We’ve got a new toy at the office — a 7-pound book on big data. I was one of the first to flip through and was hooked. “Big Data is truly revolutionary because it fundamentally changes mankind’s relationship with information,” writes Michael S. Malone, one of the writers that contributed to the book. Photojournalist Rick Smolan partnered with Jennifer Erwitt to create The Human Face of Big Data in which 100 photographers and 22 researchers came together to capture how data is changing the world through pictures, infographics and stories. As I was making my way through the book, I connected with several of the characters and stories and felt there were some key takeaways for engineers.
1. Great Thinkers Are Renaissance Men/Women
Big data is solving life problems with computers, but if you don’t have outside interests apart from computers, it becomes that much more difficult to appreciate the problems and find creative solutions for them. The people that I am most drawn to in the book are those that have dedicated their lives to exploring data and revolutionizing the way everyone sees it, but also lead healthy lives and have rich backgrounds in addition to their work, such as Nick Felton, who cultivates events from his life to inspire how he approaches big data problems.
2. Talent is Sparse: We Need to Cultivate the Next Gen
Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at Bitly, inspired me because she’s grooming the next generation of engineers by getting them excited about big data. Here at Emcien, one of the challenges we face is finding outstanding engineering talent. We need more innovative, high-quality engineers to work on our big data analytics applications, and I believe that many of those people will come out of initiatives such as HackNY, which was co-founded by Mason as a way to encourage up-and-comers to get involved in big data development.
3. New Tools Enable Us to Work On What Matters
The book explores the emergence of new tools that we can use to develop better, faster, smarter apps, including an infographic on the benefits of Amazon’s cloud hosting network. Amazon’s cloud hosting network enables me to focus on building the most innovative, user-friendly big data analytics apps rather than spending time on system administration, network administration and SLA management.
The Human Face of Big Data revealed a lot of new information on how Big Data is used throughout the world, and inspired my path in this space. We are in the infancy of big data, which means that engineers might sometimes find themselves going down dead ends. Yet, one thing is certain to me: big data is not a waste of time. It’s a new era and the people and stories in this book represent a small sample of the community leading the revolution.