10 Beginner Tips for Building Your First Neural Network

Dipping your toes into deep learning and neural networks for the first time? Here are 10 key tips to successfully train your first basic AI model .

Start with Simple Datasets  

Begin by training your neural network on fundamental labeled datasets like MNIST digits or CIFAR-10 objects. These approachable options teach the basics before tackling more complex data. 

Leverage Pre-Made Libraries  

Use Python deep learning libraries like TensorFlow, PyTorch, or Keras so you don't have to code all the math from scratch. They provide pre-built layers and functions.

Keep Your Network Small  

A network with only a couple layers (input, hidden, output) is easier to train initially. Once you grasp basics, experiment with deeper architectures.

Split Your Data  

Reserve some of your data just for testing the trained model to evaluate real-world performance. Don't use 100% for training as it can overfit.

Standardize Data  

Rescale input data to have a mean of 0 and standard deviation of 1. This normalization helps the network train faster and more accurately.

Add Regularization  

Techniques like dropout (randomly dropping neurons) and weight decay (shrinking weights) help prevent overfitting on just the training examples.

Stochastic Gradient Descent

Updating weights gradually using small batches of data works better than updating weights all at once on all data.

Employ Learning Rate Decay  

Lower the learning rate slowly over training epochs so network converges precisely. A fixed high LR can overshoot.

Analyze Model Capacity  

If model underfits training data, increase parameters/layers. If it overfits, reduce capacity to generalize better.

Visualize Layers  

Plotting activations and weights at each layer provides insight into how well the network is learning feature representations.

Don't be intimidated by neural networks. With fundamental datasets, starter code libraries, and core techniques like regularization, stochastic gradient descent, and capacity control, virtually anyone can successfully train their first AI.