I am Data Science, and you can too! (or, Buck is Back)

(Complete Table of Contents here: http://aka.ms/backyarddatascience)

My Progression and My Passion

I’ve been working in Information Technology for about 30 years. I started here at Microsoft a few years ago working on SQL Server in the Product Team, then went into the field as a technical professional on SQL Server, and when Microsoft Azure – at the time called “Red Dog” – came out, I jumped to that very early. After that, I worked in the Microsoft Azure  Worldwide Team for one of the CTO’s.

About a year ago, I left corporate headquarters and started working with all of our products in an architect role for the Department of Defense here in the U.S. in Microsoft Consulting Services. It’s been amazing – getting my hands quite dirty in the deployment and operation of lots of different technologies. But that meant I went dark on being so…open.

And now I’m back. Back in the data profession, back on social media, and back on conferences where I can talk about what I do. I’m in an area dealing with “Data Science”. And I was a little nervous about the title of “Data Scientist” – I still don’t apply that to myself. However…

Of Telescopes and Famous (and not so famous) People

blog2Years ago, science was done by average folks. Well, perhaps not average folks, but certainly by people without a formal degree in the topic they were enthused about, and people who had jobs doing something else. These people were called “Backyard Scientists” because they were sometimes involved in astronomy, done in their backyard, at night. Later, this term changed to “Amateur Scientists”. While not formally educated and employed in their subjects, they made significant contributions here and there (documenting for the first time the process of photosynthesis, using satellites for telecommunication,  the laws of electrical induction to name but a few) and you may recognize a few of them: Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Faraday, Thomas Jefferson and a few others.


There’s been quite a bit of chatter lately about “Data Scientists” – what that means, who can claim the title, and so on. I’ve debated this topic already, so I won’t belabor that here. However, I believe that each of us inhabits a world of data, and many of us are employed in that domain of Information Technology. We carry titles such as Database Administrator, Database Developer, and Business Intelligence Professional, among others.

blog3As time and technology has progressed, the original data domains of mathematics and statistics are now colliding with the areas of Data Mining and Business Intelligence, creating a new professional – the Data Scientist. I describe this new professional as  a statistician that knows too much about programming and business or a data professional that knows too much about statistics. In any case, there is still some confusion about the title.

So I’ll sidestep the issue. Let’s all be comfortable with doing the work without a formal title. I don’t have a four-year math or stats degree – mine is in other areas. Math doesn’t come easy for me – I have to fight it to understand it well. But like you, I have a passion for the application of data to solve problems. I’ve got a lot to learn (thank goodness) and as I do, I’ll share that here, in a sort of “Field Notebook” about the topics I study. I’ll be an Amateur Data Scientist. And you can too!

He’s baaaaack….

blog4I’ve now returned to the Data area at Microsoft – or at least I will be, in a couple of weeks. I’ve started in a role on the team that deals with Advanced Analytics, which includes everything from Relational Databases to Machine Learning, the R programming language, and more. I’m excited to be back in a data-focused role again. As I learn these new ways of working with data, I invite you to join me here from time to time as I share what I learn. I’m not a statistician, machine learning expert, or even very exceptional at maths – but I plan to learn. As I do I’ll share what I find out, and how I learned it. I’d love to hear back from you as well – I think we can all learn from each other. I look forward to seeing you on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I’ll see you at conferences, web broadcasts and more.

I can’t wait to see what we learn together. Let’s get started.

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