The Road Through Strata - Preparations

10 February 2014

This week I will be at the Strata conference. It’s the place to be if you’re a data scientist. I shall be there, blogging the whole time.

Getting There

Register early. Get a hotel early. Book flights early.

I spent about 90 minutes looking at different options and found a price difference of $600+ between my first choice and the cheapest option.

Well Begun is Half Done

Conferences are expensive and brief. My uber-goal is to be as effective as possible in a limited time. There isn’t time to see everything or meet everyone. I must be selective with my time.

I have been to many technical conferences over the years, and developed tactics that work well.

Conferences last longer than adrenaline. Sleep, nutrition, and hydration are critically important. A brain needs fuel.

Conference Content

Great speakers are good teachers regardless of their session topic. Great topics are only sometimes presented well. I attend sessions based on speaker(s)’ quality.

I often learn as much from a session recording as I can by attending. A great example is DataGotham’s YouTube channel.


I learn from the brightest people I can find: engineers, scientists, and researchers. They are always practitioners of some kind.

I contact people before the conference. I say I want to chat, mention some topics we have in common, and ask if they’d like to meet or exchange contact info.

I follow most of the speakers on Twitter, and pay close attention to what sessions they recommend. Those are invariably good.

I prepare a list of questions. What do I want to learn? What are the most useful questions to ask? Which ones minimize my own bias?

I go to as many informal/collaborative events as I can. It’s amazing what I can learn from someone when they let their hair down.

Strata has some good options for this:

…and Noise

I rarely learn anything useful from salespeople, marketers, recruiters, or PMs. I avoid them.

I automatically disqualify anyone who is sexist, racist, or otherwise mean. I try to call them on their behavior, and then avoid them. I have better things to do than deal with their crap.

Great technology sells itself, often by word of mouth. I wonder why companies even do technical marketing. Good engineers have finely honed bullsh*t filters.

A heavily-marketed product is often an inferior product. A company that spends \(\) on marketing is choosing to not invest in R&D. I have an anti-marketing bias when making purchasing decisions for this reason.

Jobs and Careers

The best positions often aren’t advertised. Recruited positions are often terrible.

Technical people can spot talent. I network with technical folks. Again, I avoid recruiters.

Very few of my contacts stay in the same job for more than 5 years; 1-2 years is typical. I find it helpful to cultivate useful contacts, especially people who work in healthy companies or ethical industries.

I follow Wheaton’s Law. I network to meet people, learn from them, and lay the groundwork for a potential next gig. The least I can do is return the favor, often. It’s ethical and pays dividends.

Get In Touch

If you’re reading this, are going to Strata this week, and have any kind of technical skill, contact me (@DevNambi, [email protected]).

I will gladly buy you a drink or a cup of coffee. Let’s chat.


All About College

10 December 2013

I was recently asked by my youth group to provide resources for high school students considering college. Here’s what I came up with…

Why College?

People usually go to college for a combination of a few reasons:

  1. It’s expected of you (by your parents, family, friends, etc)
  2. You’ve heard it’s the only/guaranteed way to get a good job and career.
  3. It’s how you “become an adult”
  4. You love to learn
  5. You don’t know what you want to do, and colleges help you find out.

Colleges are Valuable

Colleges and universities have incredible value.

  • You can choose between dozens, even hundreds, of topics and specialties.
  • They are institutions intended to advance knowledge.
  • They are a place for young adults to gain valuable life skills…sometimes.
  • They concentrate smart, interested, and dedicated people together. This is both inspiring and (sometimes) incredibly productive.

Learning, research, exploration. That sounds awesome. It is.

Unfortunately, college comes with painful trade-offs.

Colleges are Expensive

College is expensive. Really expensive.

There’s no one reason for this. There are several:

  1. Federal and state funding for colleges has gone down over the past decade, so tuition went up to make up the shortfall.
  2. Colleges are in a race to be ‘prestigious’, so they built fancy dorms for billions of dollars, stadiums, and hired like crazy.
  3. College sports cost lots of money, more than they ever make.
  4. Colleges are full of highly-paid people who don’t teach (administrators, advisors, etc)
  5. For-profit colleges take money from students and give it to shareholders. And they get away with it.
  6. Colleges are so deep in debt that many of them will probably be bankrupt in the next 15 years.
  7. There are entire industries that make money off of college students. They don’t want anything to change.

Which One?

Picking a College is Hard. You’re 17 or 18 and making choices that will affect your future for decades.

There are 2 brilliant sources of data that look at the cost of college vs. the payoff: Payscale and Priceonomics.

There are lots of bad choices, and only a few good ones

Public Universities

Private, Nonprofit Universities

Private, For-Profit Universities


The Real Problem

What are the Alternatives?

Well, the future of learning is all about choice.

Community College & then transfer

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)

Debt is Evil

Debt is one of the most subtly evil and destructive forces around. If you owe lots of money, you can end up in a painful cycle of always struggling to make payments and never getting free.

The average student graduates with $29,400 in debt. With normal interest rates, that is $225 a month for 20 years, for a total of $53,900.

Student debt is particularly nasty because it’s so hard to get rid of. You can’t get rid of it by declaring bankruptcy. Lenders can garnish your wages. And if anything happens to you, your parents and future spouse can end up with the debt.

It’s Worse Than You Think

The trap is guaranteed. The escape route isn’t

For-profit colleges are particularly bad

Graduate Degrees Don’t Help

Financial Aid Is Going to the Wrong People

Lots of Debt, no guarantee of a good job

If You Want to Know More

College Metrics and Gaming the System

Tests Measure the Wrong Thing

Nobody Knows How to Fix This

Picking a College and Admissions

What should you ‘really’ learn in college?


This blog post presents a biased view; it emphasizes the financial aspects of higher education (cost to attend, ROI of a degree) far more than their value to society, the intrinsic value of a college experience to a young adult, and so forth.

That’s the point. Students already hear enough about the importance of going to college that I want to provide a counterpoint.

In addition, I haven’t looked at higher education in other countries, vocational schools, service learning, or apprenticeships. There are many, many options available to young people, but they require research and curiosity to find.

I expect smart young students to face different perspectives and narratives, analyze the merits of each, and come to their own conclusions.