2013: A year of personal change

I thought now would be a good time to reflect on 2013 and the changes that have happened in my life.

Officially I have now been out of academia for a year. My postdoc contract ended at the end of 2012, and while I stayed on at QMUL as a visiting researcher, I took the opportunity to travel for a few months with my wife, before setting out to find a new job.

There was no one day that I woke up not wanting to continue in academia, but as my postdoc continued I started to consider what other options I would have instead of just another postdoc. A big help in this regard was my university’s researcher specific career advisor. In particular they organised an event where former postdocs came back to QMUL to describe how they found moving out of academia. All the participants were really honest about their hopes and fears during the transition which I found refreshing compared to the polarised “it will be awful/great” that one often hears. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter recently about how to prepare grad students for life beyond academia and I definitely think these kind of events bring in voices with experience of working outside academia.

Even mainstream publications are now aware that we are in the era of Big Data and that a new role of data scientist has appeared. A data scientist is some part programmer, researcher, statistician and domain expert, best illustrated with a Venn diagram. For me the combination of research, programming and mathematics seemed like a really good fit, but I knew I wouldn’t have all the necessary skills straight from my postdoc.

I worked on a few different Coursera courses, in particular Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course, so that I would know the vocabulary of machine learning and data science and be able to identify the different machine learning methods. There are a lot of data science resources online and a particularly good collection is the Open Source Data Science Masters.

After some searching I joined Pivotal, a new company formed out of parts of EMC and VMware earlier this year to form a coherent strategy around the big data assets of those companies. I’m now part of the Pivotal Data Science team. We help our customers to make the best use of their data to solve specific business problems. It’s a great group of people with varied backgrounds and lots of experience dealing with real world (very!) big data problems (we’re hiring by the way).

I joined about six months now and it’s been a great experience so far. The team are really fun to work with and I’ve learnt a lot about both data science and business. It looks like 2014 is going to be very busy in a good way.