It’s finally happening! I’m finally making the switch over from my blog on johnpham.me to this page. And while switching over is business as usual for some, I did want to take a second to reflect.
I started working in New York City in June 2014 at a digital intelligence/market research/consulting company called L2 (acquired by Gartner). While spending time there, I decided to learn basic programming so I could simply get more done faster. At first I spent most of my time in Excel and Powerpoint, but then I quickly found myself now in Sublime writing small snippets of automation scripts in Python and SQL. Before long, I had experienced that, “Wow, this is really cool. What else can I do?” moment. This eagerness and curiosity spilled over into my spare time as I poured through Codecademy and Youtube tutorials.
I was still only two months out of college. While my peers were out living their best lives at happy hour in Murray Hill or bottle service in Meatpacking, I was holed up learning lambda functions. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t also been itching to go out on nights and weekends and that all progress and concentration was 100% willpower. But truthfully, living on Roosevelt Island and then the Upper West Side made the decision to stay in so much easier when everyone was hanging out way downtown. A 6-pack and lines of code was how I spent my early days in the city that never sleeps.
I launched johnpham.me in December 2014, probably 3 months after my initial endeavors. I used the website to prove to myself that I was actually getting somewhere with my time and having an end project made learning feel much more productive. I spun up the backend using Django and learning the intricacies of web development. I painfully learned how to deploy on a DigitalOcean droplet while I barely knew what OOP meant. The power of YouTube, trial-and-error, and perseverance got me a running website. With this new set of hacky skills, I endeavored tackling some of my own burning questions…
- How much did Chipotle burritos cost throughout the Country? (At the time, a Manhattan chicken burrito was $1.25 more expensive than across the Hudson in Hoboken).
- What does Yellow Cab ridership look like in New York City? (The most expensive cab fares typically originate from the airports, shocking.)
- Could I train a Neural Network to predict the winner of the Bachelor on looks alone? (Unsurprisingly, appearances only could not predict the winner of the Bachelor. Our predicted winner came in 3rd place though!)
I also created my first web application called TrackMate that allowed people to collaborate on Spotify playlists (now a feature!) My primary goal of these projects were to simply learn and explore new technologies while providing some content for readers. I’ve always had a fascination for data, the stories it can tell, and using evidence for decisions. Of the many memories from college, I learned the value of quantifying progress and using data to support policy and strategy in my global health classes with Professor Skolnik. What’s the most effective way to allocate $ per DALY averted? What interventions can we use so that we are burying old people and not young people?
Fast-forward a handful of years later, I’ve had the opportunity to turn these self-directed projects and musings into a career! I had the fortune to immerse myself in data science teams previously at Dstillery and now Bowery Farming. It’s funny to think back how my sublet on Roosevelt Island played a role in where I am today. I think there is something to be said about putting in the time and having obviously a bit of luck.
But about this new website itself, I’ve learned a neat bit of gaining experience is that over time you have less of an “I need to prove that I know this” mentality to a “how I can get this done in the most straightforward way” attitude. This switch over serves as a nice reminder of what I’ve learned in the past several years and also how much is left out there to absorb. Shop talk, I’ve switched from a Django DO-hosted droplet with a self-designed front-end to a simpler Pelican-based, templated static website hosted on S3. I did spice it up by adding a CircleCI integration that re-deploys the site automatically on AWS everytime I push to Github. Like before, keeping it simple and using technology simply trying to get more done faster.