3 Ways I Learned Through My CompassRed Internship

Have you ever been shopping on Amazon.com and wondered why certain ads pop up on your screen? Or maybe you’ve been curious about the polling results in the upcoming election. These two examples highlight how pervasive data is in everyday lives. It is incredibly powerful and influential; yet, sifting through and making sense of it can turn into an arduous task. My internship at CompassRed focused on learning the art of data storytelling, an increasingly valuable skill that pairs a powerful narrative with clear visualizations in order to draw larger conclusions and insights from complex questions.

When I began the internship in May, I was presented with the task of learning a new programming language to build a data story - the dynamic Javascript visualization package D3.js. At first, I was intimidated – as a rising sophomore in college, I had only taken a few classes in statistics and programming, and I was unsure if I had the knowledge to tackle such a complicated concept at a rapidly growing data analytics startup. In order to make this possible, the CompassRed team used a project-focused approach to help me learn the skills that I would need in order for me to successfully complete the data story.

Concept Stacking

Each day at CompassRed, I gradually gained the experience necessary to build my data story. Through this process, I began to realize the power of concept stacking - starting with a basic concept and slowly adding complexity over time. In practice, this took the form of weekly 1-on-1 meetings with technical leads, supplemental research, and collaborative feedback from the broader team. A daunting hurdle, like learning the ins-and-outs of data programming, was suddenly much more manageable.

Project Based Learning

When it came to applying the skills I was learning, we used a Project Based Learning approach. Rather than just learning R, HTML, CSS and Javascript in a vacuum, we focused on a tangible deliverable that helped me understand the importance of project management and time-oriented planning. Every data story has a timeline and I found that the best way to keep up with deadlines was to create a calendar of my own, listing a set of goals and accomplishments within a given time frame. StackOverflow and I became frenemies as I began to find roadblocks in my code. The entire process of searching the web for an answer was a journey of its own. While the answer was not always directly under my nose, I gained the ability to piece together information from different sources to create an answer. This invaluable skill was not only useful for building solutions to a complex business problems but also carried through to other personal projects.

Solidify Through Knowledge Transfer

Creating a real data story to solve a problem for a top client was just as challenging as it sounds. This was my first time building a client focused deliverable. The team scheduled regular check-ins along the way so that I could transfer the concepts I was building to the broader team. These meetings were a great opportunity to improve ‘soft skills’ like presenting to a group, simplifying complex ideas, and engaging in constructive feedback. It was through these knowledge transfer sessions that I solidified the concepts I learned over the summer.

As I wrap up my summer with CompassRed, I’m reminded of the challenges I faced and the breakthroughs I made as an individual and the progress we made as a collective. One of the most valuable aspects of my time here was witnessing the ins-and-outs of a fast growing startup atmosphere. It resembled a well-oiled machine, where everyone worked separately yet together, constantly brain-storming ideas, appreciating every ounce of input, and collaboratively piecing together elements of data science and business to devise the most optimal solution. One of the biggest takeaways I gathered from this internship was to always take risks– in thinking or approaching an answer. Digging deep and using creativity spawns a whole spectrum of ideas that, in my opinion, helped me inch towards my data journey goal. I took risks that personally challenged me and took me out of my comfort zone, and it helped me grow as a person and learn more about my potential. My time at CompassRed helped me become a better coder, risk taker, and an out-of-the-box thinker and I hope to use these invaluable skills wherever I find myself next.