How to Get Started with Machine Learning

Machine learning, an exciting subset of artificial intelligence, is transforming everything from healthcare to manufacturing with its ability to gain insights from data. By learning from examples, machine learning models can deliver rapid, automated insights without being explicitly programmed. This beginner‘s guide will give you an overview of machine learning concepts and equip you with practical advice to get started on your ML journey.

What Problems Can Machine Learning Solve?

Some common applications of ML today based on industry research:


  • Predict patient risk levels and disease onset (30% improvement over traditional methods, allowing preventative care)
  • Diagnose medical conditions from radiology/pathology scans (error rate of 5% compared to 20% average human error rate)
  • Discover new drugs and optimize clinical trials


  • Detect fraud in real-time (upto 80% detection before transaction finalized through deep learning)
  • Decide personalized loan rates based on client data (15-30% increase in repayment rates)
  • Forecast financial trends and market movements


  • Track soil moisture, crop growth using computer vision on satellite and drone imagery data
  • Determine optimal pesticide amount to maximize yield while minimizing environment impact

The possibilities are endless! Later we will go over how to get started on building ML solutions for problems you care about. First, let‘s demystify what machine learning is.

Intuition Behind Machine Learning

Say we wanted to automate diagnosing a disease based on patient attributes like results from medical tests, age, lifestyle etc. The traditional programming approach would be to define exhaustive rules manually that map inputs to a diagnosis prediction.

But it‘s really hard for humans to codify something we intuitively understand. Machine learning takes another approach – instead of writing rules, we provide examples of data (e.g. patient records) and the corresponding outcomes (diagnoses). Over time, the ML model learns meaningful patterns and builds predictive capability from these examples.

In other words, machine learning is the practice of teaching computers how to learn from data to make decisions or predictions. The key advantage is that for many complex tasks, it‘s more intuitive for us to provide examples for computers to learn from rather than having to define precise decision rules manually.

Types of Machine Learning Algorithms

There are 3 main categories of machine learning:

Supervised Learning

Supervised learning algorithms are provided labeled example inputs and desired outputs during training, from which they learn a function that can be applied to new unseen inputs.


  • Linear Regression for forecasting continuous values like sales, stock prices
  • Logistic Regression for predicting binary outcomes like customer churn
  • Random Forests for classification and regression tasks
  • Support Vector Machines (SVM) most popular among classification algorithms
  • Neural networks that can capture complex nonlinear relationships

Unsupervised Learning

In unsupervised learning, the ML model must learn patterns from untagged input data without labeled examples.


  • Clustering algorithms like k-means to find groupings within data
  • Anomaly detection identifying abnormal data points
  • Association rule learning to uncover interesting relationships

Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement learning algorithms interact dynamically with an environment. The model gets rewarded or penalized depending on the actions it takes and improves over time by maximizing rewards.

Common applications:

  • Robots learning to walk
  • Game playing bots becoming unbeatable at games

We will focus on supervised and unsupervised learning in this guide as that represents majority of industry applications. The algorithms available range from simple linear regression to complex deep neural networks. As you advance, you learn specialized algorithms for different data types like images, text or time series data.

How ML Models Work

The key components of an ML model are:

  • Input data features: The variables or attributes provided to the model based on which it will learn to make predictions e.g. medical test measurements
  • Example training data: A historical dataset containing input features and corresponding known outcomes which will teach the model. E.g. patient records mapping health measurements to known conditions.
  • Output prediction: The label or value predicted by the model for new data based on patterns it learned during training e.g. disease detected
  • Model parameters: Represent learned patterns assigning importance to different input features in making the prediction

Once we select a ML algorithm, we train it by feeding it input examples and enabling it to adjust its parameters to make accurate predictions through optimization techniques.

We evaluate model performance on an unseen test dataset using metrics like accuracy, precision and recall. The key bias vs variance tradeoff is selecting a model flexible enough to capture patterns without overfitting to noise in limited training data.

Through hyperparameter tuning, regularization techniques and gathering more quality training data – you improve model generalizability over time.

