Almost 20 years ago a good friend of mine told me something that has lasted, despite the past of time, fresh in my memory. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to remind her of his own words and she was surprised that I still remembered her story.
The story is nothing out of the ordinary, but besides that, I’ll explain it to you. One afternoon I was helping her to improve her skills with Excel. Along with teaching/learning Excel, we were chitchatting. We were randomly talking but she ended up explaining to me how, in a casual conversation with a person she had just met (let’s call him “Charlie”), she was introduced about “Google”, a recently-new-born search engine. She told me, she had not seen this person anymore. In fact, they were not even friends. Simply, both of them happened to be in the same physical space at the same time and both willing to talk with a stranger.
She was curious about what Charlie said and quickly researched that new tool. Her comment was how funny it was that an anonymous person, in two seconds, and by simple chance, could tell you something that turns a switch on your head, and leads to change 180 degrees your path. What she ended up telling is “What amazes me is that that person will never know the impact he had on me! “
The truth is that my friend, glimpsing by chance the era that would come later diverted her foreseeable career as an economist to the development of websites and online marketing. Remember it was a time when not everyone understood that the rules of the game were changing for good.
Needless to say that that day, when I returned home, I discovered the power that Google had as a webpage indexer. And although I have been unfaithful with the passage of time, I have always returned to his warm arms when I look for something.
In the world of each of us, there are these Charlie. They are people that cross your path and impact in it in one way or another. Charlie could be also a tiny moment. It is not necessarily a person.
But, I think, in order to be called “A Charlie” one must be ready to recognise this individual/moment. Otherwise, you cannot take any action.
How it knocked me
How I became interested in data science and machine learning was one of those Charlie moments. It was very different from what my friend lived in terms of circumstances and modus operandi.
My story is as follows. I was doing a coaching session with a coachee who is a biologist with a special love for marine science. Under normal circumstances, my coaching sessions ended up with a dinner or some time chatting with my coachee. This session was no different. At that time, and fruit of my interest in doing new things outside my usual environment, I was taking an Android app development course. In the conversation, my coachee’s passion for the sea and the fish merged, spontaneously, with what she understood was my technological frenzy.
She challenges me saying: “Look, Rachel, during my vacations I use to travel and count fish under the sea while collaborating with NGOs. Today, all divers carry waterproof cameras to record the wonders of the ocean. Build me something where they can upload the images or videos with a timestamp so, afterwards, someone can count the fishes from them”.
At that moment I thought what she was saying was something outside my comfort zone. It was not about making an app, it was about doing something bigger than I could and I was not able to think about the how. As soon as I came back home, and like my friend did 20 years ago searching what “Google” was, I looked for ways to find out how to do what I had challenged to. This time I went to ask my friend, “the guru”.
I suppose you, like me, have a person inside your circle of friends who are restless and something “smarty”. It is that person with who it is wonderful to talk until wee hours of the morning and with the almost sure end up learning something. My friend guru answered right away. He told me that my problem was solved like Google made its searching images engine. So easy! I needed to create algorithms that can automatically recognise which marine species was the fish and simply add a counter. With her answer, it was a link that introduced me to Machine Learning. Honestly, I could not fully understand it. But despite that, I still sorted out something to send my coachee as an outline of the project.
Within a few weeks of that, Alpha Go appeared in all the newspapers. I was living in China a country was Go is a very popular game. So the news was everywhere your eyes could rest on. But despite what would have happened if that occurred months ago, I no longer saw it as something totally alien and outside my comfort zone. I already could identify much of the information I read about this milestone as well as understand the implication Alpha Go had. Since then, I began to pull the thread. I started to self-study and put all the passion, effort and diligence my body and mind had.
From that story I also got a corollary If you are an apple, mix yourself with pears, the results could be amazing. Being around with someone like you and with your same background, it is easy and comfortable, but you will lose opportunities to learn beyond your expertise area, you will never have the chance to explore a new path. It might be scary but “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
And you, what is your story?
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.
from the book: "Oh, the Places You’ll Go!" By Dr. Seuss