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Life is better when you're meeting new data people

One of my favorite things over the year was starting a personal blog. (You can find my website here if you are curious.) How did it happen? Well, I was reading an article and one quote in particular really struck me: "it's not what you know it's who you know"

That quote really resonates with me. Throughout my life I’ve learned a lot, and benefited a great deal, from meeting different people - whether it’s for support, or the sharing of ideas, or just connecting with mentors. I've always tried to put myself out there and connect with people…

From meeting a friend who helped me to get a job in China, to venturing out to California and making new connections there, to entering a post-graduate program in Canada, or, more recently, joining a data science community in Toronto… my life has been all the better for meeting people and putting myself out there. And when I'm not doing this, I'm just not happy. 

So one day I performed a little exercise: I created a visual graph of my "professional friends” and posted it on Twitter.


What I came to realize was that, because of having moved across multiple countries and continents throughout my life, I actually had several professional networks, rather than one large elaborate network of connections. I knew many people here and there, in this industry or that, but for any given industry or location I only knew a few people. Three people here, four people there, maybe… And yet a little lonely everywhere. I always tried to put myself out there, but it just wasn't enough.

And it’s not so surprising. If you are anything like me, you will find this story familiar: any given day it’s possible to come across a few people you've never met before. Most of the time, you will never meet them again. Sometimes, you get lucky, and you meet a great person. Most of the time, you probably don't.


There is a limit to how many people you can invite for coffee, how many conferences you can attend, and how many interesting people life sends your way. And this limit is crucial. Why? I believe there are two things that create personal and professional growth: meeting interesting people and going new places. So when I was thinking about what I wanted to do this year, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to meet 1000 people in analytics, data, and technology. One thousand people in one year! Is it even possible? And so I created a list of ideas of things that I could do to meet more people. And I started to get excited about it. But when I looked at my current schedule – and I do have a family and a demanding job – I realized that it was an overly optimistic goal. It would mean having to meet 3-4 people a day. This would be the equivalent of hosting a birthday party every week for 20+ people!


So I figured that I should start a personal website and share my ideas – things that I work on, things that motivate and surprise me. In this way, I realized, I can meet many more people, or at least a part of me can, and I can reach a wider audience, with, hopefully, people responding with their ideas.


So, I started a website and a blog in February. And it worked! Since then, a lot of people have joined my mailing list, and I have received many emails. Some people have made contact to offer me a job, some have asked for my help with their project, and some  have wanted me to teach and advise them about data. There have been some people who just wrote to say hello. Evernote reached out and invited me to join their community. Guys at Whistler ski resort thought my data visualization was great, and their app got an update. I advised Digital Analytics Association on ways to improve their professional benchmarking tool. And I have a few more projects in hand. All this wouldn't have been possible without the website. At one point, I was at an event and I realized that people were coming to talk to me because they felt like they already knew me.


And this mutual support and communication is important – in fact, it’s really what keeping a personal website is about. If you are like me, you get motivated by hearing from other people in data, by solving their problems, seeing what they are able to achieve, what they are working on and where they are heading. And that's why I wanted to share my story and take you “behind the scenes” in what it takes to start a personal blog, and what it brings you as someone working in data. And I want to share the real, raw truth. You can see it all: the good and the bad, how much work it is, and how rewarding it is.


The most important part of it all is you. I want you to be involved. I want you to stop reading and get connected with the community. And you don't have to start a personal website. That was my goal, but you might just want to connect with a select few individuals.

I think it's important for us to make new connections and surround ourselves with interesting people. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met at a faculty meeting, Henry Ford developed his friendship with Thomas Edison through letters, poets Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva met in person only once, but influenced each other’s work for years. Community is important. And it's easier to get off that couch and create something when you know that you have a supportive group of people behind you.


I had been trying to work out, what is a good way to highlight what's going on behind the scenes, and how best can I galvanize the community that is growing behind them? So I created a page where I share stats about my progress, and the website’s growth, as well as the growth of the community. Here, you can see how the community is evolving, who we are, and where we are from. So, yeah…it is growing, and it is very diverse. If you want to join the community, you are welcome to do so. If you join, you get all the resources, tutorials, and blog posts. It is designed to pump you up and get you started. 


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Tags: analytics, community, data, people, science

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