paul vidal - pragmatic big data nerd

5 reasons gaming can boost your professional life

by paul 0 Comments
5 reasons gaming can boost your professional life
Sorry boss, Gotham isn't going to save itself.

The first year I started working, I remember hesitating to buy a game console in order to play in my spare time. Despite the cost, what made me hesitate was the idea that I was an adult and should act as such. Pondering upon this colloquial “rich people problem”, I talked to one of my best friend who told me: “Paul, a man needs the ability to play”; needless to say, these zombies did not see what was coming their way. A little later in life, I was re-introduced to what is now my favorite game, Magic: The Gathering (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a HUGE nerd). I can safely say that this game really changed my professional life. Combined with the reading of Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety from Charlie Hoehn, I decided to spend this week talking about the importance of gaming for your career. A few disclaimers to start. First, I am talking about gaming, and choose not to talk about playing, because playing might infer physical activities, and I think that the benefits of regular physical activities are so evident, they don’t need another blog post about that, plus I believe there is a distinct advantage in sitting down and playing a game as opposed to go outside and play sports; that being said, I realize I’m biased on this aspect since I’m pilling up 10+ hours a week of training every week. Secondly, this article won’t be a breakthrough for many who embrace gaming as part of their everyday life. That being said, coming from a very European mentality, I know that there are still many people who don’t game enough, and that’s why I think it’s important to highlight these points. Finally, I’m talking about casual gamers, not about competitive/professional gamers, although I doubt they read this blog anyway.

1. Reduce Stress

The first item is the most self evident. I was recently at my physician doing a checkup who mentioned that the biggest contributor of me catching colds was stress. To be, having the opportunity to game is almost as good as playing the game itself. Let me explain: life is very demanding, and most of the professional I know agree that the most valuable currency a man can have is time. When you actually carve into your super busy schedule to do something as pointless as spending hours looking for ammunition before getting in the next mission in Fallout 4, it is liberating. It means that during that time, you accomplished nothing of value. One might add you may actually have lost time and money doing this. And this is why it is so powerful: you get to spend time without any objective or worry in mind.

2. Learn to be decision oriented

This skill is probably the best skill I have ever learned from a game. As mentioned in introduction, I play Magic: The Gathering quite a bit. For those who don’t know this game, think about a game of chess, where the rules are exponentially more complicated, the starting pieces are 60 out of 13000 cards (all of which are pieces of art) and you get to cast firebolts, summon demons and bribe your opponent. It’s pretty awesome. But like in every card game, or game for that matter, it encompasses significant variance, which makes some games almost impossible to win. What is interesting is what to do when the outcome of a game (loss or win). The first basic reaction can be to blame it on luck and move on, i.e. not learning anything. The second reaction is often to focus on the outcome rather than the process: oh, I used this card to win, therefore this card is awesome and I should play it all the time. In this case, you are not only basing your judgement on a very limited sample, you are most likely missing the big picture. Which brings me to what I think is the ultimate way to analyze a game: focus on the decision you made during the game. By focusing on decisions, trying to understand what you could have done better, what elements were out of your control, and taking each game and each event during the game as a data point towards your personal improvement, then you can really maximize your journey towards a better player. Yes, I go deep when I play Magic.

I all seriousness, this is an extremely powerful habit: when something happens in your professional career, whether it is a sales opportunity, a failed attempt at an implementation, a complicated discussion about strategy or marketing positioning, rather than focus on the outcome of the activity or blame it on bad luck, look at it from end to end and analyze what worked and did not work. You will then be able to build a framework that will refine overtime and cater to what your career needs.

3. Find inspiration

While our job description does not entitle the creation of pieces of art (I’m sure some of us can recall some pretty horrifying powerpoint presentations), inspiration is an essential piece of our daily life. Finding the write words to send in an email, position the slides to captivate your target audience attention, using the appropriate algorithm that will allow maintainability and scalability, all of our daily endeavors require some amount of inspiration. Gaming helps when you can’t put these words together. Granted, one could argue that anything that takes your head off of the activity for which you are lacking inspiration may help, I find that emerging yourself in a fantasy world that requires interactive actions from yourself is the one of the fastest way to get epiphanies.

