A Short History of a Data Science Rookie.

A Short History of a Data Science Rookie.

I’m currently studying for an MSc in Big Data at the University of Stirling, but I’ve done other stuff too. Here’s my potted history, work-wise at least.

Dot com days, dot com nights

In what sometimes feels like a previous life I studied ‘Computer Science’ (as it was called then) at Heriot-Watt University, joined a tech startup as a software developer (employee number five) and after a while changed role to lead a small development team and finally a larger team, productising our in-house technology, a web application server and developnment suite.

All this was at the height of the dot com boom. Exciting times. Espresso-fuelled all-nighters, crazy golf in the corridors, crazier deadlines, drum kits and bean bags and sky-high expectations, huge bonuses, testosterone and table-football. Exciting stuff indeed.

Except when it wasn’t, when the bubble burst.

That’s when the recriminations, the tears and the redundancies started, and when the ‘sure-fire things’ that were our company and our product lay flat and dead in a puddle of their own excretions, lifeless and unrecognisable.

We, the true believers, the chosen ones, stood in shock and disbelief. What we had fully expected to happen hadn’t.

There had been an understanding amongst all of us in the company about our collective futures, based on a set of assumptions about the world, the market and ourselves. The land of milk and honey lay just over the horizon. It would be ours. We’d reach it soon through diligence, intelligence and drive.

It was widely accepted between ourselves, as an indisputable fact, that the world desperately needed what we were offering and that we could not fail. This was largely down to a story we were told and which we believed, a story that in the end was instrumental in our undoing.

Let me explain.

The enduring metaphor of the dot com era was that of a ‘gold rush’. There was big money to be made from the internet and if you didn’t act quickly you’d miss out. Fortune favours the bold, as they say.

Our company, we were told, were making the picks and shovels that those neo-gold-prospectors needed to dig for gold in the internet wild west. You can’t dig for gold without picks and shovels. Everyone knows that. Duh. And, it was emphasised, it didn’t matter whether they found gold or not, because they had already bought their tools from us. We’d make money either way. We couldn’t lose.

Except no-one wanted to buy to buy our picks. Or our shovels for that matter.

We’d spent thousands of hours and millions of pounds building stuff that no-one wanted to buy. We’d pissed millions up the wall in a few short years.

By the end of it all I was just plain exhausted. I needed to do something different.

Now for something completely different

And what could be more different than primary teaching?

After a year of teacher training in London, I moved backed to Scotland and started teaching in a primary school. After the excesses of working the testosterone-filled tech world of the late ’90s, adjusting to the life of a school was an interesting experience.

Over the past five years or so my interest in technology has resurfaced, and I’ve started coding again, playing around with new languages, and exploring what’s possible with tools such as Arduino, Processing and P5.js.

Four years ago, in a lightning flash of inspiration, I had the incredible idea that I could teach our pupils how to code, something that combined my interests in technology and education. I was pretty sure I was the only person in the world who had thought of this until I checked with Mr Google, who kindly informed me that I wasn’t. I was the millionth. Teaching kids to code was huge. It was all over the place.

Undettered, I started a coding club in my school, loved it, and then shortly afterwards started two CoderDojo clubs in disadvantaged areas of Glasgow, CoderDojo Castlemilk and CoderDojo Bridgeton.

Now for something completely different (reprise)

I’ve taught for the last thirteen years. It’s time for something new. It’s time for something completely different. It’s time for data science.