Britney Spears, Neopets, and a blue computer

data viz tip Sep 13, 2022
A banner with the text Britney Spears, Neopets, and a blue computer....lead to a data viz tip?? and the Schilling Data Studio logo.

I've been thinking recently about my coding journey. My parents are both computer engineers, so I grew up around a lot of computer equipment.

In 1999, we got the first computer that my sister and I could use - it was a blue eMachines eOne (which apparently was discontinued quite quickly after a settlement with Apple), and I thought it was so cool!

I remember watching Britney Spears videos on it and dancing in the living room to "Baby One More Time" and "Opps!...I Did It Again".

Full disclosure: I just stopped writing this post to go watch those videos again. Then I got sucked into a Britney Spears spiral. Did you know Elton John and Britney Spears just released a collaboration on "Hold Me Closer"? Anyway...back to your regularly scheduled content.

With that computer, I first experimented with coding. I played Neopets, and I wanted to customize my guild, so I learned HTML and created images in Paint to create my own custom homepage.

Fast forward to college where I minored in computer science and learned Java, Python, and a few other programming languages as I was taught object oriented programming. I found it really fun to write a bunch of code that made the computer do something like play a number guessing game or Sudoku.

In my statistics classes during grad school, I learned R to make basic statistical analyses and computations, and for the research I worked on, I used MATLAB. Then in my first full-time job, I learned SQL to work with databases and VBA to create Excel macros.

When I started a new job as a statistician, I went back to R and really saw the power of it for data analysis and data science. This time I used RStudio and learned many more functions and libraries. I've continued to use R extensively anytime I want to work with data for analysis or visualization, and it's now my primary coding language.

Thinking back over my journey with coding, a couple things come to mind.

First, I learn the most (and the best) when I have an application in mind and I'm trying to do a specific task. For example, in learning how to create graphs and charts in R, I figured out what to do by having some data and searching for the specific thing I was trying to make. I still do this all the time like recently when I wanted to make a radar chart, and I couldn't remember how to do it in R. Having an application helps me learn a lot more than reading about how to do something or learning theory.

Second, I figure out just enough to make it work. I don't have to understand all the inner workings of a computer or a specific programming language to create what I want. Now, some of you may love learning the inner workings of something (and that's awesome), but I prefer to learn just enough to be able to make the code work and interpret the results.

Relating this all back to a data visualization tip (because after all, this is a blog about data viz), take time to reflect as you create data visualizations. It's helpful to reflect on your choices and process when creating a graph (or series of graphs) to examine your design choices and think back to what you're tying to convey to your audience in your graph.

Also, you don't have to figure it all out at once. Learn enough to accomplish the task at hand and take it step by step as you develop your data viz skills.

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