PyData London 10th Meetup

Last night was PyData London meetup night once again. I haven’t been to a meetup for a few months so it was good to see some old faces and meet some new ones.

Soft Skills

First talk was Kim Nilsson from Pivigo Academy on soft skills for data scientist. Kim is a former Astronomer who made the move into commerce, experienced the culture shock many have moving from academia to business and decided to do something to help others in a similar situation or contemplating the move.

I actually have some experience of Pivigo as the company I used for work for had discussions with them on participating in their S2DS program. S2DS is an intensive 5 week program that schools scientists in the skills necessary to make the move into commercial data science. In the end we were unable to commit to the 2014 programme however I was interested to hear Kim’s experience with the program.

It’s undoubtably the case that soft skills such as communication, team working and networking are absolutely essential to being successful in business-land. It’s generally not enough to simply do your job well. In particular the need to meet challenging and often arbitrary deadlines can be a shock to someone coming from academia. Furthermore data science initiatives need to provide value which can mean, for instance, that it’s better to stop working and deliver some results rather than aiming for perfection (the 80:20 rule as Kim put it).

Another reason for paying attention to soft skills is the need to explain and promote data science. Business don’t always understand data science and not everyone in the organisation may see it as a good thing (“what if it takes my job away?”). Being able to understand, explain and generally navigate around these issues is probably going to be necessary for your data science project to be successful. Simply recognising that these viewpoints exist is probably a good start.

Kim introduced some interesting ideas such as the positive impact of ‘Creative Play’. This is the idea is that one should seek opportunities to work on things that are interesting. This could be finding times to find out about a new technology, organising hackathons at work and so on. The key issue here of course is your employer’s attitude to things that aren’t directly related to their business as they see it. I suspect there is quite a broad range of attitudes across businesses, from enlightened to actively negative. If you are struggling to convince your employer to support your creative play aspirations I would point them to the thoughtful article by Philip G Armour,A little queue theory, where he argues that the modern imperative of ‘100%’ allocated project teams is actually an impediment to successful project delivery.

All in all an interesting talk and something of an change from the usual technical talks

Intro to Numpy/SciPy

Next up we had Evgeny Burovskiy who was billed as talking about SciPy roadmap with an introduction to NumPy but somewhere along the line there must have been a few wires crossed as he mostly talked about NumPy. I think that although many of us have used NumPy I suspect that many like me don’t have a deep understanding of what is happening under the covers. Evgeny chose not to use the microphone so occasionally I struggled to hear but one take-away was that you should make sure you take advantage of NumPy’s vectorized operations; or as Evgeny put it be suspicious of using double for-loops to update NumPy arrays.

He also showed a 3-line NumPy implementation of Conway’s Game of Life. I have to say I could watch the visualisation for much longer, although that may have been a symptom of the beer.

In other news

The last release of IPython notebook has just been released. Don’t worry that’s not the end of the road, the notebook and other language-agnostic parts of IPython will in future be developed as part of Jupyter

An IWCS Computational Semantics Hackathon will take place April 11-12th. They are looking for sponsors and participants. See http://iwcs2015.github.io/hackathon.html for more details.

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