R – Why Learn it?

I was talking to someone who is looking to change careers to pursue a technical field. She has been talking to people from various tech companies and has signed up for an intensive training bootcamp designed to teach enough programming to get a job after the class. She has been hearing all about various types of open source languages, but one which has never come up in previous conversations was R. That surprised me since R is on the list of the most popular list of languages (SQL didn’t make the list) as well as list for the programming languages in high demand. She asked me why I thought R would be a good language to learn? Since I had the same thought myself when I started to learn R, I thought I’d answer it. R helps bring meaning to data through its ability to combine data analysis and visualization. Data is important because nearly every application, from FitBit to various flashlight apps, are for better or worse all about data.

Combining Analysis with Visualization

To get started learning R, I took a MOOC class on it. While this appeared to be a good idea, after being in the class for five weeks, I had no idea why the language was considered useful. All we did was load arrays of data into memory and then write some code which approximated aggregation and selection which could be done in SQL. After five weeks, I dropped the class as I had other time commitments and it didn’t seem worth it. I was still interested in finding out what the big deal was. After playing around with R and watching other people play around with it who could make it do a lot more than I could, I got it.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

BubbleChartThe cliché about a picture is often repeated because it holds true. I have taught a number of Power BI classes, and during the class, we review a giant spreadsheet of data, and I ask the class tell me over time what the impact is over time. With a giant spreadsheet, you can’t readily determine what the answer is. Once we create a visualization of data, it’s easy to see the answer to that question. R has been working on providing graphical answers to data questions for years. A number of different companies are realizing the value of R as well. Microsoft bought Revolution Analytics, a leading R provider in 2014 and are rapidly incorporating R into other tools, like Power BI and SQL Server 2016. I’m convinced now and will be talking more about R in my blog in the future.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur




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