is checking in with yourself – am I doing what I want to do? If not, what do I need to do to get there?

So I’ll continue my evening codefests of one. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you about something awesome I conjured up. Stay tuned!

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