4. Extend your social circle

Everyone tends to stay within their eco-chamber. With work and family taking most of our daily life, it’s sometimes hard to put yourself into question and realize that there is a world out there of people that don’t care about why relational database management systems are a technology of the past. Unbelievable. All joking aside, gaming is a very easy way to encounter people that do not live in the same echo chamber as yours, and therefore enrich your view of the world and thus ultimately being better at understanding your professional circle.

5. Stop taking yourself seriously

This is probably one of the best outcome of gaming. Our professional image is often one that was molded by difficult email conversations, argument over solution architectures and so forth, to the point that sometimes your professional self and your personal self are split personalities. I could write a whole post on the fact that if you are not behaving the same at work and outside of work, then you should probably address that. What I’m highlighting here is that when people know about your dorky side (again, huge magic nerd here), you become human to others, which is extremely valuable for your career. And because you become human to others, you have to admit flaws and stop taking yourself seriously. Society is exchanging most of my time and brain power against currency that I use to provide for myself and my family first, but also buying games that have no purpose but amuse myself. That’s far from serious.

Do software companies need purpose?

by paul 0 Comments
Do software companies need purpose?
There are cookies on the other side, right?

Following Richard Branson, I stumbled upon this article from Virgin: Is purpose the new branding? When I read this, all I could think of was this quote from Rick & Morty: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV?”. It’s a very funny quote despite being out of context here, although one could argue that it isn’t that much out of context, since this blog and this article don’t belong anywhere :) In all seriousness, the fact that purpose has been on the forefront of my newsfeed lately and that I have been pondering with branding strategies for my job got me to dive a little further into the subject. And you, fellow reader, get to bathe in the splashes of this hypothetical dive.

Establishing the premise

I want to set the stage of this post and thus establish the scope within which I will be operating. Let’s acknowledge my (limited) domain of expertise. First, I’m going to talk about software, not things. Secondly, I have little experience in B2C marketing and strategy, but I have an extensive experience in marketing and strategy in software B2B. So I’m going to talk about B2B here, not B2C. And it’s good, because I think that the “purpose in B2C branding” horse has been beaten to death. Poor horse.

With this established, let’s have a look at who is the target of B2B. A good place to start is this study from Google, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, debunking some of the myths surrounding B2B marketing. The surprising outcome of this research and what I can read is quite simple: the persons that you are trying to target are following the same demographic and user expectations patterns as the rest of the population.

So, in short, here is the what we’re talking about: software B2B marketing strategy for people like us.

Not only caring about money does not mean we want to make the world a better place

Make no mistake: the first goal of a marketing strategy is to sell more. At least until capitalism collapses, which I’m not going to debate here. The assumption that many articles debating purpose is that generating revenue is not a purpose in itself. I think this assumption is correct, and several studies suggest that a paycheck is not the sole purpose of employment for our generation (take a look at this report for instance).

What I think is wrong is the conclusion that because millennials (we) are not by default driven by money, because we acknowledge that our jobs will change quite a bit over the course of our career, and because we seek personal development, it means that we are moved and seeking purpose. Like I argued before, our generation is the generation of individualism, and these findings should be interpreted within this framework. Specifically in the realm of B2B, I can tell you from experience that what excites is not the Purpose with a capital P of a solution but rather what it can do. What it can do for me, now.

Do bytes have purpose?

Another interesting question to ask, and perhaps the first question we should have asked, is: can my software have a Purpose? I would argue that no, software is a tool to achieve a goal. It does not have a purpose, it’s 0s and 1s (at least as long as we use binary machines). Of course, any set of tool can be used to achieve a purpose; but we are not talking about what you can do with the tool, rather if the company that is building the tool or the tool itself can be presented as having a higher properties or purpose than using the tool. I think this quickly becomes over reaching.

So: do software company need purpose?

The outcome of my current thought process is no. The theorized search for purpose of the millennial generation is operating under false assumptions. Furthermore, pieces of software by definition do not have a purpose which makes your software marketing strategy intrinsically swimming against the current.

Instead, I think that branding should focus on capabilities, not purpose. In my opinion, highlighting what a product can do in a comprehensible and palatable manner is far more exciting and ultimately convincing than positioning a product as the banner behind which we need to rally to express our views of the world. I would also add that B2B decisions are more and more data driven, and I don’t think that purpose is a relevant data point when considering alternatives. As always, I would love to proven wrong and hear your thoughts against this conclusion.

