A few notes about portfolios

Thoughts prepared prior to speaking to a group of Data Science minors working to fulfill the portfolio requirement.

The stated requirement for the Data Science portfolio:

Portfolio: DS 401, completed during the fall or winter term of the senior year, including at least three projects or assignments from courses in the minor in addition to the capstone project in which students reflect on data-science competencies.

The keyword in that requirement is reflect.

The purpose of the portfolio is as a mechanism for having you engage thoughtfully with what you have accomplished and learned through the courses in the minor.

But the broader purpose of a portfolio is encouraging you to establish the practice of reflecting about your work … and your life.

Portfolio as a practice: you will benefit greatly by shifting your mindset away from thinking about a portfolio as an academic requirement. (There will come a point where you realize that the majority of your life is no longer as a student bound to academic rubrics.) Strive to develop the practice of reflecting deeply in written form.

Portfolio as a practice in public: making your thoughts about your own learning (and failures) in a public form is intimidating, potentially revealing those vulnerabilities we hold very close within ourselves. Yet, writing in public forces us to think carefully, to express ourselves with a level of sincerity that we might overlook if we’re only dashing off an assignment that will be seen by no one other than professor. A drawback of writing in public is self-editing out any blemish that might actually be worth our own deep introspection.

We live in an era where a web-based portfolio can serve as our calling card to the world.

Writing in public on the web is a personal choice.

A part of me admire those friends of mine who have nearly kept their entire existence hidden from the world.

If you’re in a career where you have any public presence, then you owe it to yourself to establish an ongoing web-based portfolio. (And if you’re comfortable with having a LinkedIn account, then you’ve already established that you’re okay with presenting yourself professionally on the web.)

Like any form of writing, consider your audience. A web portfolio is not the medium for sharing your wild antics (unless you’re entertainer whose stature is built around crazy publicity). You have to decide your audience. A web portfolio allows you to control how you present yourself, professionally, to the world.

A web portfolio presents your interests.

A web portfolio conveys your identity–in terms of all the aspects that make you who you are as a person.

A web portfolio need not include your photograph. That’s your choice.

A web portfolio is brief.

A web portfolio should leave others wanting to know more about you.

A web portfolio is more than a LinkedIn page listing your basic stats.

A web portfolio is more ….

And that’s where the reflection comes into play.

A portfolio highlights what you want to highlight.

Over a period of years, you will find yourself editing your portfolio not just be adding content but by removing outdated content. On my own portfolio (jeffbarry.org), I no longer list my education because, I feel, that something I did 30 years ago lacks relevance to the person I am today. (That’s a nearly heretical statement from a college professor.)

[If you looked at my website, then you quickly notice that I have no reflection and very little about myself. I’m in the process of updating that site but I’m still keeping it brief. Here on this blog are many ramblings that I have posted since 2005.]

The how … how do I go about creating a web portfolio?

The answer depends upon your technical skills and comfort with learning new tools. There are several easy to use web platforms; Squarespace has a selection of pretty templates. I would avoid Wix and Weebly. WordPress dominates the easy-to-use website builders, and one could never go wrong using WordPress.

I craft my own site with hand-coded HTML & CSS. But don’t do that unless you’re really comfortable with web development. For me, web development is an essential tool. So, for me, it makes sense.

I strongly feel that you should own your identity on the web through a personalized domain name, i.e., yourname.com (or dot something). If you have a common name, like mine, someone may already have your domain name, like this guy whose name is not really Jeff Barry though I can’t complain about a guy who wrote one of the most cheerful, catchiest songs of all time.

There are many places to buy (actually, you rent/lease) a domain name: Hover, Namecheap, Name. (Avoid GoDaddy because of their questionable business practices of upselling you at every moment.) I use Hover myself.

If you use a tool like Squarespace, etc., then there are ways of connecting your domain name to your website.

If you’re inclined towards technology, then you might even pursue a self-hosted site (which could be WordPress or hand-coded HTML/CSS). In that case you’ll need a hosting service. A good company that’s focused on academic customers is Reclaim Hosting.

If you use GitHub, then a dead simple solution is to use GitHub Pages. Here’s an article describing how to present your data science portfolio on GitHub.

The concept of academic portfolios prepared by students is tied to the rise of domains, which some universities (e.g., Davidson), provide to their students. An undergrad at Davidson wrote an excellent article in 2015 on this topic: Do I Own My Domain If You Grade It? (View his site in 2022.)

Any examples?

There are all types…not all present reflections. And these are not undergraduate students. You do not want to model yourself after other undergrads. You want to model yourself after professionals in your field, after the type of person you aspire to be like.

This list is quite random, representing a variety of professional sites (aka portfolios). Almost all are academics (or were once academics). The most wonderful portfolios are by designers, but I’ve left them off this list.

Herman Sahni

Daniel S. Quintana

George Cushen

Karthik Ram

Katherine Firth

Wade Kelly

Andy South

Andee Kaplan

Robin Thompson

Eve Miguel

Julia Palacios

Samuel Jenness

Sarah C. Nelson

Sidhant Chopra

Ray Chen

Ian Walker

Matteo Lissandrini

Barton Myers

Ben Swift

John Lees

Pawel Piatkowski

Barry Rowlingson

Andrew Glassner

Paul Gribble

Ari Lamstein

Ciprian Crainiceanu

Yiping Su


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