Learn more about one of our authors in our meet an author series! Today, we’re introducing you to Michelle Hoogenhout. Michelle is a behavioral data scientist interested in all things data-related—from extracting data to visualization, prediction and data ethics.
She has worked in health and education-related data science and analytics for the last 10 years and she holds a Ph.D. in psychology. She also has some great advice and a new perspective on writing and developing your communication skills. See what she has to say below!
HS: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you started in the tech industry.
Michelle: Like many people in data science, my background is not the traditional computer science one. I did my doctorate in psychology, where I looked at how people respond physiologically when feeling empathy for others. I loved the statistics and programming aspects of the research, as well as the chance to teach. When I was offered the chance to start a data science department at a non-profit teaching school, Umuzi, I grabbed it. At Umuzi, I was responsible for building their data pipeline, developing tests to screen candidates, building the data science curriculum and, of course, teaching.
HS: When and why did you start writing for Hit Subscribe?
Michelle: I started writing for Hit Subscribe in December 2019 as a way to earn some extra money while writing about new technologies and tools that interest me.
HS: How do you see writing? As a hobby, side-hustle, or passion?
Michelle: I see writing as a way to refine my teaching and communication style. Especially when blogging, you have to write in a crisp and engaging way. Writing down my ideas helps me to think about the most important concepts to communicate when teaching. Writing is also a way to keep up with the latest developments in the field.
HS: How has your writing changed since you started writing for Hit Subscribe?
Michelle: Before writing for Hit Subscribe, I had mostly written academic articles, which can be very dry indeed! I love being able to write in a less formal and more playful way now. I’ve had to work at keeping my sentences short for blogging and using less formal phrases. I take inspiration from Tim Harford, the author of The Undercover Economist and host of the BBC radio show 50 Things that Changed the Modern Economy. Because he writes for radio, his sentences are beautifully crafted—succinct and memorable. His influence, combined with writing practice with Hit Subscribe, has definitely changed my writing style.
HS: What advice do you have for those just starting out in the tech world?
Michelle: Go to all of the meetups you can and talk to people as much as possible. It’s amazing how many great opportunities and friendships you find this way. It’s also never too early to start on a side project. Use it to learn new skills and showcase what you can do. You may feel like you don’t know enough to contribute, but I think people know much more than they give themselves credit for. In my experience, other people are very willing to help out when you get stuck. Future employers love to see that you take initiative, so it will pay off when looking for your next job.
Lastly, people starting out often ask me what the best language is to learn. I think it’s important not to get stuck on specifics. If you learn how a language works, it will help with learning other languages in the future. So don’t stress about the fact that you don’t know all the trending languages and technologies out there. Rather, take your time to understand the fundamentals of one language well instead of trying to do everything.
HS: What advice do you have for software developers looking to improve their writing skills?
Michelle: Just write. It will probably feel uncomfortable. Writing has always been a slow and difficult process for me. I don’t feel like a natural writer at all. But with practice, I’ve become a much better writer. And I’m much faster than I used to be! Blogging is an easy way to start writing because you can see your progress and it doesn’t matter if it’s a short piece.
HS: Why do you think it is important for software developers to improve their writing skills?
Michelle: Software developers often don’t get to write much beyond documentation and reports. And neither of those leave much room for creativity, so understandably, developers often don’t like writing. But good communication in the workplace is vital for career growth, and writing is a great way to practice communication skills. Writing also gives me a much-needed break from coding when I’m stuck on a problem and I need to step away for a bit!
Thanks to Michelle for allowing us to feature her on the blog today! If you’re interested in having her write for your tech blog, you know where to find us. Or if you’re an author and want to enjoy some of the same benefits of writing that Michelle has, apply to be one of our writers!