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This summer I was fortunate enough to be able to join Anant. Coming from primarily a research background, I had little experience of how companies run. This was a great experience for me in learning about the development cycle, how companies streamline workflow, and much, much more about day-to-day operations. And of course, meeting the team at Anant was incredible and I met some fantastic people who taught me a lot, from getting ready to go to college to general life advice.
While here, I specifically worked on the Mindy project. Mindy aims to aggregate different types of listings, such as jobs, skills, or companies, and categorize them to automatically generate connections. This summer, we focused on stage 1, which involves scraping job listings from as many sites as possible and then extracting information. This extracted information, such as social media tags and the type of the listing can be used for the pairing portion when combined with algorithms that do similar tasks for other types of data.
While I had done data science and machine learning before, I had never created a front-end display or a pipeline for the whole process like I had to do for Mindy. As a result, I got to explore some very cool technologies like elasticsearch and React to create a complete product. I also was able to go much more into depth in natural language processing, as I wrote about in a previous blog post.
At the end, I was able to help create a system that can automatically scrape information from multiple websites, process it, extract additional information from descriptions, and categorize it. This was all placed into a slick front-end, allowing for easy searching of jobs. And then came docker. Perhaps one of the more daunting and involved things I’ve done, learning to dockerize and deploy was quite a challenge. However, at the end, we were able to do it all successfully, giving easy pushing to servers and letting anyone, anywhere, use our platform in a handful of minutes.
Beyond Mindy, I learned a lot about how a business operates. Seeing how agile works, with sprints and trello integration, was a really new process to me and I was amazed at how effectively it was able to aid communication. It was also very interesting to work in a professional environment and the Anant weekly co-works were very cool.
This last summer was an experience I will never forget. From freezing with a broken AC to eating lunch by the canal to getting eaten alive from mosquitos, I wouldn’t miss a single moment of it. Anant taught me how to run a business, and how to run it well.
As a returning Summer Apprentice, I do not see my last two summers as two separate experiences. Instead, I see them as one journey, split into two parts – one of which could not be as valuable without the other. Last summer, I was introduced to the very foundations of a business to answer the basic questions “what is a company?” or “what makes a company successful?” From a learning standpoint, working at a startup was the best way to answer these questions. In a single meeting, I could have a sales / marketing employee sit next to me, a business analyst two chairs away, and the CEO right across my face. Learning the ins-and-outs of a company couldn’t have been more informative and effective than working side-by-side with such a variety of roles within the company.
This summer, I took what I learned about project management, business analysis, and the Agile framework and applied those areas of expertise to both internal and external projects at Anant. As Project Manager of Mindy, an internal machine learning-based project, I took on a role I had never experienced before. How did I start? Well, I went back to last summer and used my knowledge of communication and business tools to serve as an efficient and effective leader.
I started off my standardizing the way our team – a team of student apprentices just like me – would function. The Agile Framework served to be the best way to fulfill the needs of the Mindy project. It provided us a way to release small chunks of the project on a weekly basis while always having opportunities to learn from previous weeks.
However, being a project manager requires more than merely dictating a path for the team members to follow. I have to act on what I say. This is where the line between a “boss” and a “leader” is drawn. A boss orders. A leader acts on his/her orders with the team. For example, because Mindy is a data engineering process enhanced by machine learning, manual labor is required to “teach” the categorizing of data. The program must “learn” how to categorize the various jobs, but this requires hand annotations completed by a human. To learn more about how Mindy requires machine learning click here. In this situation, a boss would have ordered the team to annotate the data. Instead, I sat in front of the computer and went through all 273 data and labeled each one appropriately. After all, I was the most familiar with the category meanings. I knew that my manual labor would get the job done fast and effectively.
Another large portion of my summer at Anant was spent on an external client project with US Food Imports (USFI). My main job as the Internet Architecture Apprentice was to maximize the efficiency of the API Grabbers, which collects all data from a designated API. These scripts were written in NodeJS – a language I had never used before. Before the summer, I was well-versed in Java and Python. While the syntax of NodeJS was similar, its functionality was nothing like what I had dealt with before. Initially, I had to get used to the asynchronous nature of the language, which meant dealing with simultaneously running code within the same program. Working around callbacks and continuously reading / writing to files were my most significant challenges. However, I had always believed that once a programming language is learned, it isn’t too difficult to learn others. After all, the basic knowledge of variables, functions, and data storage stay fairly consistent across programming languages.
Nevertheless, even working with a brand new piece of technology for USFI compelled me to go back to my previous summer as a Business Operations Apprentice and utilize those skills once again. Throughout my experience working for USFI, I kept a customer focus – one of Anant’s core values – to ensure my work is benefitting the client. Whether it was finding the most effective Node modules or refactoring the code, every decision I made was for the benefit of the client so they were satisfied with the work I did.
The past two summers have been my most insightful and enriching experiences yet. Not only has it helped me to narrow down what I want to do later on in college and beyond, but it has taught me how to be a better worker. The three main lifelong lessons I have learned from my summer apprenticeships at Anant are interpersonal and communication skills, the power of google, and the importance of always prioritizing the customer.