Is patience overrated? how real-time big data affects our behavior.

by paul 0 Comments
Is patience overrated? how real-time big data affects our behavior.
soon.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m fairly action driven. One of the skills that is often pointed out to me for a lack thereof is patience. If you want an illustration of my personality, I encourage you to read this comic:

woah-woah-woah-slow-down-friend-dontcha-know-that-sometimes-you-have-to-stop-and-smell-the-flowers-flower-smelling-champion-type-a-type-b-1471399276

Thank you @shenanigansen. Seriously, I have a problem. My cousin would tell me I need to do yoga, many of my friends would tell me I should practice mindfulness, and my Dad would tell me I should be patient. Here is my take on it: I think patience is overrated, and I think that it is the result of the technology we have at our disposal.

The advent of real-time in Big Data

A couple of years ago, the selling point of big data was the big in big data. Being able to store practically unlimited amount of data was a game changer. But if you look at the recent trends (see a few excerpts here, here, and here), real-time and speed are selling points. People want access to their data quickly, and I can tell you it is a major part of my every data pitch. To be fair, the shortening of time of any part of your life is a trademark of the modern era, as much as hipsters are trying to fight it (typewriters, anyone?). However, I do think that accelerating big data access and storage has and will continue to be one of the trends that impacts that acceleration the most. Indeed with the luxury to record everything in our lives, through IoT or simply by being a normal being that spends a significant portion of his time in the virtual realm (a.k.a. surfing the web or playing video games), real-time is the next game changer after personalization.

What that means for us, the end user

We are already a product being sold by any social media, site, fitness tracker or video game. And we already see the outcome of this by targeted ads, suggestions and so on. But these suggestions can be a bit off at times (think suggestion about something you already bought), on the account of the algorithms needing more iteration, but also by the lack of sufficient data, not because of pure lack of it but by the latency of gathering all these pieces of data together. Imagine what speed can add to these phenomena. The accuracy of the suggestions will be at times frightening, but mostly we will become more impatient. And we already see results of that. An recent example would be the reaction of retailers about using cup readers, due to their processing time. We’re talking about a few seconds of difference, but it matters to us, the end user. Personally, if I can’t use contactless payment and have to pull out my card like and animal, I’m annoyed. And this trend will continue folks, make no mistake.

Conclusion & Limitations

So why should I be patient? Why should I have to wait for a specific outcome? The frustration comes from the fact that many situations for which you are impatient are not limited anymore by logistics themselves but by inaction, at least in the business world. But my point is the following: the world of data and therefore to some extent our personal world is moving to real-time. You can decide to be an outsider and there is of course value in this, or you need to adapt. The value of waiting for a possible different situation is overrated. For instance, let’s say you have to make a life changing decision. Chances are that the amount of data that you will have to make that decision now versus 3 weeks from now is going to be roughly similar. So why not take the decision now? Why be patient?
Of course, this may sound like I’m advocating for having results now now now now, like a 3 year-old (and I talk from experience). This is not it, valuing highly hard incremental work towards a long term goal is extremely important, but patience as an excuse to inaction isn’t.

5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016

by paul 0 Comments
5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016
I did a search for summit on royalty free images and this is what I got.

For those who don’t know, I’ll be attending the Cassandra Summit 2016 in San Jose (possibly talking, but this is still in the works). The Cassandra Summit is organized by DataStax, the Cassandra enterprise company with which my company, K2View, is a partner.
I’m super excited about this summit, and participated to last year’s edition. I thought I’d share the excitement by writing a total click-bait of an article, expressing my genuine feelings of excitement. Seriously, I am excited about this summit. Of course my judgement is biased by the fact that I am part of the show, but I would not be working for who I am working now if I was not honestly passionate about this technological environment and the events that surround it. So allow me the right to be a nerd and share this with you: 5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016.

1. To learn about market-leading technologies

Like the paradoxical man would say, it goes without saying but it’s better said than not. Obviously, this should be the first thing you look for when attending that kind of summit. First, Cassandra and DataStax Enterprise are used by companies that are the leaders of our day to day technological life (e.g. Netflix, Apple): at this summit you get to talk to the guys that implemented these clusters and understanding their deployment is always fascinating. Perhaps even more interestingly, you get to learn about new companies leveraging Cassandra in use-cases you never thought about. If you play your cards right, you should be able to overload your brain with new information, which is always a good feeling.

