Interview with Danny Ma Part 2: building a data science community from scratch

Hui Fang Yeo

Mentoring the next generation of data science mentors

I always thought Danny had been an influencer for the longest time. In fact, he only started building his social presence around the time COVID-19 broke out. I’m guessing it’s his sociable and “no holds barred” musings that made him so popular in such a short period of time.

Join me to find out more about his various encounters that got him to where he is now.

Huifang: Tell us more about the inception of #DataWithDanny.

Danny Ma: Throughout my career, I have been helping others solve their problems such as deployments, machine setups, onboarding etc. I realized that I really enjoyed doing that.

So, as I was losing purpose at work at the beginning of 2020, I had this vision of doing something which is larger than myself. Instead of trying to make more money or build more fame for myself, it would be awesome if I could continue solving problems by helping other people solve theirs!

I read Crushing It! From Gary Vaynerchuk who is a super popular influencer on social media. It talked about the power of building a community, having a personal brand and having a presence on social media.

I thought to myself: this sounds like a whole load of crap. Who’s going to care about me sharing my thoughts somewhere? Is anyone even going to read it? How can I build up a community if no-one reads the stuff that I’m posting on LinkedIn or other social media?

(Huifang: Lol… shocking! Who’s the influencer now?)

I had to overcome my own mental blocks before I even started doing anything on social media. I was in limbo because I didn’t want to put myself out there. What if people don’t like my posts? What if a post goes viral? What if people hated a post? So many different thoughts flying around.

I overcame all this by taking action — simply starting posting and telling myself there’s no turning back. I felt better instantly.

I also reached out to Favio Vazquez with a relatively long message asking for advice on running a podcast for knowledge sharing.

Message from Danny to Favio

Given that I hadn’t seen him in two years, I was surprised that he actually responded to me. He gave me valuable life advice as well as social media advice. I was really motivated by the fact that someone who is that famous was giving advice to me.

As I started posting, people were reaching out to me with questions on their career choices. In reply to one of the messages, I asked if anyone was interested in taking part in a mentoring class to get more personalized advice. To my surprise, I woke up the next morning with more than 1,800 comments.

Since it’s impossible for me to reach out to each and every one of the people who commented, my girlfriend proposed that I go live on YouTube. For that, I did a survey to see how many people will be interested. After one week, I had 1,500 people respond! I then magically created a big email list without really thinking about it.

This brings me to where I am now with #DataWithDanny.

The launch of #DataWithDanny

Huifang: I loved the humor in your posts. Was this your style all along?

I released my frustrations through memes when I first started posting. I thought they were funny, but a little mean.

Memes weren’t very popular on LinkedIn when I started last year. I tried to avoid what other people were posting and try to brand mine with a bit of humor. I spread fun and positivity by taking a playful stance and poking at different things that you shouldn’t be doing.

Huifang: Tell us more about your community.

I went through reviews on Reddit about data science programs that people were paying a lot of money for. One of the programs had average content but people liked the Slack channel, because it provided a very supportive environment for sharing work and ideas.

This inspired me to start a Slack group where the community can have a friendly environment for knowledge sharing.

Huifang: How has the pandemic impacted your projects and your community?

As we get into the groove of the new norm, we start to see the impact of the work from home setup on ourselves, the community and the type of projects we have. As a business owner and consultant, I think it has changed the paradigm of business development.

Being active on LinkedIn allows me to be well-connected across lots of countries in different networks. I have people reaching out to me from the US or UK for collaboration or consultations. Business can be scaled faster on a global level if we can easily screen share with tools such as Zoom.

It’s good for the business but it’s a double-edged sword for the community. While it gets easier to interact with everyone through different digital channels, we are spending more time online. But for those who enjoyed going to the office and really dislike working from home, it can be a struggle to adapt.

Huifang: What is the Virtual Internship about?

I worked with my first data science mentors on one really difficult project. I learned almost everything that I needed for my data science career and enough to know where to continue my learning afterwards.

I wanted to create a similar experience for everyone else in a sustainable way. The Richest Man in Babylon is what I envisioned: where the richest man taught the first group of people how to get rich. They then teach the rest of the people in the city.

My vision is to be the mentor of the next generation of mentors, paying it forward in continuity.

The concept of the guided apprenticeship is to provide great course content at an affordable price. There’s only one course at the moment in the beta stage and it’s called Serious SQL. The apprenticeship will focus on projects and case study questions to help participants build their portfolios. This will get them through the door and into a face-to-face interview with their prospective employer.

After completing the apprenticeship, there will be certificates and recommendations to employers.

They can use me as their referee in their resumes to help them when applying for jobs too.

Huifang: What can we expect next?

I’m hoping to launch Serious SQL by the end of the month. Give it a couple of months and I will start working on the next course which will have a data analytics focus. I want to teach everyone the basics of data analysis, data visualization, a bit of statistics, time series and forecasting etc. It will be in both R and Python because I hate how people debate over learning Python or R.

Use whatever tools we can to solve problems

Miss part 1 with Danny? Check it out here:Interview with Danny Ma Part 1: How to get into Data Science:Follow Danny on his self-learnt data science journeymedium.com

Register yourself via signup.datawithdanny.com to get regular updates on free Udemy courses and the invite to Danny’s Slack channel.

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