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Fun With Data

Why You Should Include Passion Projects In Your Data Portfolio

5 min readView all articles
By Stacy Giroux
Aug 22, 2023

A great portfolio can be a valuable asset for differentiating your skills as an analyst.

Your portfolio is a tangible way to demonstrate your abilities. From your approach to analysis, the range of tools you can work with, visualization skills and your overall ability to communicate using data – a great project portfolio can exemplify all these elements making it a powerful marketing tool.

So when it comes to curating projects for your portfolio, you might wonder: which projects should I include?

One that you should consider is a PASSION PROJECT.

What is a passion project?

A passion project is often centered around a topic that is interesting or important to you. Usually, it’s something that you’d enjoy spending some extra time digging into!

Are you keen about cheese? Create a dashboard to help others find the highest rated cheese shops in your area!

Do you love sports? Analyze the stats of your favorite teams or players in a head-to-head comparison!

Have a personal goal to spend more time walking? Create a visualization to show how far you are walking each month!

Concerned about the bee population in your area? Tally and visualize the pollinator flower beds in your neighborhood!

So, what are some of the advantages of including a passion project in your portfolio?

With collaboration from past Bootcampers, I've selected a project of my own as well as a few of their capstone projects to help illustrate some of the benefits!

Advantage #1: Publicly Available or Personally Created Datasets.

In my professional experiences, I worked almost exclusively with data sets that were confidential. This meant even with years of experience working with data, I had very little that I could share or show to demonstrate my skills.

With a passion project, you can leverage publicly available datasets to create something you CAN share with a public audience.

There are great resources available like Maven’s Data Playground that have catalogs of data purpose built for this use. With these data sets, you can work at your own pace and in your own time to create a shareable project that demonstrates your abilities.

Or, if you like a challenge (literally 🙂), you could participate in a data challenge!

During a data challenge, you still work to create your own project, but you can leverage the opportunity that comes from working alongside an entire community that is participating on the same project at the same time.

Stacy Giroux Lego Project

One other option you might consider is collecting/creating your own data set to analyze and visualize. I have visualized everything from the kms walked/run per month to my kids’ toy collection (shown above!).

Advantage #2: Utilize Your Personal Domain Knowledge.

Domain knowledge is something that can be (or at least feel like) a barrier when it comes to tackling a new analysis project.

There's an emphasis on using "real world" projects in your portfolio, but, if you’ve never worked in supply chain data or sales data, it can feel intimidating to know where to start.

A great pivot might be to consider using data from a hobby or interest that you are passionate about. Because a passion project is by definition focusing on something that you already know about, you’re likely to come pre-loaded with domain knowledge!

In this project, Jessica Mehrens thoughtfully examines the trends in the intake and outcomes for animals brought into the PAWsome Animal Shelter over the past 10-years, highlighting the variety of animals that the shelter serves and the circumstances that bring them into care.

Jessica Mehrens

With a passion project, your interest in the topic not only gives you a jumping-off point but can often translate into understanding what the audience would also be interested in, leaving you well-positioned to explore that data and formulate key analysis questions.

Advantage #3: Your Project Can be Understood By and Appeal To a Wider Audience.

And if you’re interested in a topic, there are likely many others outside the data community who share your interests, too!

Choosing a topic that has a broad appeal means getting the chance to draw in individuals to look at it from a data lens. This might be a new opportunity for them and a fantastic way to showcase your communication skills.

This can be particularly useful in an interview setting where you may be asked to walk through an example of your work with individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and interest in data.

In this project, Charlie Stein takes a look at the popular word game Wordle from a data lens, delving into which words have been the easiest versus hardest to solve plus the range of scores by players after ~7 million games played.

Charlie Stein

Having a project with wide appeal and that does not require specific domain knowledge may allow your audience to focus on your presentations without getting bogged down or lost in details.

Advantage #4: Show your skills with some flair!

In a business environment, you may be guided by specific templates or style documents when it comes to creating the visual aspects of a project. But with a passion project, your choices can be completely driven by the data, the topic and the audience.

Leaning into a topic might mean selecting everything from the font to the color palette to evoke connection with the topic. Leaning into the data might also include purposefully selecting a color palette (such as sequential or diverging), to highlight a gradient across the data.

In this project, Ashwini Shanbhogue draws attention to the impact of particulate matter on air quality across the US over the past 5-years by skillfully leveraging the available standardized color template as well as creating an accessible version to support viewers that may experience color vision deficiency.

Ashwini Shanbhogue

By considering the audience you can demonstrate the importance of and your ability to create visuals that are accessible.

Final Thoughts...

Putting together your data analyst portfolio can feel intimidating, but it doesn't have to be!

By including passion projects in your portfolio, you create an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants and empower yourself during the interview process.

So next time you feel like something is missing from your portfolio, consider incorporating a passion project!

You might surprise yourself at the difference that it can make for your analysis.

Be passionate. Seek mastery. Learn with humility.


Ready to build your own Data Analyst Portfolio?

Check out this blog from Enrique to help you build a strong portfolio from the start, and head over to our Data Analyst Showcase. It's a free platform for you to host your entire portfolio, and it makes sharing it a breeze!


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Stacy Giroux

Stacy is the Bootcamp Lead for Maven Analytics, helping to design, manage and faciliate immersive bootcamp experiences for aspiring data professionals.

Stacy is the Bootcamp Lead for Maven Analytics, helping to design, manage and faciliate immersive bootcamp experiences for aspiring data professionals.

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