What am I trying to learn here? I don’t want this to be a fishing expedition with no results or just another blog of data tourism. We know that in order to learn any practical skill we must start as we mean to continue, or at least just start.
I’ve done some thinking about what is the goal I’m trying to achieve. What will I have when I’m finished? How will I know if I’ve succeeded or failed? I want to state a direction but I also want to be flexible enough to shift if I find that an assumption I’ve made at the beginning is wrong or not where I want to go. I want to keep track of all the things I had to do and learn to go from what I am now (i.e. a data architect who knows how to design data structures – glossaries, protocols, data models, databases, ETL functions) to someone who knows how to ‘codify’ data in the semantic web (i.e. how data is an object that is a thing in its own right instead of things that are held by other things).
If I restate that thinking as the question, then:
How can a person who’s learned traditional data architecture (defined as third normal form models, interface file formats, relational database tables, ETL, mapping, etc) achieve expertise in new semantic web technologies including ontologies, inference and data codification? What does that person need to learn, what are the steps, what are the languages and tools?
I know I could take a data science course or a programming course but I think it’s more than that. There’s a psychological shift that I need to make from thinking about data being decanted into containers to data being a thing or an object on its own. I’d like to see how inference works in a practical sense, do it for myself and understand the practical way to get it going. The end result might be more of a continuum of skills rather than a thing that I’ve built, but I suspect I’ll have to build something to get skilled in the technologies that I want to investigate.
The audience for my experiment would be people who have an interest in data and the future of data but don’t know where to start or what to do next (in a sense, the audience is me).
I welcome comments and suggestions. Starting off might be slow as I work out what I need to look at and then try to catch up to all the people who’ve been working on this for years before me. I want to make this a practical how-to so I’ll have to hit all the basics before I get fancy. Time to get started!
I am a data person. I love knowing the meaning of things and how they fit together. One of my favourite things to do in school was to diagram sentences to show how words form communication. Data is not just models and diagrams of structure, but also the meaning of the content within those structures. Containers for data do not in themselves mean anything. Remember the old days when switching phones meant re-entering all your contacts? So what if your new shiny phone could hold more entries, you’d still have to get them all in there somehow. What’s more important: more memory or more things to remember?
Obviously data itself changes all the time. For years data was incidental to the function and form of applications and software. Hardware was built to process it faster and hold more of it but no one really discussed what ‘it’ represented. Data was not the important thing on its own. Software and hardware were the important things because you can buy and sell them, less so with data. Now data is if not THE thing, at least it’s held in much higher regard than it was previously. What’s noticeable now is the huge shift in how we talk about data, how we treat it and what value it has to us.
What I want to learn is how do we shift from focusing on the containers that hold data and the wires that move it around to looking at the data itself as part of the code, part of the thing that makes up our universe of information. Tim Berners-Lee’s TED talk about the Semantic Web talks about how linking things to other things builds the Semantic Web. Making data an object in that universe is key to unlocking what data can do for us.
I don’t know how this will turn out. I don’t know where it will take me. I chose ‘hello world’ for the title of this post because anyone and everyone who’s programmed anything has written their first program to print ‘hello world’ on screen or wherever. This was true a few months ago when I was learning python – yes, python! the cool new language! We wrote ‘hello world’ and then proceeded to do some data science-y things that I can’t remember now as I’ve not touched it for 3 months, but there we are.
So here is my inaugural ‘hello world’ post, like so many programmers and bloggers before me. I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do.
I started this site out with noble intentions and it’s sat here empty for months. I let myself believe I have been too busy living my life and keeping my head above water to do anything with it until this week. This week I was slapped in the face with a hard lesson about being complacent, trusting others and believing that I could exert some sort of control over my future. It was a very painful experience.
I am a movie person, which to me means that when confronted with various events in life I replay a clip in my head of something that reminds me of what I’m experiencing at that time. This clip from that old favourite The Fifth Element, up until the 1:07 mark, was how I felt that slap went this week: Zorg vs Bastiat. I didn’t get Bastiat’s chance to explain how I felt about this particular theory, as I had to run away before I started sobbing on what felt like one of the worst days of my career.
So what am I going to do about it? Complain here on my blog? Well yes, that’s what I’m doing now but what else? First thing I did was try to get it into perspective. Yes, I was being told I had failed and yes, some of that was in my control but the majority of it wasn’t and I can’t blame myself for that. People made their choices, I wasn’t one of them, fine, let’s move on. Do I feel crushed and hurt and utterly devastated? Yes. Does anyone but me care? No.
After letting myself feel bad about it I realised that in my head I’d thought of all these things to do that would have made a difference but I had done none of them. I’ve read all those articles about what successful people do, blah, blah, blah and all of that is very interesting but none of it matters unless you do it. I haven’t done anything about it because I couldn’t rouse myself from a paralysis that has slowly crept up on me these past few years. I knew it was happening and I could feel it progressing, freezing me in place but I felt helpless to stop it. Inertia has seeped into my very bones and I find it so hard to start anything, let alone do or finish anything. This week’s slap was the hardest one, but I have been getting three or four of those a year and I fear making any moves because of it. My defence mechanism against feeling the pain must have manifested as paralytic inertia. In the future if I’m going to get slapped for doing nothing, it must be more productive to get slapped for doing something, and hopefully less painful.
So if I want to make something of myself and find something interesting to do, I will have to change and take risks. Now that I know how it feels to hit the bottom I’m sure that any risk-taking I decide to do can’t feel as bad as this does.