How Do You Create a Data Scientist?

Everything around us today is an outcome of the Industrial Age. The 250-plus years of changes allow a toaster in every house, a car in every driveway, and a computer in every pocket. It’s hard to imagine the amount of change that workers have gone through during this period. We are now on the journey through the Information Age, and it continues to change our world every day.

Gary GordhamerI believe we are still very early in this age. The questions I often ask myself are: Am I a creator or a consumer in the Digital Revolution? What does it take to be a creator? How does one learn the needed skills? Increase their knowledge? If data is the new currency, how does one learn to harness the value of data? 

There are many approaches to learning a skill, but really it all comes down to similar methodology.  Start with something simple, repeatable, and safe. Learn basic skills, and once those skills are second hand, apply them to harder techniques, and continue. I get to work with elementary school kids teaching Lego robotics.  This is their first introduction to programming and basic logic skills. My favorite takeaway for them is “When the robot is not doing the right thing, I’m going to guess it’s something wrong in the program.”  They learn this after only a few sessions, but it has to be repeated until it’s second nature.

Some of them will be the developers of the future, and there will probably not be a job title called DBA when they reach their careers in 12-plus years. Even as the developer role continues to take over the IT landscape, the skills, technical know-how, and bravado of a database administrator (DBA) is still widely needed and prized in the industry. 

DBAs spend their days working with data and are exposed to all types, formats, quantities, and varieties of data. Backing up, protecting, testing, moving—and all day-to-day responsibilities of managing data fall onto the DBA. Key in this is the crossroads of managing technology with data. The fastest way to move, retrieve, and use data all comes from further analysis and use of data.

The data scientists of today were the DBAs of just a few short years ago. How did they get there?

I attended my first national Oracle user group conference in 2003, a fellow DBA at the time talked me into it. From that moment on, my knowledge, and subsequently my career continued to grow. The amount of information I learned in those few days created advancements over the next 2 years within the group I worked and as well as the company I worked at. In 2006 I gave my first presentation at COLLABORATE, teaching DBAs about spinning disk storage, and luring them into the world of ASM.

At the time, the role of the DBA was changing dramatically with the early push for Oracle RAC 10g, ASM, moving to commodity systems (Linux and x86), and of course the constant drive for businesses to do more with less. Roles were shifting, and DBAs had to take on more responsibility.  That original presentation may not be very relevant anymore, and I have now presented 29 times at COLLABORATE over the years. The topics have changed dramatically and have included everything  from technical details of systems, to security procedures, and even the soft skills needed to be a better DBA.

That last one I’m a little proud of.  A year after that session I was approached by a person at Oracle OpenWorld who said, “Hey I remember you, I attended one of your sessions at COLLABORATE.”  I thanked him, and said I hoped he enjoyed the sessions.  He told me that not only did he enjoy it, but he took many of the things I said to heart. Over the past year he had moved from a DBA team member to the lead of the DBAs, and then he thanked me again for the session I did.

I feel lucky to have gotten that response. Feedback like this is extremely rare, though I’m sure many presenters have accomplished the same feat and changed people’s lives or careers. I also know that this type of change could not have happened by just watching a YouTube video, or reading a forum posting.  This comes from in-person contact with people that share the same backgrounds, skills, and hope to grow in the same areas.

This is my eighth year working on the COLLABORATE IOUG committee, and my third year as the IOUG conference chair. Everyone on the committee works extremely hard to bring the best presenters, hands-on labs, topical themes, and targeted vendor sessions to COLLABORATE every year.  This is truly a unique and one of a kind experience. 

The future is not written, but I know who will create it: Those that seek out the change.

I hope I can see you at COLLABORATE 18, and you can let me know what changes you see for the future.

 - Gary