From arts to analytics: How an arts major learned to paint with numbers
4 min read

From arts to analytics: How an arts major learned to paint with numbers

From arts to analytics: How an arts major learned to paint with numbers

Just three days shy of the Singapore economy closing down due to COVID-19, and despite bans being put in place to stop people from travelling, I decided to go on a journey that takes this liberal arts major (me) traversing the unknown universe of the sciences.

Originally, I was looking into joining a data analytics boot camp but my research didn’t present any credible and worthwhile sources. When I reached out to people who finished those boot camps, one of them led me to look into online degree programs instead. Hours later, I found myself fully invested in getting my Masters of Science in Analytics at Georgia Tech.

I was so sure this was a heat of the moment thing, and that by the end of the week I would realise how crazy I was.

Almost two months on, I have come to my senses and I conclude that I am crazy. But not because I think it was a wrong decision, but because I still think it is right.

When I was in my 20s, back in university, I felt like we all fell into our own major’s stereotypes. The beautiful nerds were in Business Management, the jocks and drama geeks were in International Studies, and those who weren’t good in math were in Comms. Classmates would shrug at our math classes and say, “Oh well, we’re not supposed to be good at math. We’re in Comms!” It was a convenient excuse and by the end of our four years together, it was our internalised truth.

Aside from simple arithmetic, I thought I’d be far away from math as possible as I believed I’d be dealing with artboards and dreaming up commercial campaigns instead. Today, however, being comfortable with numbers and metrics, looking up data, and being able to analyse and visualise that data is becoming an added advantage in any workplace. Still, I thought I had remembered getting at least B’s in math. But the other week when I dug up my transcripts to prepare for my graduate application, I saw my math scores were big fat Cs.

I was horrified! How am I going to get into analytics now though?

Checking back on the pre-requisites, the admissions website states this:

At least one college-level course or equivalent knowledge in probability/statistics, computer programming in Python, and calculus and basic linear algebra.

I just about died.

I felt myself explode into a million tiny pieces and then someone hit rewind, and there I was back in my body, staring up into the ceiling of my living room floor.

Funny thing is, I surprised myself by sitting back up and then opening a new browser tab and started typing: “online college-level courses in math and programming.”

By the time my shock caught up with what was going on, I found myself enrolled in a CS1301 Introduction to Python Programming course and a six-course math program that will take me from linear algebra to calculus to probability and statistics.

I thought, “uh oh”, and then surprisingly, “ooh fun!”

The thing is, fun probably isn’t the best word to describe it. I’m still no better at math even if I look in the mirror every morning, telling my reflection the affirmations I so need.

“You are great at math! You are a genius! You can do this!”

The past few weeks, I saw myself going through coding problems where I figured out (on my own) how to turn an integer like 215 into an 8-bit binary number like 11010111. Never in my life would I have thought, I could create a program to do just that. I mean, I never in my life also thought I could tell you what an 8-bit binary number is.

I think it also helped that the programming course I enrolled in was quite encouraging and sometimes downright philosophical. Going through the material, I came across this passage about debugging that said:

“A good programmer isn’t one that never encounters errors; a good programmer is one that knows how to diagnose and fix errors as they come up.”

As someone who is coming to this with limiting beliefs and stereotypes spanning a good half of my life, it’s knowing that making mistakes is part of the journey. Now, whenever I write code or solve a math problem, I’m no longer trying to get it right the first time. It’s helped me break down the problem into smaller chunks, test it, and find out where the errors are. It’s a pretty cool thing to do. It’s probably also what’s kept me on this path.

Seriously though, I imagined that I would be throwing my hands up any day now and say I’ve had enough of this. But every day I’m excited to sit down, to be looking at the problems, and then trying to solve them.

I know I still need to remember my quadratic equations. I’m still also working on my initial reaction when it comes to seeing fractions or square roots or any math symbol I have not encountered — which I would just say is A LOT because I don’t want to have to count them.

Thinking about it now, what other things did I hate before because of preconceived notions? What other identities have I inhabited that no longer serve me today? How many times have I held back because I took myself out of the equation even before I could begin? (Also, is that a math pun? 😏)

I know that the road is long and that I have to get all of my pre-requisites done and with good standing even before I could apply for the master’s program. I cannot guarantee I’ll get in, though I know I will try my best. If anything, I am certain that at least this comms major can get a good story out of it.