2. To listen to people that are smarter than you

Granted, this is not very hard for me. Take a look at the conference agenda and the speaker list though. I have a professional crush on Patrick McFadin, Chief Evangelist at DataStax, who was my first encounter with Cassandra. I really y enjoy its delivery, and always have fun listening to him, but he is one of many for that conference.

3. To genuinely connect with other data nerds

With our (professional) lives going at 100 miles per hour, we don’t get a chance to stop and tell someone: the gossip protocol is one of the coolest things. If you try to tell that to someone that does not work in the field, he probably won’t know what you’re talking about; if you try to tell that to someone in your field, it either comes out as a platitude or you simply never get time to enjoy a very nerdy conversation. You get to do that at the Cassandra Summit. If you’re participating, grab a beer and a snack and come talk to me about anything you find cool, I’ll listen.

4. To witness cool logistic hacks

Two words for you: whiteboard tables. This blew my mind last year, being able to doodle with a marker on the very table you sit at is amazing. Why isn’t every conference room table a whiteboard? I will never know. I can’t wait to see what cool things the organizers will come up with this year.

5. To have fun

Look. Work is arguably the largest part of our lives outside of sleeping, It is not every day we get to be in an environment full of new exciting information, surrounded by extremely intelligent and passionate people, where everything has been thought of to the last detail. I like to think of it as an all-inclusive resort for data nerds. I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy every minute of it and so should you, so please, enjoy yourself!

A case for talking too much

by paul 0 Comments
A case for talking too much
How do I play pokemon go with that?

I spent the last few days writing a white paper on SaaS integration, as part of what represents more than a third of my time, interestingly more than the time I spend sleeping a.k.a my job. I considered briefly diving deeper in some aspect of this work for the benefits of the readers of that blog, but I decided against it to write a lighter piece on the benefits of speaking too much in the business realm. Case in point, I spent more than 75 words, 77 according to my text editor, to say very little about the main topic of this article. Did the world catch on fire because I said too much? Nope. Worst case scenario (admittedly not actual worst, the world catching on fire being a much scarier proposition), you’ve already jump to the first section of the article. Best case scenario, you enjoyed learning about my process and are eager to read what follows. That’s the heart of my premise: when considering giving away information versus the potential negative outcome of that information, skew towards giving information away to maximize value.

Debunking the information silo myth

For some reason extremely foreign to me, throughout the years I encountered many co-workers feeling that their value is determined by the amount of information they have and other don’t. If you’ve ever encountered that kind of behavior, you know how frustrating that is. I can’t explain why they feel the way they feel, but I can tell you their premise is wrong. If you have vital information to your company or your state of business that you do not share, this will not make superstar. On the contrary, it is usually identified as a liability and a reason for making a person redundant. On the other hand, if you possess information that no one is aware of that is not extremely important, then it will die with you, and with it your value.

Why it works: you are not important.

Honestly, I often get into these conversations whenever I or my friends are attempting something difficult. No one cares about you. It’s the syndrome of the newbie at the gym that worries about what other think of him, the answer is: they don’t. The same goes when sharing information, you should not worry about communicating ideas, expressing the fact that you don’t understand something, or expressing why you agree and disagree with. If you ever get negative feedback about it, take it as it is: feedback, more information for you to consume and build upon. If you get actual mockery from your interlocutor, it is also feedback: your interlocutor lacks communication intelligence (sometimes shortened as “your interlocutor is a dick”). Another added bonus of nobody caring about you and over information, is that if you say something that you shouldn’t have said (not that I think that ever occurs), chances are the person won’t notice or judge it as inappropriate because it is consistent with your character.

The aftermath of over-communication: transparency & reliability

On the flip side, over communication unlocks you as a personal asset by making you seem transparent and reliable. If you constantly and honestly communicate with everyone you encounter and do not hesitate to share information, I guarantee that people will judge you as trustworthy. Think about it, every time you say something, especially when genuinely showing lack of knowledge or comprehension. People will want to take to you because they know that you will give them a genuine answer. Furthermore, I truly believe that cultivating a culture of over communication is essential for the success of a company. From every level of the organization, management to engineering, lack of communication is frustrating, and too much information is not hurtful. I know I have extreme views on that, but I even think you should talk simply about sensitive subject. Let’s take an example: your salary. I don’t mind of you make more than me or if I make more than me. For me, it gives me a very good insight where you are within the company, the market and your career. I believe I am worth what I make because I make sure to deliver, and my salary is in accordance to the market for a person in my position. Do you know how I know that? I talked about it with people around me.

