How One Man Left a Big Record Label to Become a Data Scientist

August 29, 2017

5:00 pm

Will Johnson stumbled into the music business in his early 20s. On a whim, in 2014, a friend of his who managed a national touring band offered him a gig as a roadie. Will had just graduated college in Virginia, and, well, touring with a band sounded like a good time. After that, he settled into the industry.

A graduate of the University of Richmond, Will worked mostly administration jobs at record labels in New York. But after a few years in that world, he started to feel like his talents would be better suited in another field. He longed for a job that would allow him to be more collaborative and innovative. A native of New Jersey, Will started searching for a new career. He eventually found what he was looking for in the Data Science immersive at Galvanize in Austin. Here, Will describes in his own words the highlights of his journey.

From Music to Coding

I graduated from University of Richmond in Virginia in 2014. I graduated from the business school there. I did well in my quantitative courses, but I didn’t really think there was a quantitative field out there that spoke to my underlying desire to collaborate and present my work. So instead of going into a quantitative field—like analysis or anything related to data—I went into business administration.

Change of Plans. I thought I was going to go into finance because that was my concentration, but my first job out of the gate was a roadie for a band on tour. The manager was someone I knew closely at the time. They needed a guy who could do live sound, sleep in a van, and live off gas stations for a couple of weeks at a time. When he asked me to join up, I was like “Yeah, sure, that sounds like a great thing to do right after graduating college.”


Finding a Profession

We did middle-of-the-road music festivals and opened for some pretty big acts. Through that I was able to meet booking managers, other artists, other bands, venue promoters, and a handful of guys at record labels and in music publishing. I got excited about the publishing area of the business; I thought I could align my business administration degree into the music world.

For a little over a year I was on the licensing team at a very small company. We did theme songs for TV shows. My boss was the guy who did the soundtrack to the “Price is Right.” I was in charge of building their back catalog into a music library; there was a lot of metadata management. It was fun, and after about a year and a half I got an offer to work a similar job at one of the major record labels in New York City.

That experience was eye-opening for me. I realized administration didn’t really speak to my underlying talents. I had this desire to collaborate and present, but administration deals more with multitasking and being able to be consistent rather than innovating. Those weren’t the talents I wanted to foster for my career. I left and decided to look around at different kinds of fields—product development, web development, user experience. I eventually settled on data science.

Teaching Himself to Code

I didn’t realize this until late in the game but data science is exploding; a lot of companies are asking for data scientists. That was a bonus, but my underlying interest was, you know, what are my best talents? And how do I build a career for myself? I started looking at bootcamps and had my heart set on Galvanize.

I was spending a few hours a day going over Python. I learned how to do things by doing projects for myself. That’s a good way to keep things interesting. This was definitely the sort of work I enjoyed; little bits of progress were super satisfying.

I eventually went down to Austin to do my due diligence to make sure that Galvanize was something I wanted to commit to. Not only did I love the Galvanize facility, I also loved the students that I spoke to and the teachers. They were super brilliant and very friendly and very encouraging.

By the end of the first week at Galvanize I was blown away not just by how brilliant the teachers were and how thorough the program was, but also how tenacious and brilliant all the students were and just how helpful everyone was. I’d never been surrounded by folks that eager to build something new before. By the end of the first week I knew that this was the right field for me and that I was definitely going to enjoy my time at Galvanize.

In this business, everyone’s learning something new every single day. Constantly. To me, that makes a world of difference because I need to be learning something new or else I’m bored.

I’ve made lifelong friends with my fellow students. It was hard, but at the same time it was very rewarding because every time one of us made progress on something we all celebrated. I’m going to look back on this as one of the highlight of my 20s.

The original plan was to just go down to Austin, do the three-month program, and then come back to New York City. But I like Austin a lot. I think I’m going to stick around. I’m looking at jobs right now.

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Before turning to magazines, Chris worked as a reporter at newspapers in New Hampshire and Colorado, winning multiple awards for his work, including being named "Rookie of the Year" by the New Hampshire Press Association in 2006.