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Month: December 2015

The Case for Generalist Data Scientists

I recently read an article by Daniel Tunkelang entitled Data Scientists: Generalists or Specialists? and it resonated with me.  I’ve been involved with hiring data scientists for some time now and I also get a lot of recruiters contacting me about various data science jobs.  My general observation is that when companies search for data scientists, they tend to use the equation (Machine Learning = Data Science), and tend to play down all the other skills that make up data science, such as creativity, critical thinking, data preparation etc.

Tunkelang writes:

Early days

Generalists add more value than specialists in a company’s early days, since you’re building most of your product from scratch and something is better than nothing. Your first classifier doesn’t have to use deep learning to achieve game-changing results. Nor does your first recommender system need to use gradient-boosted decision trees. And a simple t-test will probably serve your A/B testing needs.


Later stage

Generalists hit a wall as your products mature: they’re great at developing the first version of a data product, but they don’t necessarily know how to improve it. In contrast, machine learning specialists can replace naive algorithms with better ones and continuously tune their systems. At this stage in a company’s growth, specialists help you squeeze additional opportunity from existing systems. If you’re a Google or Amazon, those incremental improvements represent phenomenal value.

So, should you hire generalists or specialists? It really does depend—and the largest factor in your decision should be your company’s stage of maturity. But if you’re still not sure, then I suggest you favor generalists, especially if your company is still in a stage of rapid growth. Your problems are probably not as specialized as you think, and hiring generalists reduces your risk. Plus, hiring generalists allows you to give them the opportunity to learn specialized skills on the job. Everybody wins.

Read the complete post here on O’Reilly.com.  What needs to be noted here is that companies will need more specific skills as their analytics mature and evolve, however in the beginning creativity, competence and critical thinking are most likely the most important skills.  I tend to agree with a lot of what Tunkelang writes, and I do get the sense that a lot of hiring managers believe their projects are a lot more mature and advanced than they really are.  Thoughts?

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Off Topic: How to Automate Your Gas Fireplace

Home automation is a hobby of mine, and in our new home, I really wanted to automate our Heatilator gas fireplace.  However, this isn’t as straightforward as it might seem, and I really haven’t found any good tutorials out there as to how to do this.  This tutorial will show you how to connect your fireplace to your Wink Hub or any other Z-Wave controller.  I got this working and actually found that it is one of the easier things to automate.  I really like being able to set the fireplace to go on and off on a schedule.

Safety Considerations

Before you start this project, you should be comfortable with working with wiring and electricity.  If you are not, get someone else to do this.  Secondly, you will be working with wires that run near gas lines, so multiply every safety concern by at least a factor of three.  If you don’t know what you are doing, this is not the project to figure it out.  I take no responsibility for any damage or injury that may result from this tutorial.  It goes without saying that BEFORE you start cutting wires, make sure that you have either disconnected all power, or shut off the electricity at the circuit breaker. 

The wisdom of automating a gas fireplace is also debatable, however, I left the manual switch in place so you can always turn off the fireplace the “old fashioned” way using the original switch.

What You Will Need:

Remotec Zwave Dry Contact Fixture ModuleWith all that said, this really isn’t a difficult project to complete in a safe manner.  Here’s what you’ll need:

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