New beginnings: seizing the data
The last time I sat down to write a blog post was in October 2021.
This is the longest break I’ve ever taken from blogging since starting in February 2013. It wasn’t expected or planned, but several events combined towards the end of last year to make me realise I needed to step away for a while. Although the UK lockdowns weren’t an entirely bad experience for an introvert like me, it was hard not to be affected by the negativity in online spaces where I’d previously felt at home. I guess this break has been something of a shield from that.
I’ve missed writing, but the past six months have been fun. And it might come as a surprise to read that I’ve played very few video games during that period. I’ve caught up with friends I haven’t been able to see in several years; visited a few food festivals and attended various shows; and there may have been a rather drunken 80s weekend with Pete at one point. There have also been months devoted to more sensible matters, such as studying for a couple of professional exams and starting the next chapter.
At the beginning of 2022, my employer announced they’d be offering a Data Fellowship Apprenticeship to 20 or so people. Their thinking was that the ability to leverage the company’s data should be at the heart of a much-needed digital transformation, and so enabling a set of employees to learn those skills would set them on the right path for the future. I applied in February, was fortunate enough to be accepted in March, and recently completed the first of what will be many upcoming training sessions over the next 15 to 18 months.
The funny thing is that I wasn’t initially going to apply. I’d already set out on a course of exams and was reluctant to change direction again; being away from my job for 20% of the time would probably not go down well with my very small team; and I haven’t really touched anything to do with data analysis since changing IT careers back in July 2019. I might work with databases and SQL nowadays, but this usually involves storing, securing, cleaning and updating data rather than actually putting it to use.
It was hard not to be affected by negativity in online spaces where I’d previously felt at home. I guess this break has been something of a shield from that.
But after a presentation featuring machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), my inner gamer found the opportunity a difficult one to turn down. Sure, there’s a long way to go before we reach those subjects during the latter months of the apprenticeship and I’m not entirely sure how much depth they’ll go into, but it’s cool to think about. We’ll also be doing quite a bit of work on Python and the thought of coding makes me feel like a kid learning BASIC on my family’s Commodore 64 all over again (maybe I’ll write about that one day).
But first: the data analytics lifecycle, classification and data protection requirements. Not the most exciting subjects for our first session last week but I guess we’ve got to start somewhere. On one hand, my current database role has given me a good understanding of parts of these areas; but on the other, I’m completely self-taught and so I’ve found there are certain things I’m going to need to unlearn. The way I think of them may make sense in my head but won’t necessarily want to be what the examiners see in my final project.
This doesn’t particularly worry me. Having now worked with data since joining an IT department 17 years ago, the overarching topic feels comfortable and it’s nice to finally be getting some formal training to prove I can do this stuff. I’ve been able to teach myself T-SQL for my current job and have picked up a few bits about programming from our developers here and there, so I’m confident I’ll be able to put that existing knowledge to good use and make it to the end of the apprenticeship around June 2023.
This does mean getting through the final project though, and that’s weighing on my mind slightly right now. Apprentices are expected to work on a business problem for eight weeks before presenting their findings to independent assessors and answering any questions they may have. Am I going to be able to find a task that’s fit to progress, considering the limited analysis tasks involved in my database role? Is there a possibility of my nerves getting the better of me when I stand up in front of the examiners?
I guess this post means I’m a blogger once again so, hi to my old blogging friends and hello to new readers too.
I’m not great in situations where I need to be in a group and sometimes find being around people rather stressful. Discussions are ok if I’m talking to somebody one-on-one but stick me in a room with others and I tense up: anxiety about saying the wrong thing starts to creep in and I can become quiet in response. It’s even worse when I’m giving a presentation and feel as though all attention is on me. This is one of the reasons why I frequently stay away from social media, and I’ve always admired those bloggers who can jump straight in and get involved without any hesitation.
The good thing about being aware of your weaknesses though is that it gives you the chance to do something about them. In the past, I’ve found that volunteering for SpecialEffect has pushed me out of comfort zone as it’s necessary to talk to people who visit their stand at expos and tell them about the charity. I think streaming on Twitch has also helped in a way, as it allows you to develop the ability to make everyone feel welcome and be open when new viewers pop up in chat with a random question.
I haven’t been doing much of either of those recently thanks to the lockdowns and break from blogging, but things look like they’re slowly starting to change. I also discovered last week that friend-of-the-blog Daniel (aka Darkshoxx) rather enjoys giving presentations, and he has kindly offered to mentor me in this area. His first piece of advice has already proven useful – that if you’re sharing subject you love with an audience, it should be something to look forward to rather than be afraid of – so I’m looking forward to seeing what else he can teach me.
It’s likely there’ll be a few updates on the apprenticeship posted here over the coming year as it feels like a good way to keep track of progress. May’s training session is due to be all about Excel before moving into database fundamentals in June, so it doesn’t seem as though there’s anything to be concerned about right now providing I stay organised and on top of the workload. The only thing I’m not looking forward to pivot tables: the person who finally manages to make me wrap my head around these is going to deserve an award.
I guess this post means I’m a blogger once again so, hi to my old blogging friends and hello to new readers too. I’ve given the place a bit of a makeover and, seeing as this is something of a new start, have brought very few old posts (although some could possibly make an appearance in the future if they feel relevant). I’m looking forward to getting started. Let’s see where this journey takes us.