Data Work 101: Absolutely everything* you need to know to work with code or data

When I talk to people who are curious about the world of programming, or working with data, or who even just like looking at visualizations, they always have one big question: How can I do that?

Unfortunately, these conversations usually happen at a bar or a party, and since it’s generally thought of as impolite to put strangers to sleep, I can never quite give them the full story. The quick, party-friendly version begins and ends with “Well, it depends on what you’re interested in.” But now I’m taking the opportunity to fill in the bits in the middle!

If you’re interested in getting into data, programming or visualization, this series is for you. And it may be for you even if you aren’t into that (yet), too.

What is this guide?

This is not a guide to teach you concrete skills. When you’re curious about becoming a woodworker, you don’t jump right into learning how to use a bandsaw – you take a look at some tools, figure out what you want to make, and then get on into things.

Before you decide what to learn, you need to know why you’d learn it and how all of the pieces fit together. That’s what this guide is: It’s the front of the 1,000-piece puzzle box that helps you understand how all the pieces go together.

We’ll be talking here about theory, about tools, about everything in the world of programming and data except walkthroughs and tutorials. You decide what’s best for you, then you can head off and learn it!

Table of Contents

This is just off of the top of my head – I’ll be adding links and switching things up as we go along. Feel free reach out via Twitter or email with questions and requests!


Absolutely everything you need to know about mapping tools

Absolutely everything you need to know about picking a first programming language

On deck:

Terms and Definitions – What is a data journalist? What is a data scientist? What is a data anything?

Data – What counts as data, and where does it come from?

Scraping data – When the data won’t come nicely, you have to go get it yourself.

Math and more math – A handy guide to the math you’ll need (or want).

Computer Science and Data – Do I need to be a computer scientist to do all this? *cough*

Basics of data visualization – Helping your numbers put on their Sunday best.

…what else?

Who am I, and why am I making this?

My name is Jonathan Soma, and I’m the incoming director of Columbia Journalism School’s Lede Program. The Lede is an intensive, interdisciplinary certification program meant for practically anyone interested in turning data into narrative. It’s a journalist’s skillset, but as you’ll see, these tools and concepts benefit folks in every field.

Our second year of classes starts this summer, so I’m putting together this guide as a sneak peak into what we’re up to, in case you’re interested in diving deeper (applications are due February 15, 2015!).

* The title’s “absolutely everything you need to know” is, of course, a barefaced** lie. I am uncertain if the title “a few things that are useful to some people somewhere about programming, and then some other stuff about data” would have been as clickable.

** Since you’re clearly interested in footnotes, you might be interested in why it’s barefaced lie and not bald- or bold-faced.

If you’re curious in learning more about the intersection of data, coding and visualization, check out the Lede Program – an intensive certification program at Columbia’s School of Journalism, in conjunction with the Department of Computer Science. Find out more on our mail page – applications are open soon!

Want to stay up to date on the Lede Program?