Step-by-Step Machine Learning Project Walkthrough

Let‘s go through a sample workflow for a machine learning project:

1. Define problem and data acquisition

  • Define the core business problem your model aims to solve
  • Identify what input data is needed to feed into the model
  • Gather quality historical training data source

2. Exploratory data analysis

  • Explore distributions of variables
  • Identify data quality issues
  • Assess whether you have enough data

3. Data preprocessing

  • Clean missing, duplicate data
  • Handle categorical and text data
  • Feature normalization
  • Feature engineering

4. Train/test split

  • Split dataset into train and test sets
  • Train set teaches model, test set evaluates performance

5. Model training

  • Try out different ML algorithms
  • Identify right hyperparameters
  • Avoid overfitting through regularization

6. Model evaluation

  • Evaluate performance on test data using accuracy, precision etc.
  • Repeat model building process until optimal

7. Deployment

  • Integrate model with applications
  • Monitor and maintain model performance

Now let‘s learn tools and techniques to go through this cycle.

Key Libraries for Machine Learning

I recommend starting with Python given the vast ecosystem of ML libraries and resources available:

Library Use Cases Pros Cons
TensorFlow Leading deep learning library for large-scale deployments by Google Industrial-grade performance and scalability Steep learning curve
Keras High-level neural networks library for fast prototyping User-friendly, extends TensorFlow capabilities Less flexible than TensorFlow and PyTorch
PyTorch Deep learning research and production deployment Fast, flexible framework great for exploring ideas Limited production deployment support
Scikit-learn Core go-to library for machine learning tasks Easy to learn, great for beginners Only supports basic ML models

As an overview:

  • TensorFlow provides industrial-scale capabilities but beginners can leverage pre-trained models
  • Keras offers user-friendly neural network building blocks
  • PyTorch is gaining popularity among researchers for its flexibility
  • Scikit-learn is the best starting point with its simple consistent interface

Many cloud platforms like Google Cloud, Azure and AWS also offer autoML solutions nowadays that allow training ML models with minimal code.

Deploying Machine Learning Models to Production

One of the hardest parts of applied ML is the transition from notebook/prototype to full-fledged production system. This transition is enabled by MLOps (DevOps for machine learning).

Some key MLOps considerations for operationalizing models:

  • Monitoring data distributions and model performance for concept drift
  • Automating retraining procedures
  • Handling model explainability/interpretability
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance
  • Managing computation costs

Thankfully, platforms are emerging to manage MLOps complexities including:

  • Kubeflow on Kubernetes for scalable deployments
  • MLflow for model packaging, deployment and monitoring
  • SageMaker, AzureML and CloudAI services

Getting hands-on experience with taking models to production early is key even if starting small.

Building Your ML Portfolio as a Beginner

An effective way to skill up as a machine learning engineer is to build a portfolio of ML projects to demonstrate your hands-on abilities.

Here are some ideas for beginner portfolio projects:

  • Binary classification models:
    • Image classifier model with CNNs (e.g. MNIST digit dataset)
    • Fake news detector dataset from Kaggle/text classification
  • Time series forecasting model with LSTMs
    • Stock price predictor model
    • Energy consumption demand based on historical usage
  • Content based recommendation system:
    • Movie/product recommendations based on attributes
    • YouTube video suggestion engine

Make sure to share your code on GitHub and document model performance metrics. You can get free GPU access for faster model building through services like Kaggle and Google Colab.

As you advance, you can participate in machine learning competitions on platforms like Kaggle as well. Getting hands-on quickly is key rather than getting intimidated by theory early on!

Next Steps

I hope this guide served as a gentle introduction helping demystify machine learning. Please feel free to reach out with any questions!

Here are some next steps to continue your ML education:

  • Learn Python programming fundamentals
  • Take an interactive ML course like Andrew Ng‘s MIT course
  • Work through ML tutorials and case studies for your industry
  • Start applying ML techniques to your first portfolio project
  • Join communities like Kaggle and attend local ML meetups

Wishing you the very best with getting started on your machine learning journey! Let your creativity run wild and remember to focus on solving problems that excite you.