How would learning R or python benefit me?
May 23, 2017 4:39 AM   Subscribe

How would learning R or python benefit me? I'm interested in a career perspective, hobby perspective, etc.

I'm someone who gets bored easily and always wants to learn the next thing (in a work-related way).

I'm thinking of learning R and/or python, but I'm not sure if it is worth the time?

More than you want to know about this sock puppet:
-I have a undergrad and grad degree in biological fields
-I've been a medical writer for many years (along the lines of writing journal articles about drugs and clinical drug trials) - I like digging through the numerous journal articles and getting up to date
-Currently a "science writer"
-Earning ~ 80 K or so in a low cost part of the country

My questions about the programs:
-If I spend time learning the programs, could it mean a bump in salary (high cost of living places like NYC would need to be 100 K or more)?
-What about very interesting work?
-What about interesting open source data that I could explore for fun?

Or if you have done this for fun, what have you found that makes it worth it?

I have limited outside work time, but if I thought it = interesting work, or a bump in salary, I could make time.

I've seen former answers, but I'm hoping for a snowflake answer (would it benefit my salary and/or career).
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet to Technology (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
If you're interested in any kind of machine learning / automatic language analysis, either professionally or personally, Python and to a lesser extent R are the languages of choice there.
posted by PMdixon at 6:12 AM on May 23, 2017

It's good for career, always, but as for hobby value, well... I taught myself Python (see my old AskMe's while I was learning, or for a laugh) basically so that I could automate a bunch of crap in my house/life.

Fast forward few years, and now I have little software robots all over the place that monitor things for me (news stories, financial stuff, sports stuff, technical stuff, state of my house, etc) and notify me when interesting things happen.

They're adorable.
posted by rokusan at 6:39 AM on May 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

If you want to pursue a career as a data analyst or data scientist, learning Python and R can give you an advantage over those trained with canned statistical analysis packages such as SPSS or SAS, simply because they are free to use. This will allow you flexibility when it comes to job applications and the ability to do freelance work.

In terms of salary, data scientists do earn quite a bit in certain markets. I think somewhere between 80-150k.

Interesting work? Depends on the field. Data scientists with a massive toolbox of skills from machine learning to visualization to data mining can basically go wherever they want. I work in urban development currently and some of the tasks are supremely boring (using Bokeh to make a pretty chart) while some promise to be more challenging and rewarding, such as geospatial analysis.

If you're curious about the sort of problems you might solve using Machine Learning, check out the competitions on Kaggle.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:40 AM on May 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

R can definitely come in as a hobby tool if you like reading studies. I'll use it occasionally to check how robust a surprising report is--ie, if one person had different outcomes or these excluded people were included are the conclusions the same? Very easy for that. Definitely helped me develop my sense of what the uncertainties are around some research.

I would assume that would help you in some way with science writing even if only indirectly.
posted by mark k at 7:10 AM on May 23, 2017

would it benefit my salary and/or career: very possibly, but there are no guarantees of instant results. You might have to put in time and effort for a while before benefits emerge.

My recommendation, since you currently work as a science writer, would be to focus on bolstering your knowledge of statistics, treating R and Python as mere tools to get the job done. (Actually, this is generally good advice for anyone.)

A good place to start is "An Introduction to Statistical Learning (with Applications in R)" by Gareth James, Daniela Witten, Trevor Hastie and Robert Tibshirani, which is freely available online and has R exercises.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

PS: re R vs Python for data science, just know that biostatisticians commonly tend more to R (though not always) and software-industry machine learning folks commonly tend more to Python. You can always start with one and then move to the other, so it really doesn't matter.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:06 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for open-source data, you can try, at least until Trump and co. decide that it's a waste of taxpayer money.
posted by number9dream at 9:13 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

At my company we have an extensive data science team working in R and Python on biological data. I could see a transition where you become a technical writer writing code documentation and eventually make your way to a programming / data science position. Data scientists can be very well paid (>150k in the SF Bay Area) although the people earning the highest salaries tend to have a PhD or extensive experience.
posted by pombe at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am currently helping another mefite with some data parsing and transformation tasks that are trivial in Python but are damn near impossible using tools like excel. Once you know a little code it is amazing how often it comes in handy.
posted by rockindata at 9:25 AM on May 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you have interest in getting back into hands-on research, bioinformatics expertise is in ludicrously short supply these days.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ignoring the statements about data science and its impact on your job skills, Python is quite useful as a glue language for handling lots of everyday office-job annoyances; I often recommend Automate the Boring Stuff with Python to people who are interested in picking up coding but worry that as people with zero background in CS they won't have an aptitude for it or get any use out of it.
posted by snarkout at 8:48 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say thank you to every person who answered this question.

I favorited a few just because they give me a direction to go now or a bit of insight, but all the answers were valuable to me.
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet at 7:04 AM on May 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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