How Much Programming Do I Need to Know for Data Science?

An Analogy for Beginners

Jesse Ruiz (she/they)

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4/25/2022

Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Coding skills for data scientists are essential but very dependent upon the tech stack that you utilize. Many data scientists use tools like SAS and packages like pandas or prebuilt tools to develop and test statistical and/or machine learning models. There is a big push for data scientist to become more well-rounded programmers, but it’s not the case that most data scientists are expert developers.

To explain this complex issue in more detail, I will rely on an analogy to a professional cook. How much programming does a data scientist need to know? By analogy, how much cooking skills does a cook need to know?

The Cook Analogy

How much cooking skills does a professional cook need to know? Does the cook need to know everything about cooking? Does the cook need to master just one technique or style of cooking? Perhaps the cook only needs to know how to cook certain things at one particular restaurant? As you can imagine, it’s impossible that a cook will know everything about cooking. It’s more likely that a certain kind of cook is produced from particular types of cooking schools where the cook decides to specialize in some particular thing. Further, you can imagine that there are plenty of cooks that are self-taught or else simply know basics and make it work by learning the required skills needed at a particular restaurant. Or else, specialize in one particular thing.

The Data Scientist

If a data scientist were to be judged upon her programming skills alone, then this analogy would be perfect. But it isn’t. I used it in order to illustrate a point. This point is that programming skills are really only measurable in a certain context. No one is going to know everything about programming. Also, the most likely scenario is that certain groups of people have particular skills and techniques from certain types of schooling. Programmers are sometimes made from college degrees in computer science. But it’s also true that programmers are created by someone picking up the skills on their own, on the job or in a special circumstance.

So how much coding knowledge to be a good…

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Jesse Ruiz (she/they)

Data Engineer, Artist, Queer writing about tech and life