With the recent advent of GPUs and increased computational power, machine learning and neural networks have risen from the grave and are now one of the forefront technologies in tackling anything a human would normally do. One of the biggest areas of research for this approach has been in understanding the nuances of language. Computers have traditionally struggled to learn languages due to thousands of rules and even more exceptions to each rule. Simple logic approaches fail to take into account context and interpretation and are rarely able to accurately interpret sentences and paragraphs.
In the past decade, researchers have begun applying recurrent neural networks to understand text. Neural networks are combinations of artificial neurons modeled off of the human brain. These networks can change the strength of connections in between the neurons based on training data given to them. For example, if a neural network receives pictures of apples and oranges along with labels for each picture, over time it can tune these connections and learn to distinguish the two objects.
Recurrent neural networks, frequently abbreviated to RNNs, are an extension of this idea and take input from previous iterations. So if an RNN was run on a sentence, it would take the classification of the previous word and use that as additional information for the current word. This makes RNNs particularly effective at handling sequential and time correlated data. In this case, since sentences are sequential constructions and previous words impact the interpretation of the current word, RNNs can better pick up contextualization and the nuances of language.
Airtable is a relatively new Software-as-a-Service (online software, more commonly known as SaaS Software) to enter the arena for business users. I first saw it when I was looking for process management tools and a search result showed it in comparison to Trello. I was intrigued because I love Trello for what it does for me personally and what it has done for our team. This post is first in a series which will focus on Airtable and how to use it in a modern Enterprise. The Modern Enterprise is an organization or team that uses the Internet and online business software to organize people, processes, information and systems to achieve their goals. We chose to start with Airtable because it hits home for a basic and fundamental need in business which Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and others have thus far met fairly well. If you are no novice to organizing information, you know what I’m talking about. I once knew a professor who said his $500 million / year professional service business was run by his COO on Excel.
Business users have been using spreadsheets to organize information for decades. Excel is probably one of the most used business tools in the world because of its versatility by way of simple columns and rows and power by way of formulas and macros. Today, there are many alternatives to Excel that users can use online. Here are a few which I’ve used and think are good for the most part.
Google Spreadsheets – We use these extensively.
SmartSheets – I have used it in the past, and think it does some things well.
Microsoft Excel 365 – In addition to it _being_ Excel, syncing with iOS apps, it can also work with Microsoft’s Big Data product HDInsight.
These tools are all great and I don’t want to take away from them, but Airtable is another beast altogether. What drew me to Airtable was its simplicity. It looks simple. It feels simple. It _is_ simple. Having had, ahem, some, ahem, experience in databases and online software, I knew how to start using it pretty quickly. I knew I could use it, but I wanted to see if someone else could use it. I asked one of our Project Managers, Danielle, to make an Airtable to track the status of our clients, which ones were on subscription with us vs. working with us on an ad-hoc basis. Danielle is an extremely intelligent and organized team member but she’s not a technologist per se. She’s the model for what I call a technology empowered team member. Danielle had never used Airtable before but was and is very adept at using spreadsheets to track projects and project finances. She was able to whip something up in no-time.
Here are my initial thoughts which will guide my evaluation of Airtable for The Modern Enterprise in four upcoming articles (see below).
Here are some great links to get you started until the next few posts on Airtable.
This article is part of a larger series:
Check Airtable out here!
Disclaimer: We aren’t affiliated with Airtable and nor are we getting anything in return for this, we just love it when there’s awesome new technology out there that solves a number of pain points elegantly.
“AOL Keyword ‘Anant.’”
Years ago, an advertisement ending with this phrase would have made our company modern (and potentially famous). Today, the expression is a bit ‘antiquated,’ to say the least, but it also shows how technology and business have evolved. A modern business, or a “modern enterprise,” survives on the ones and zeros coursing through the air and wires all around us. Many people make use of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or similar cloud-based services everyday. Each of these sites has evolved to provide a service to us and has delivered it to us via the internet – a process often called “software-as-a-service” or SaaS for short. The ability to leverage internet-based technology to both improve and operate a company is vital to almost every company in business today. While the examples above are well-known, many business specific SaaS products are now available to help businesses meet both their needs and their customers’ needs.
As a company (hopefully) grows and begins to mature, the intricacy of its operations and composition can increase in complexity, necessitating a tweak in approach or outside help. A critical step when asking for help is to identify what you ultimately want to do; and diagnose what is, or what will, hold your company back (the “problem”). An issue many companies run into on their way to becoming a modern enterprise is copious amounts of data and process flows, but in different systems that don’t talk to each other or users who don’t fully comprehend what can be done with the information at hand. It is the companies who make the proverbial transition to a modern enterprise, the ones who connect their information and systems to their people and processes, who will survive and thrive. This evolution will impact all aspects of a company; finance, sales, services, operations, management and research; and it is important to understand what can be accomplished and with what tools.
The concepts and tools at play are relatively simple for in-the-know technologists and internet architects, but can be challenging even for some of the most technologically savvy around. It is a bit much to delve into today, but in the coming weeks we want you to better understand these foundational precepts.
To help, we’re providing free in-person presentations, online webinars, and explanatory postings in the coming months focused on these technological concepts and their impact on business. We look forward to helping your company become a modern enterprise as the new year approaches.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can apply the modern enterprise approach to your work today sign up for one of our 30 minute free consultations here! You can also tune in to our webinar later today (10am EDT) or catch up with us on 9/30 for a big data focused strategy breakfast.
Modern Enterprise Series