Picking a real world data project after you’ve learned Pandas or R

  • Walt 

Being able to work with data is a super-power. In this post I want to talk about what you can do AFTER you have taken the time to learn the basics of R or Pandas.


So you’re thinking about learning how to use code to analyze data. Naturally you have some skills to pick up… loading data, manipulating it, plotting it. There are lots of tutorials out there that can teach you the basics… but then what?

Once you learn the basics you have a tool now you need a problem to apply it to.

Data is useful when it helps you or someone else make decisions… so you need to figure out what kinds of decisions would be useful to make.

Are you an entrepreneur? Data can help you find market opportunities

Amazon data is really exciting! Check out Jungle Scout. These guys crunch Amazon listings and come up with estimates for product sales rates. They combine this information with average product ratings to find markets where products are selling well but the quality isn’t great. They then work with overseas manufacturers to develop new better products.

This same approach can probably be applied to android apps on the Google Play Store, freelance opportunities on the Fiverr marketplace, niche manufactured products on Etsy, digital goods on Creative Market or really any other online marketplace.

If you want to give it a try what you’ll be looking for is a way to estimate sales or product download volumes… you’ll want to group similar products and find markets where several people are selling product but there’s no clear market leader… then the question becomes how can you supply that market.

Data can be a product if it helps other people make decisions

Check out Quantopian. These guys outsource automated stock market trading. They supply data, contests, a community and money. In return their community creates models that make money in the stock market.

Most of Google’s tools are data products. Search, maps, translate, etc… all help users make decisions with data.

Marketplaces are often about helping you make decisions. Restaurant review sites… Yelp, OpenTable and others give you data that helps you pick the right restaurants. Hired.com collects the data you needed to help companies find new employees.

How to come up with a good real world data project

  1. Pick an audience… it’s easiest of if it’s an audience you’re really familiar with. It could be YOU as well — some aspect of your life where you struggle to make decisions. As an example, you could pick photographers or systems engineers.
  2. Ask yourself how you can make them better with better decisions. In what situations? A better photographer might be better at taking great photos… or might be better at promoting the photos he’s taken. A better systems engineer might be better at responding to problems or might be better at debugging really deep gnarly bugs.
  3. Ask yourself what kind of data would effect the decisions these people make?
  4. Collect the data and show it to one of these people. See if he / she gets it.
  5. Build from there.

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