The Usual Tech Ramblings

Am I right?

Am I right for the job I do? Last week whilst out of town, it dawned on me at dinner, that I know very little about the job I do. Well, more specifically the industry in which I do my job. I work in the automotive industry, and while I know a bit about cars, or at least used to, I know little to nothing of the industry itself.

Whilst eating dinner, the people I was accompanying were conversing about several “big names” in the industry. I can only assume they’re big names because they were talking about billions of dollars, and far reaching family influences. I’d not heard of a single one of them. I tried to absorb as much as I could, but it just didn’t seem to settle in my head. I try reading automotive news, but again, it doesn’t seem to settle, and doesn’t seem to interest me.

I think I figured what I’m good at, or at least what interests me the most. Data. The manipulation, tweaking, processing, and usage of data. They stimulate my brain, make me think. My abilities to repair computers, fix/operate networks, fix/operate servers, all stem from the same interest. I remember that nearly 2 years ago, we had a Cisco CSS issue which caused a massive load on our SQL server’s CPU. This was caused by a failing NIC on the CSS. I don’t remember that because it’s my job, I remember that because it’s handy information to have.

Take for example what I’m doing, as I write this blog entry. I’m cleaning up our images server. Sounds entertaining right? Well the sheer act of cleaning isn’t itself, but the useless data tied to it is interesting to me. For example, I have to process over 23 million images, with 24 million database records, and find the differences, and clean both the DB, and the file system of the missing items. This little task has given me the ability to bring together some simply PHP scripts, calling a web service, and the directory structures, and listings of all the files. Again, not many people find that interesting.

Take another example that got me this summer. Dallas had one of the wettest summers in a long time. We have had double our average annual rainfall already this year. Do you see that? Data. Why did this rain stuff interest me? I ended up browsing around the Corps of Engineers, and looking at lake level data. Doesn’t sound that appealing to some people right? Take a look at this. The USACE publish all their data for the lake levels (try Googling for a lake near you). Okay, the format leads a little to be desired, but it’s still usable. There’s even handy data about rain fall, and the current temperature (notice we had a 12F temp drop today between 1am and 7am).

That temperature thing, leads me onto more data… The weather itself. There is boundless amounts of data there. The NOAA publish all kinds of data. They even have a web services you call poll. Weather is one of the few case, where I find both data, and information, intriguing1. I nearly went to study meteorology in University.

So this gets me back to what I’m doing. Am I right for what I’m doing? Possibly, possibly not. I handle, and process the data I’m given, sometimes with ease, sometimes I have to think. But given context, I really know little about the industry I’m in. I keep trying to improve that fact, but I’m not sure how to get that “stuff” to stick. I guess I could turn it into a data game, and trick myself into learning it.

I wonder how many other people have the same complex, and if they try to remedy the situation, or just continue to process the data they work with, without understanding what the data is telling them.

  1. If you didn’t know, there is a distinct difference between information and data. Data is just facts, the actual numbers, without context, they’re just numbers. For example, 55, doesn’t mean much, but throw it into context, and you get information. It was 55F today in Dallas