Update on Ember’s Data Science Journey – June 2020

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It has been a while since I wrote one of these, and it’s about time!

Recap

In June of 2018, I set a new goal for myself.

Long-term goal (by 2035): Work on data science in a way that makes the world a better place.

I want to transition to that goal slowly so I leverage the 18+ years of experience I have with relational databases and maintain the salary I’ve become accustomed to. I’m more convinced than ever that someone with a deep knowledge of relational databases and SQL has a lot to contribute in data science.

Recent Changes

Like most of the world, I’ve been quite busy lately. The last update I really shared here was changing jobs last fall. The job change has been absolutely amazing for me. I got out of management, which was my first goal in changing jobs. I think I make a passable manager most of the time when I try, but I re-live in excruciating detail some of my management failures. I don’t enjoy management work, and I’m not really capable of not trying or not caring, so it just takes up time and makes me miserable. I still love mentoring, which is a totally different thing.

Having written that, I’m having flashbacks of it coming back to haunt me some day when I’m going up for a management job and really want it. Let it stand as a reminder to myself that I’m happiest when doing or planning technical work or architecting new solutions.

The thing I really didn’t expect when I switched jobs was gaining a freedom that a consultant doesn’t really have – the freedom to say “I don’t know”. As a consultant, we often have to hide our weaknesses like we’re in a constant job interview. No one wants to pay a consultant to learn something, even if they have the solid foundation to learn it. In my new job role, it is perfectly ok for me to say “I don’t know”, identify my weaknesses and strengths and then identify how I will work on my weaknesses or augment them by working with others.

As suspected, I was ready to move beyond just Db2. I focused the first 18 years of my career on Db2, and attained an astonishing depth of knowledge on it. I still use that knowledge at least weekly. But I have also been doing and learning an astonishing array of non-Db2 things. Within the last 8 months I have spent maybe half of my time leveraging and expanding my Db2 and HCL (WebSphere) Commerce knowledge. The other half of my working time has been spent:

  • Learning how to backup and restore a SQL server database on RDS to S3
  • Building out a new MS SQL server database environment using cloud formation templates
  • Upgrading MS SQL Server on RDS, changing editions, and adding high availability
  • Coding functionality into a chat bot using Ruby that queries both Db2 databases and MariaDB databases
  • Supporting LDAP – covering for a teammate who was out on a leave of absence
  • Evaluating how we will choose database platforms and what database options we want to offer developers in our organization
  • Making changes to a docker container and coordinating with a team while doing so
  • Using Rancher, Kubernetes, and Docker to host databases, and the changes in database approaches and database work that this entails
  • Collaborating with others effectively using GitHub(beyond just the few side projects I’ve done in the past)
  • Improving my coding by following someone else’s style standards and writing unit tests as I worked

Another of my goals in switching jobs was to get exposure to devops methodology and to data technologies outside of Db2, and I have done so in spades, and expect to continue that growth.

One of the things that made this transition easier for me is working with people I already knew. I had previously worked with at least 5 of the people I’m directly working with now, including my manager. There are a number of people in other departments I interact with that I knew from that previous job as well. This has eased the pressure of having to prove myself. I’ve added value, but I haven’t felt pressured to work extra hours to show who I am – these people mostly already know that.

Coming out of management, a drastically easier on-call rotation, and a real 7.5 hour work day, have been great for me on a personal and growth level as well.

Future

One of the things I was looking for in a new job was tuition assistance. Once I felt stable in the position, and like I was justifying my salary, I started looking into online master’s degree programs to find one that was right for me. This involved quite a bit of research, and there were a number of programs I considered seriously. I’ve decided to move forward in the fall with the Georgia Tech Online Master’s of Science in Analytics.

