Here’s my to do list for 2014…

  • Spend more time walking under trees and on the beach, looking at the sky and digging in the garden.
  • Make time for awe
  • Learn new languages like Clojure and Mandarin Chinese
  • Write code that I’m proud of, while doing the simplest things that could possibly work
  • More fear therapy: Let the experiences that I want to have pull me through my fear, and try a few new things I’m afraid of even if I’m not sure if I’ll like them at all.
  • Speak more, write more. About things that matter, and some things that don’t.
  • Do less, better.
  • Remember that the most important part of my life are the people in it.
  • Be kind.

I love making stuff, especially stuff that people can use. The act of creation is itself a joy, and I mist admit that there are times that I get lost in it. Sometimes, when I’m making software, or otherwise swept up in some corner of my own mind, I lose touch with the people around me. Then I get kind of pissed off that they are interrupting my blissful state of self-absorption or I wonder why they won’t just get with the program which is all laid out in imaginary detail and coherence in my head. Of course, I like the people, and usually, other perspectives are needed to turn my imaginary solutions into ones that will actually work. This little list for 2014 is one way of reminding myself to stay in touch with the world, and the people in it.

Svetlana Sicular (@Sve_Sic), Gartner Research Director, offers a Big Data roadmap (via rww article). One of the delightful surprises in her report is a definition of a data-driven enterprise that includes process and people:

  • Fact-based decision making
  • Treating information as an asset
  • Business people responsible for analytics and acting on outcomes
  • IT people responsible for information management and provisioning

rocket ship with data: analytics, cloud, social, mobile

She also clarifies that Big Data is not just about volume

Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and
high-variety information assets that
demand cost-effective, innovative forms of
information processing for enhanced
insight and decision making.

Structured data is still valuable. She argues most valuable, but I’m not sure about that — at least not the structured data we already have. If we can turn our so-called “content” into data and see behaviors of our customers, our visitors, even ourselves as data, those insights can dramatically change our perspective. Arguably, big data allows us to turn large, quickly changing, or complex data into small, simpler, structured information that we can act on.

I love the term “dark data” — data we already have, but aren’t looking at.

When mining big data, you’ll find unexpected
(but real) results. Don’t start a project if you’re
unwilling to deal with the findings.

The most exciting aspect of Big Data, from my perspective, is that data formats are less important, the structure of the data can be inferred later. For our most critical and urgent challenges, we don’t know the questions at the time that we start collecting data. Sicular notes that with big data, we can ask bigger questions. We can also ask different questions.

In How Coding Went Mainstream, Lauren Orsini writes “why it became easier than ever to learn computer science in 2013.” It is true that it is easier to learn to code than ever before. There are great resources available. However, this does not mean that it is easy to learn computer science or become a software developer.

Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson declares “A computer science degree is a rip off…I know because I have one.” Perhaps his CS degree was from a college which didn’t have a very good program or maybe his focus has been web development where you rarely need computer science. I am glad I have a CS degree. It gave me a great foundation for the ever-shifting technologies in our industry. I’ve gone from building desktop applications to internet multimedia to creating a JavaScript framework to web apps to native mobile applications. The technologies I used for coding when I was in college are now obsolete, but the ways of thinking and problem-solving techniques are pretty much the same.

I believe that you can learn everything you learn in school on your own, especially as a software developer. That doesn’t make a degree worthless. It’s a privilege and an opportunity to be able to spend 4 years focused on learning. That said, everyone doesn’t have to be a software engineer or learn computer science.

I do believe that everyone should learn to code. Knowing how to work with technology is an essential skill for the 21st century. Even if you aren’t very good at it, knowing how to code helps people understand what is possible. Also most software has advanced features that require you to do things that use coding skills — setting up mail filters, creating spreadsheet formulas, even styles in Microsoft Word. There’s logic, preconditions, consequences, and a whole lot of things that are easier to understand once you know how to code. If you go past the conceptual understanding and can write scripts, you are way ahead in being able to connect disparate systems or simply use the power of computers so you can do what humans are good at and let the computers do mindless, repetitive tasks.

So, please, go do that hour of code if you haven’t already. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to become a software developer, but even if you don’t, it’s worth the effort, and might even be fun!