Build a project portfolio

Eugene Yan writes extensively on the topic of data science careers, and I particularly enjoyed the essay he wrote titled Why Have a Data Science Portfolio and What It Shows.

A tl;dr summary of what he has in there:

  • The "why" is more than "getting a job". The process of building the portfolio matters more.
  • The process involves developing qualities: persistence, continual learning, altruism (to help others).
  • The "what it shows" includes both technical skills and those aforementioned qualities.

And a notable quote:

IMHO, traits and skills are a prerequisite to building a great portfolio. And they reinforce each other.


A portfolio is just an artifact of our skills, traits, and working process. It’s the destination; it’ll take care of itself if we focus on the journey.

Reflects very much the story behind The Score Takes Care Of Itself, by the legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh.

Operate outside your pay grade

I have heard before rumblings that one shouldn't deliver more value than what we're paid for. Grumbles that sound like, "It's just a job", or, "The company won't take care of you."

As a matter of career advice I would give to someone else, though, I think operating outside our pay grade is what we ought to be doing.

Operating outside our pay grade means both going above what we are paid to do, to get a better/higher contextual view of what we're doing, and moving sideways to do adjacent things beyond our role. (That is where "above and beyond" comes from, I guess.)

What does "operating outside of our paygrade" mean? I think the following:

  1. Taking projects from conception to completion, so that you can build that portfolio of stuff done. (see: Build a project portfolio)
  2. Mastering something rare and valuable.
  3. Constantly cross-training (see: The importance of cross-training) to learn adjacent skills (see: Learn adjacent topics) and complementary ones.

So operating outside of our paygrade really means mastering adjacent skills in pursuit of being able to own a project end-to-end.


nxviz is a package for what I call "rational" graph visualizations. In this package, I try to use the idea of studying while building (see Build a project portfolio and Making as a way of studying a topic) to study the bigger idea of principled graph visualizations. (see Use position, order, and color in graph visualizations)

Learn how to learn fast

How do we learn how to learn fast?

I can mostly only speak for myself, and even then, I know I'm not the fastest learner. But some principles come to mind, which appear to have been battle-tested.

  1. The first is to Build a project portfolio.
  2. The second is to Learn like Feynman.
  3. The third is to Learn adjacent topics, rather than distant ones.

2020 11-November