Data Science Bootcamp Review – Insight Data Science

Thank you  Prasanth Meiyappan for taking the time to do this review

Q : Can you tell us a bit about your background before the bootcamp?
A : I was wrapping up a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Prior to UIUC, I did a Bachelor of Technology degree in Industrial Engineering from India.

Q : How did you find out about the bootcamp?
A : Two of my close friends who did the bootcamp recommended it to me.

Q :  What was the application process like?
A : First, you need to have a PhD or be close to completing one to be eligible for the program.

Insight Data Science Fellows Program application process is two-fold ;
First, you submit an online application for initial screening. You can see the questions asked in the application here. In summary, the questions will be centered around your experience with programming languages, examples of data science projects (could be your side projects or from your PhD), relevant coursework, and your ability to communicate your research effectively to wider audience.

In addition, they will ask about your location preference for jobs (to ensure they do have companies in those locations to get you placed). Based on your location preference, you apply to participate in one of the three sessions: Silicon Valley, New York, or Remote Program (a recent initiative). The first two sessions are in-house programs (i.e. you need to be present in their office for the duration of boot camp). For Remote Session, you can stay at home and connect through video conferencing. Silicon Valley session is intended to cater to CA, New York to east coast, and Remote Session to rest of the USA (Seattle, LA, Chicago and other major cities). The two in-house sessions are conducted thrice a year; the remote session twice a year (as of now).

If you clear the first round, you will be invited for a 30-minute skype interview with one of the program directors. Here, they will again test you on your communication skills (e.g. explain your PhD research to your grandma), your ability to gain insights from data and explain it clearly (e.g. explain one of your recent data science projects), and also look at snippets of your code.

Your chances of getting selected are higher if you can show that you have most of the technical skills required to become a data scientist (the skills include but not limited to excellent communication, programming skills, statistical chops, and machine learning). It is also important to demonstrate in the interview that:

  • You are someone who is enjoyable to work with because most companies value independent thinkers who are also great collaborators
  • You are self-motivated and passionate about the projects you have done.

The objective of the program is to select people who have most of the skills needed to be a data scientist and help them close the remaining gap. Getting a reference letter from an Insight alumni (who knows your capacity) to accompany your online application increases your chances to get an interview.

Q : Was there any pre-course work you had to complete before the bootcamp?
A : Nothing was mandatory. To make the ramp-up easier, the Insight program directors wrote the following blogs to help fellows prepare for the boot camp.  See links : [1] [2]. More of the above you can cover, better it is for you.

Q : Why did you choose to attend a bootcamp ?
A : There were three motivating factors:

  • Getting the first data science job is hard (especially when directly coming out of academia). Going to a bootcamp can make it relatively easier because they can get you to the door of the company. Earlier, I had difficulties even getting attention from recruiters.
  • I had very little idea how things work in company as opposed to research done in universities. Boot camps can expose you to industry because they typically have data scientists from industry giving talks on their work.
  • Attending bootcamps can help you network with people in industry (including alums of the boot camp) and bond with co-fellows who will shortly become data scientists in different companies. This network can help you in long-term to navigate through your career as a data scientist in industry.

Q : Did you get admitted into other bootcamps? (if applicable, elaborate)
A : No, I applied only to the Insight Data Science Program.

Q : Why did you chose to attend this bootcamp (over others, if applicable) ?
A : There were three motivating factors:

  • I wanted to participate in a boot camp remotely because I was also wrapping up my PhD on the weekends. As Insight had a remote session, it was convenient for me.
  • The Insight Program is free for you. The company that recruits you through Insight pays your fee to Insight.
  • Two of my close friends who did Insight Program had very strong positive opinion of the program and got placed in companies they were passionate about. This further propelled me to participate in the program.

Q : Did the whole setup feel organized ?
A : Yes. It was extremely well organized. Insight has optimized the program structure with time based on continuous feedbacks from Insight alums. The program is very fast paced (7 weeks), so there is little room for inefficiency on both organizing the program and your progress within the program.

Q : In your opinion what were the most interesting part of the curriculum?
A : The most interesting part of the curriculum was its self-directed project based learning environment. During the first three weeks of the program, each fellow will work on developing a product (it could be developing a web app that has a unique use value and is also of interest to you. Otherwise, you could work on addressing real problems that some (typically startups) Insight mentor companies are currently facing). I ended up developing a web app. This was the most interesting part to me because it taught me how to think about product development under time stress (i.e. 3 weeks from scratch to finish).

Q : Do you feel you were able to learn things you couldn’t have learnt on your own?
A : Yes. Insight has two key ingredients:

  • You collaborate and learn from co-fellows who are smart, excited, and passionate about working on challenging and interesting problems in data science.
  • You get to regularly interact with Insight alums who are top data scientists in industry. They give you feedback as you work on your capstone project and also conduct mock interviews.

