From Acting to Big Data Engineer

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Meet Flatiron School Data Science alum and Big Data Engineer at Enhance IT, Chuck Pryor Jr.!

Chuck came to Flatiron School with a dream to work in tech and an extraordinary career spanned several professions . Through rigorous classes he went from barely being able to code to building a Convolutional Neural Network with Image Classification to help patients with peripheral neuropathy better care for themselves. Here he tells his fascinating story:

What is your background and experience, and what led you to Flatiron School's data science program? What did you do before FIS?

My background is absolutely all over the place! From actor to teacher to writer to mid level management to outreach counselor to landlord, I feel I have done it all before embarking on a tech career. With this said, right before Flatiron, I was the primary caretaker for five years for both of my parents who were very ill. This was the most rewarding job I have ever had as well as the most challenging! Even more challenging than Flatiron! I was led to Flatiron because as a younger than most caretaker, I knew I was going to have to re-enter the workforce and I wanted a tech career. I started searching for the right opportunity. I read about the reputation of Flatiron as being the top bootcamp in the country and I said to myself “I’ll never get in”. After all I couldn’t code a lick and had zero tech background. I was in D.C. checking out another program and decided to schedule a tour of Flatiron. I visited, liked it, and found out that they were offering full ride fellowships for Data Science. I did the pre-work, was admitted to the program and won the fellowship. That is what started my life changing adventure!

What made you choose Flatiron School rather than going back to college or teaching yourself? What was the learning experience like at Flatiron School?

I opted to enroll in a bootcamp because I wanted something that would qualify me to get back into the workforce quicker than a traditional degree program. I wanted something cheaper, and also a program that aggressively worked with me to get a job. I loved the learning experience at Flatiron. I loved being back in class, doing assignments and doing projects and getting to know my fellow cohorts and I must say, we started as 23 deep!

I felt that I had so much support. I was a beginner starting Python and SQL from scratch. The only topic I had a decent command of was the statistics module as that had been my favorite course in undergrad and grad school! The lessons were fast and went over my head, but I had the rest of the day to network and work with my cohorts on my difficulties. I found some of my cohort members struggled too, even those with programming backgrounds. Had I tried to do this program on my own time without the structure of an on campus program, I would have failed miserably and not completed the program. Every project applied what was just learned to real world problems that ended up impressing my interviewers. Especially the final project.

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What would you say was the biggest challenge in your journey of learning data science?

The largest obstacle I faced was making sense of this monster of tech knowledge I had to learn for Data Science. I was good at the concepts, but applying hard code to this was difficult. I had to retrain my whole brain; after all I’m a STEM professional now. I figured out that I had to rewire the neural network of my brain. I admit I struggled with code well into my final project. After Flatiron, I continued to practice and things started clicking and my momentum took off. I went from barely being able to code through a list in Python to a final project where I built a Convolutional Neural Network with Image Classification during my Flatiron matriculation.

What were some of your favorite projects that you built while  in the program?

My favorite project was my final project, the Image Classification Convolutional Neural Network. I wanted to help patients with peripheral neuropathy better care for themselves. I constructed a code to scrape the web for pictures of feet in any condition. I gathered over 5000 images and sorted them into 4 different categories; a healthy foot, needs TLC, see a doctor, and go to the ER immediately. I trained this model in AWS then built an app where a user can upload a pic of their foot and the model will classify the health of the foot into one of the four before mentioned categories. Another cool project that I did was an income predictor tool. This was a linear regression with several variables can predict your income in any census tract within the United States!

How did you land your current role?

I landed my first role through NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK! I stayed active on LinkedIn, created a technical twitter, and kept promoting my blog in different Slack channels. My coach and I crafted a stellar cover letter and resume. The coach also gave me some great LinkedIn tips on page design and networking! Consequently, my first role found me! A company recruiter contacted me through Slack and asked me to apply for Data Engineering position where I would undergo a rigorous 8 week training ultimately preparing me for mid to Senior level Data Engineering roles.

Are you using what you learned at Flatiron School on the job? Did you feel prepared?

Learning Data Science was challenging because we work with Big Data, meaning datasets with sometimes a billion rows and hundreds of columns. My Python knowledge was sufficient for this and I became an expert in SQL. Flatiron not only teaches you languages, they teach you how to learn other languages so learning SCALA, SPARK, the Hadoop Ecosystem, and getting used to working in the terminal was 2nd nature. Without Flatiron, it would have been too difficult to learn these new languages.

Have you found your previous professional background useful in your new job?

My whole life’s work experience has been useful, mostly in learning different work personality types and how to adjust my personality to guarantee workplace success. I learned how to hustle from my industry experience in Hollywood, California. That’s one place where you learn to network by default and you also learn to be resourceful. Data Engineering is highly technical so I spend all of my time in front of the computer, but those skills helped me get that job.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about making a career change and attending a bootcamp?

I would say if you have had a notion for a while to go in the tech direction, then go for it! When you do, it would behoove you to adjust your life for the rigorous coursework that is to come and know that you cannot stop coding and learning once Flatiron stops. Tech changes so rapidly so understand that you are going to be in almost a constant state of learning something new, whether it’s a new software or language. Be prepared to truly be a lifelong learner and be flexible. Also know that even though there are an abundance of tech jobs, it is not as easy as sending an application as an entry level worker in this field. Employers want to make sure you have the skills to solve their problems, or teachable enough for them to make an investment and give you a shot. There are all types of ways to break into tech and many different types of jobs so if you feel led to this field then aggressively go forth, it is very rewarding.

Anything last thoughts you’d like to share?

My parting words are to Go For It! Your potential is truly limitless. You are the only one that is remotely qualified to say what you can or cannot do. What is stopping you? Code something….today!!!!

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