This is not carte blanche for stupidity or chit-chat

The issue with over communication is that it is an open door to your thoughts. And every one has his share of stupid or uninteresting thoughts, myself included. Heck, I don’t even know if that article is interesting or relevant at all. This is however unrelated to over or under communication. This is work that you need to make on yourself to grow as a person that has relevant things to say. The best way to do that is simple: listen to people that over communicate.

Becoming intimate with Big Data

by paul 0 Comments
Becoming intimate with Big Data
Come on guys, we are all made of blue glass inside.

About a year ago, I had a chance to have a discussion with one of the smartest person I’ve ever met, currently a board member of our company. This man has not only built his fortune out of nothing by being able to identify trends in the market and position his companies accordingly, he is also a genuine human being that forces admiration. But I digress. During this conversation, he mentioned that one of the things that helped him succeed was his capacity to understand the intrinsic values that define a generation. As an example, he mentioned that his generation, during the 90s was all about financial success. The following generation, the 2000s kids was all about fame (big brother anyone?). Then he told me that he was yet to figure out what my generation was all about. Since then I have been able to understand what makes my generation tick. After about a year of poking around, I think that I found the answer: my generation is the selfish generation. We are all selfish and think about our individuality. Look around, it’s selfies, freedom above all, my Facebook or my privacy, my right for an opinion, my right for an outlet to express my idea. I’m including myself in this of course, I am writing a blog after all. What’s interesting about this realization is to understand the consequences it has on the market, and specifically in a domain in which I have at least a bit of expertise: Big Data.

Big Data is driven by the individual

In a recent report from Forrester (link), companies were asked “Which use cases are driving the demand for continuous global data availability at your organization?”. The most common use case representing 52% of the answers received was 360-degree view of the business, product. This means that more than half of the big data drivers are coming from the consolidation of data to represent an individual unit of business. Make no mistake, in many cases, the product is you. What drives big data is the intimate knowledge of the individual. This makes perfect sense if you agree with the premise of my first paragraph: big data, and the market in general wants to cater to the selfish generation, and therefore is implementing solutions to know each individual personally.

This report is only one of numerous examples corroborating what I’m trying to explain here. We see machine learning algorithms and data scientists arguing about what algorithm is the best to target individual with the right add. IoT is tracking and personalizing every aspects of our lives. Anecdotally, I even witnessed the re-naming of a data analytics team in a large company to “Your Data”.

What does this mean for your Big Data implementation

First you need to consider that in order to be able to keep a relevant edge on your competition, you must be able to have access to a solution to individualize your data collection. I have expressed this opinion quite a bit, but I believe that ultimately individualization of data is a use case that requires its own solution. There is no magic end to end consolidation platform that will do everything. You need to consider a big data individualization platform, as opposed to a big data generic platform that you then try to morph in order to cater to your individualization needs. Once implemented, this data individualization platform can be leveraged to implement further features like real-time provisioning, data virtualization, personalized analytics or real customer centric support, but your platform must be intimate with your unit of business first.

Essential resources on Machine Learning

by paul 0 Comments
Essential resources on Machine Learning
"Maybe you should be spending some time learning instead of relying on machines" - Some hipster

I’ve always been fascinated by Artificial Intelligence in science fiction. I’m so lucky to live in an era that is seeing the birth of a new kind of Artificial Intelligence, enabled by Big Data, advancement in super computers and Machine Learning. I’m even working in a field that gets to implement that kind of technologies, which continues to excite and fascinate me. Machine learning is today moving out of the realm of pure research to real-world applicability. But like any new cutting-edge technology, we need to beware of products untruthfully using the word Machine Learning in their marketing message or Machine Learning being the cure for all diseases. Therefore, I think it’s important that we spend some time understanding what Machine Learning is, as well as what it does and can do in the industry. Since I’m not an expert on Machine Learning (… yet), I spent some time gathering resources to enhance your Human Learning about Machine Learning. Happy reading!