Originally I was avoiding programs that didn’t have the words “Data Science” in them. But many of the programs that do are extremely new. I considered several local programs. I loved the content of the Colorado School of Mines Masters in Data Science, but was disappointed to learn that it is only full-time on-campus, which I cannot make work. I investigated the Colorado State University Master of Applied Statistics with a concentration in Data Science, but after speaking with an advisor there, realized it was just too heavy on the math – I’d need a year of math classes just to get ready for it. I considered the Regis Master of Science in Data Science, but after reading reviews, it just seemed so heavy on theory over practice. I did not seriously consider the University of Denver Master of Data Science, despite driving by the campus nearly every day, largely due to the cost.

I was attracted to the idea of a local program, but couldn’t find one that felt right. When I started looking at online programs, I was shocked and appalled by the cost of some of them. The Berkeley Master of Information and Data Science program sounded amazing, but the cost is just astronomical. When I started looking into Georgia Tech’s program, it looked like they had this particular program online for over two years, making them one of the more mature full Masters’ Degrees in the data/analytics/data science space. I applied, and while I was waiting to hear if I was accepted, took one of their classes on EdX to get a feel of whether the program might be for me.

Wow, was it a challenge.

School for me was always something I put a lot of effort into, and excelled at. I technically earned my Associate’s Degree one month before my High School Diploma. I graduated Summa Cum Laude (in about the top 1% of my class) with my Bachelor’s Degree. This class was different. Granted, I was working full time at a fairly new job and trying to find time for my Db2 community activities, but I worked my rear off and barely managed a B on the first test. I learned a lot, though, not least of which was the expectation that in a graduate-level course, you are expected to seek additional material beyond what the course provides to fully understand the subject matter. I like that I found it challenging and that it challenged my ideas of what school should be. There was definitely a sense of connection with other students, but the professor and TAs felt distant, unreachable, and slightly powerless when I encountered an error on the final exam. So I go in with that worry, but ready to jump in to the the challenge!

With the world pandemic, I’m incredibly happy I chose an online course after all, with an institution that has experience in online content delivery to large classes.

As I progress in my journey, I’m feeling what a gradual transition this really is. I knew it would be, as I’m not willing to just go back to a junior level on salary and start all over again. But I see how what I’m learning impacts my job and the way I interact with people. I see how it changes what questions I ask and how I push IBM on the products related to Db2 that they’re working on. The role I’m in now is more of a cross-platform data role than just a single-platform database role, and I see growing into that role in a way that helps me serve and interact with other parts of the organization better.

As always, I love today, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Lead Database Administrator
Ember is always curious and thrives on change. Working in IT provides a lot of that change, but after 18 years developing a top-level expertise on Db2 for mid-range servers and more than 7 years blogging about it, Ember is hungry for new challenges and looks to expand her skill set to the Data Engineering role for Data Science. With in-depth SQL and RDBMS knowledge, Ember shares both posts about her core skill set and her journey into Data Science. Ember lives in Denver and work from home

3 comments

  1. I ended up in the Georgia Tech program (in fact, where we made contact with each other) after initially starting and completing a MicroMaster certificate on the edX platform with the University of California of San Diego UCSDx program. They had initially made some noises about extending that into an online Master’s degree, but as I was nearing completion of them program, UCSD announced that they would not offer a Master’s degree online. I don’t think my time was wasted because I learned a lot of things. They are also more Python-centric vs Georgia Tech appearing to be so far R-centric. However, had I known that the most I would achieve with that program was my MicroMaster, I might have opted right away for the Georgia Tech program. I will be applying to the OMSA program at the end of 2020, armed by then with another MicroMaster, this time from Georgia Tech’s edX offering.

    1. I did one of the UCSDx classes, too, and actually got a lot out of it, but also got the impression they were not moving forward. I did part of one of the classes in the MITx program, too, but it was really pretty intense, and I took it at a time when other things in my life were really crazy, so ended up dropping out, but I learned a lot from it, too. It has been nice to dabble around a bit and build some basic knowledge before committing to a program.

      1. I also tried one course in the MITx series (with Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo leading the course), but found that it was a bit demanding on my knowledge (at the time) of R and I too ended up dropping the course.

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