How Xeek Contestants Learned Data Science


Studio X Team


September 30, 2021

How do you get into the world of data science? If our Xeek contestants prove anything, it’s that the road looks different for everyone.

.   .   .

“How do I learn data science?” It’s a common question these days, but there’s no single, right answer. And our Xeek contestants are the prime example of that — here are just a few of the data science origin stories behind our Keep Geoscience Weird winners.

An Unexpected Spark

Some people decide they want to study software engineering and data science through their own research. For others, their path is serendipitous. Such was the case for challenge winner Guillaume Leclerc. “My parents wanted to rent out a vacation house, but Airbnb didn’t exist,” says Guillaume. “They told me, ‘You’ve never programmed before, but we need a solution to rent our house. So here’s a book; read it.’ And that was my first software engineering book.”

This experience led to a passion for software engineering. Guillaume got his undergraduate degree in computer science, and then a master’s degree in software, engineering, and systems. Now, he’s working on his PhD at MIT, focusing on the intersection between machine learning and computer graphics. His studies have also led him into the world of data science and into competitions, like the “Keep Geoscience Weird” challenge on Xeek.  All because one day, years ago, his parents decided to rent out a house.

Taking the DIY Route

Gleb Shishaev, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to bridge together a number of areas of familiarity. “I have some background in mathematics and coding [which was] a good basis for data science,” he says. “[Data science] is a good opportunity for me to fill the gap between petroleum engineering, geology, and math.”

His basis in linear algebra, statistics, and probability theory naturally evolved into an interest in data science, at which point he took things into his own hands by diving into the world of data science competitions. So although his education wasn’t officially based on data science, it became the foundation for teaching himself data science skills.

The Winding Road

For others, like Eric Beck, the path includes many stops along the way. “I’m from an academic family,” says Eric. “I went to school at Berkeley and got a degree in math. But I didn’t immediately do anything with that. Instead, I got a job skiing. I worked on the ski patrol at Squaw Valley for six years. But I gradually got bored, and decided it was time to go to grad school.”

Eric studied economics, but it wasn’t until a friend needed his assistance that he started working in software.

“A friend of mine was [working in] litigation support, and they were building these full text databases. With large cases, there were mountains of documents — transcripts, depositions — and they were searchable in a text database. I taught myself PL/1 and contributed a lot to that group. One of my first real triumphs in programming was [realizing that] 95% of their costs was in one step, the P3 edit. [...] I heard about this technique called hashing [and] I found a Knuth book, Sorting and Searching, and I implemented it and eventually I rewrote the whole edit.”

Eric has been leveraging Xeek challenges to learn Python and data science. He brings his storied background in the software world to the platform allowing him to mesh his experience with the new challenges on Xeek.

Clearly, there’s no one way to learn about data science. Everyone’s story is different and provides a unique perspective they can bring to the industry. Whether you’re just getting started or you’re a data science expert, participating in a Xeek challenge is a great way to grow your skills and continue your journey. Learn more on the Xeek website.