Introductions

  • First things first, wikipedia: link
  • An excellent visual introduction on Machine Learning from R2D3: link
  • An early draft of a Machine Learning book from Stanford University: link
  • Introduction to Machine Learning from Cambridge University: link
  • Technical courses

  • In-depth videos on Machine Learning, from Data School: link
  • What is Machine Learning, from Data Camp: link
  • Introduction to Machine Learning, from Udacity: link
  • Machine Learning, from Coursera: link
  • Machine Learning in the market

  • Gartner 2015 Hype Cycle: Big Data is Out, Machine Learning is in: link
  • Gartner 2016 top 10 trends: link
  • Machine Learning, What it is & why it matters, from SAS: link
  • Marketplace for Machine Learning Algorithm, Algorithmia: link
  • The future of Machine Learning, from David Karger on Quora: link
  • The importance of specialization in software sales

    by paul 1 Comment
    The importance of specialization in software sales
    “Bust of Adam Smith” by Patric Parc, 1845. (Wikipedia)

    After spending some time reflecting on whether or not Data Scientist was a useful role within any organization churning a big amount of data, I stumbled upon this post on LinkedIn: There is Only One Type of Software Engineer.

    In short, this post calls for a de-specialization of the role of engineers in order to avoid siloed professionals refusing to take responsibility of a task if it does not exactly match their job description.

    While I agree with some of this argument, especially in big organizations where unfortunately the lack of ownership of a task and fear of risk taking can be quite flagrant (which I will try to tackle in a future post), I think that small organizations are in serious lack of specialization, the effect of which are particularly visible in the sales process.

    Establishing the premise: specialization scarcity versus tangible gains.

    Quick disclaimer: as for every post I write, I am not trying to establish and write the ultimate truth but rather I’m engaging into a conversation, so if I’ll be happy to see my premise challenged. It also applies mostly to my domain of expertise: large software sales for big organization.

    In this context, here is what I observed and gathered from the market. The era of all-in-one platforms is over. I debated this in my first article speaking about consolidation, but it is still true. And while some giant companies manage and should attack different segment of the market, they still have clear marketing messages and product names for these different segments.

    The problem is for companies that have an extremely innovative product, that could tackle a lot of use-cases. I know we have been struggling with this in my company, although it is getting fixed now, but I also observed this statement for many other companies I read or directly got in contact with. Without clear messaging of what narrow use-case your platform solves, sales struggle to happen.

    On the flip side, I hear the opposite statement as soon as the product or marketing message get focused. It becomes the most major growth factor and even drives people to your product instead of having to chase opportunities.

    Rationale: why and when I think specialization is working.

    “It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people” -Adam Smith

    Look, the concept is not new. The argument for specialization is at the core of our modern society, and many philosophers, economists or other sales guru addressed it before me. The goal of this post, and this blog in general is not to debate whether or not capitalism is the most suitable model for our society but rather to give down-to-earth testimonies based on factual experiences.

    With this in mind, here is ultimately why I think specialization enable sales: people hate complication. Despite what my inner nerd would like to think, everyone suffers from decision fatigue. We want to have one solution for one problem. This is why you use what’s app to text your Facebook friends instead of using Messenger in most cases. And I think it is particularly relevant for my generation that is driven by immediate selfish satisfaction (yes, I include myself in this) and want a quick response to a problem they have.

    Take away: what you and I should reflect upon.

    First and foremost, you need to make sure that your sales and marketing message is clear. You should be able to say what your product does, what it solves, what’s the market and who are your competitors. Then you need to be able to specialize your message even more, and drill down to what the person in front of you is looking for. When you’re playing tic-tac-toe against someone, you’re not thinking about every move that could have happened prior to the current move. You’re focusing on what move will give you the best chance to win now considering the current state of the game. It’s the same thing with sales: you’re not trying to sell your product to a range of hypothetical buyers, you’re trying to sell it to a specific person to solve a specific problem. Personalization is the ultimate specialization, thus the ultimate growth factor.

    Now comes the hard question: what should I focus on? What is my product’s area of specialization? This is an extremely complicated question, because while people want reality to be simple, it isn’t. One current tendency established by Eric Ries in the Lean Startup is to use customer feedback and adapt your product to their needs: be data driven. While I adhere to this approach, especially when put against visionary decision making from leaders (which often equates to magical thinking), I think it needs be adjusted to account for lack of specialization. Yes, your product/company can pivot in any direction but it needs to settle. I haven’t found the formula to determine when to settle and what is the best specialization, nor do I think anyone has. But the thrill of uncertainty is what drives me everyday.