The above two ingredients are hard to emulate if you work on your own. In principle, the technical skills (e.g. stats/machine learning) I learnt through the program can be learnt independently. However, it would have taken me much longer to figure out the best materials and organize them. In the case of Insight, the materials were already curated which saved a lot of time for me.

Q : Are there any changes you’d like to see made to the curriculum?
A : The curriculum was great in my opinion, perhaps because it has already been improved over time due to continuous feedback from alums. However, I thought the information I had to digest was a lot for a 7-week program. So, it would have been less stressful if the program was stretched to 8 weeks. Even after 7 weeks, you would be preparing alongside interviewing for companies. So, the real time constraint occurs only if you interview with a company in the 8th week.

Q : Did the program have a capstone project ?
A : Yes. The first three weeks of the program was dedicated to capstone project.

Q : Are you currently employed as a Data Scientist or have you been employed as a Data Scientist since the bootcamp?
A : I was a PhD student when I participated in the bootcamp. I am currently employed as a Research Data Scientist in Amazon, Seattle.

Q : Did you find employment within three months of finishing the bootcamp program ?
A :
Yes.

Q : Do you feel the bootcamp hiring day was helpful ?
A : Insight had no such concept called hiring day. However, we demoed our capstone projects (that we developed in the first 3 weeks of the program) to Insight mentor companies (over the last 4 weeks of the program, while preparing for interviews). The companies used our presentations to screen candidates for phone interview which was the first step of hiring process.

Q : Did you get placed with a company you met during hiring day (if applicable)?
A : Yes.

Q : Did the bootcamp assist in setting up interviews or making introductions to companies after the program?
A : Yes. Insight program directors were extremely helpful in setting up interviews and making introductions to companies after the program. If you have really set your heart on a particular company (that is not currently hiring from Insight), they will try to find internal contacts (e.g. alum) in the company and pass on your resume through them. You have more chance of getting an interview (and getting hired) with a company through internal referral rather than applying online.

Q : Did you feel the bootcamp helped you prepare for the interview process?
A : The last 4 weeks of the Insight program was dedicated to preparing for the interview process. This included learning materials curated by Insight, study sessions with co-fellows, mock interviews conducted among co-fellows and with program directors, and mock interviews conducted by recent Insight alums who are data scientists in industry. We also had a number of Insight alums give talks on how to handle coding/behavioral interviews, or cover specific aspects of statistics and machine learning they are experts on.

Q : Does the bootcamp offer post bootcamp career transition / change  services or help with introductions post bootcamp?
A : The official bootcamp is for 7 weeks. However, the insight program directors are extremely helpful and will stick with you until you find a job (no matter how long it may take) as long as you are pursuing a career transition seriously.

Q : Does the bootcamp have an active alum network ? (please elaborate)
A : Yes. Alums are an active part of the Insight program. Many are constantly in touch because they conduct mock interviews for current fellows and give guest lectures. We also have a separate alumni group on Facebook and a dedicated slack channel that is very active. Frequently, program directors organize Insight alum get together sessions at major cities. So, once you are an Insight fellow, you are always an Insight fellow!

Q : Do you feel alums are actively involved in the program through mentoring, giving presentations or in other capacities?
A : Yes, elaborated earlier.

Q : What do you think was unique about the program ?
A : Unique to the program was self-directed, project based learning environment (no regular classes!).

Q : What are the weakest aspects of the program?
A : In my opinion, its the regional stratification of which companies a fellow can interview through Insight based on which session the fellow belongs to. For example, a Insight fellow participating in Silicon Valley session will not be given equal preference to interview for a company that caters to fellows in New York session, though the skills required for the job may be a good fit for the fellow from Silicon Valley. While such a stratification is logical and appropriate from an organizational perspective, it may hurt fellows who are more centered towards the nature of job and/or flexible on geographic locations.

Q : Were you satisfied by the overall quality of the instructors ?
A : Yes, the alums who gave talks were experts in their field. However, Insight is not a classroom program, but rather aims to provide a self-directed collaborative learning environment.

Q : Any regrets ?
A : I joined the program with a goal of finding a data scientist position where I would have the opportunity to work on problems that interest me, work with smart people in collaborative environment where I could influence the team and get influenced by others, and have substantial impact within the organization and beyond. I accomplished it (as I perceive now) through the program, so I am happy about it.

Q : On a scale of 0 -10, would you recommend this bootcamp program ?
A : 10

Q : Why or Why not ?
A : I would recommend it because I thoroughly enjoyed being in this program and was successful in transitioning to industry as a data scientist (which was my goal of participating in the program). Furthermore, I was able to create a strong network with Insight alums. This network will help me navigate through my career as a data scientist in industry.

Q : Anything we missed / Other comments?
A : No. More info about the program, here   

If you have attended and graduated from a Data Science Bootcamp and you’d like to do a review of your experience, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill this form and we’ll reach out to you to conduct the interview.

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