    10 things you need to tell your inner 20 year-old to stop doing

    by paul 0 Comments
    10 things you need to tell your inner 20 year-old to stop doing

    This week I’m trying something a little different. I realize that I have less experience in career advice than in the data world, and that this post might veer into self-indulging therapy, but I do think it has value nonetheless. The elements in the list I am about to present are things I genuinely wish I knew when I started my career and that I still fight against. Hopefully, some of you can relate to this and who knows, it may give you some perspective on your current actions. With the context set, let’s dive into this: 10 things you (and I) need to tell our inner 20 year-old to stop doing.

    1. Being a cynical jerk

    “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” -Albert Camus

    Granted this is more existentialism than cynicism but it does illustrates my point. Spend your time contemplating the supposedly uselessness of your work, complaining about your routine and trying to establish solidarity around this vision of your job is idiotic. There will be displeasing aspects in your work, just as it is the case of any endeavor to which you devote more than 30 minutes. The question that you need to ask yourself is how bad the situation actually is, does it serve a purpose in your career plan, and if you need to change something. Complaining for complaining is counter productive, despite what every fiber of my French body wants me to believe, so don’t do it.

    2. Not wanting to pick up the phone

    This is why texting and apps like grubhub are so popular, and why voicemail is dead. We all hate calling someone, especially for a difficult conversation. Don’t misinterpret this with organizing meetings for the sake of organizing meetings, this is a completely different issue. What I’m talking about here is calling someone before or instead of sending an email/chat/text. Electronic communication is essential, but it does not replace phone calls. If you can’t find the right words to put in an email, try calling first.

    3. Not having a career plan

    What do you want to be in 2, 3, 5 years? Is what you’re doing know actively helping towards that goal? If you can’t answer that, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not saying that plans don’t change or that it is easy to know which direction to take (queue Camus’ quote from the first point), but it is the key to not waste time. It’s a difficult thing to face your own state of despair, but it will make you a more focused individual. Identify where you want to be. Give yourself the tools to get there.

    4. Underestimating the value of relationships

    However much you value relationships in your work environment, I’m fairly certain you can multiply that value by 2 or 3. At least that was the case for me until extremely recently. Take the time to speak with people. Pick up the phone, talk to them on social media, the world we live in make building relationships easier than before. Use it to your advantage. Don’t think you will get where you want to be alone.

    5. Thinking that other people are idiots

    I used to say, following the word of wisdom of many elders, that the worst thing in life is to work with idiots. I realize now that this was misguided. Not that I literally thought that a significant portion of my co-workers were dumber than I was (although if that’s what you actually think, you may have to climb down off your narcissist pedestal and join us common folks), more that they were many areas in which they weren’t as skilled as I am (or so I thought). The misguided part of this thought is thinking that everyone has the same objectives and interests as you. They don’t. And the fact that they don’t understand one thing you do, or even if we take this to an extreme that their cognitive capabilities are less proficient than yours, is irrelevant. When faced with someone who does not seem to understand something, or does something you think he shouldn’t have done, use it as an opportunity to learn about them, not to judge them; which brings us to our next point.

    6. Failing to understand others’ ultimate motive

    This is the next level of my previous point. I can attest from personal experience that I did (and still do in some occasions) misunderstand completely a person and get genuinely surprised by some of their action, which more often than not end up costing me a great deal. So try to do this: instead of dismissing people for the behavior and actions in which they engage, use these as data points aggregating towards building a portrait of them; this will save you a few surprises.

    7. Hesitating to ask questions …

    I was once working at a customer’s site to install one of our products and we needed a few boring environment access to be setup. Assigned to help me out was a freshly hired guy. As usual in that kind of situations, nothing was easy, and we were basically stuck until someone approved something. So I ask that guy: “who’s the person in charge of this approval?”; once he gave me his name I said: “good, let’s ask him when we can expect the approval process to be finished”. Of course, this made the freshly hired quite uncomfortable and he did not want to do it. In the end, we did contact the guy, and he was happy that we called (see point #2) because he had a few questions about what we were trying to do; I even think that ultimately it was quite beneficial for the new guy’s visibility in the organization. So if you have a legitimate question to ask to someone, regardless of their position, you should ask it. You have very little to risk unless it is misguided, which is why you should think before asking.

    8. … especially to yourself.

    This is fairly simple. Think before you ask something. Don’t be afraid, but use everything you know about your audience before asking a question or replying to an email. I know I’m guilty of angsty responses and I’m working on it. The key here is that if everyone else is applying the principles laid out in point #6, then they are building a portrait of you from multiple data points. Don’t give them negative data points.

    9. Not looking for ways to go the extra mile

    “Ask yourself ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: Yes.” -Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner

    I admit this might sound a little cheesy, but it is worth saying. I believe that you can always find more relevant things to do to better your knowledge, your business relationships and your recognition from other people. While this extra work might sometimes feel overwhelming, you can always prioritize it. Don’t keep this out of sight. Do more.

    10. Compromising your values

    … unless you have terrible values. More seriously, this is very good advice that I gave to myself after my first job. In my first job, I tried to become someone I wasn’t for the sake of fitting into a certain culture. I believe this was one of the biggest mistake I have ever made. Excelling at a job and pushing your career forward is hard enough, you don’t want to have to battle fundamental internal conflicts. I use the word fundamental knowingly. Like I touched on during my first point, you will always have doubts about what you’re doing, rightfully so. You spend a very high percentage of your time working, I don’t believe it is sustainable long term if you compromise your values, the same way you can’t be in a long term love relationship if you lie to one of the parties (you or your partner). Make sure your work environment does not make you become something you’re not.

    What is a data scientist and do I need one?

    by paul 0 Comments
    What is a data scientist and do I need one?

    A good friend once told me: “If your profession is not represented by a cartoon animal, your job description is made up and society does not need you”. This is when I realized that my life was a lie and I was condemned to eternal despair. But I digress. On the subject of data scientists, this is a role that has recently been introduced to the market place, so I think it’s important to ask ourselves what this role is and who can benefit from a data scientist.

    The evolution of data

    In the recent years, data has experienced profound changes. Not only the technology behind data storage and management has dramatically evolved from standard relational models to distributed solutions, the place of data in the enterprise and in the mind of people has changed. Suddenly data is becoming a sexy buzzword instead of being a necessary evil. Indeed, data has become its own entity within business organization with entire teams dedicated to it. Companies now no longer ask “do I really need to keep this data?” but “how can I make sure that I keep all the data I have?”. With this advent, new roles started to emerge and this is when “Data Scientists” have been introduced.

    Buzzword or actual role?

    Many argue that data scientists are just a fancier replacement to the role of business/data analysts; “A Data Scientist is a Data Analyst Who Lives in San Francisco” as you can read in this article (a very good read I might add). I agree to a certain extent: data scientists are people that are diving into software to get results that will ultimately help make business decisions. Companies leadership have always relied on this type of analysis from experts called business analysts. Business analysts even use business intelligence software to do data mining and generate statistics and guide business solution, which are some of the principal prerogatives of data scientist.

    But I do think there is a fundamental change to be considered: data platforms are now a separate piece of software. Before the advent of big data, software used data layers. Nowadays, you have data lakes, data virtualization layers, real time data warehousing that are their own entities. Using these platforms require a combined set of skills: know how to use data platforms intimately (skills formerly owned by data administrators) and be able to generate business intelligence data out of them (skills formerly owned by business analysts).

    As such, I think that a new designation for this combined set of skills is fair; and it looks like Wikipedia agrees with me by calling data science an interdisciplinary field: “Data science is an interdisciplinary field about processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data in various forms, either structured or unstructured, which is a continuation of some of the data analysis fields such as statistics, data mining, and predictive analytics, similar to Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD).”

    Do I need to hire a data science team?

    I think that there is a better question to be asked: “what am I doing with my data?”. Don’t get me wrong, the trend of wanting to accumulate as much data as possible is great. Especially great for me that work for a company that provides data management solutions. But I have seen implementations of massive data lakes taking years and month and very little use out of them, and this is a shame.

    New data platforms gives business a tremendous opportunity. Instead of relying on the wisdom of visionaries or accumulated experience to make difficult business decisions, we get to gather evidence and make an informed decision. But you need to know what you want to know first. Once you do, then you can decide which platform is good for you and what type of data scientist you should hire. This will give you much more tangible results than buying a huge data platform, hiring an army of data scientists and do fundamental data research. OK, I made that last part up, fundamental data research is not a real thing… yet!