Ep. 11 Ellen Friedman – Biochemist to Principal Technologist
Ellen Friedman is Principal Technologist at MapR. She is a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry from Rice University, a committer for the Apache Drill and Apache Mahout open source projects, and a speaker/author on a variety of big data and other technical topics. She is co-author of books published by O’Reilly Media, including AI & Analytics in Production, Machine Learning Logistics, Streaming Architecture, Introduction to Apache Flink and the Practical Machine Learning series.
Ellen has been an invited speaker at Big Data London, Strata Data San Jose and London, Nike Tech Talks, Berlin Buzzwords, the University of Sheffield Methods Institute (UK) and keynotes at JFokus in Stockholm and NoSQL Matters in Barcelona.
Our guest today is Ellen Friedman. Ellen is currently the Principal Technologist at MapR, a data platform company. And she took the scenic route to get there! These days, Ellen is well known as a keynote speaker, tech writer and open source leader. But this transition didn’t happen overnight. Listen to hear how Ellen went from a career as a biochemist to principal technologist!
Ellen received a PhD from Rice University and started her career in scientific research. But her curiosity for cutting edge ideas and her passion for communication has created a truly unique voice in technology.
Biochemist to Principal Technologist
In addition, Ellen is an established writer. Her credits include: AI & Analytics in Production, Machine Learning Logistics, Streaming Architecture, Introduction to Apache Flink and the Practical Machine Learning series.
These days, Ellen frequently speaks at conferences. She has been an invited speaker at Big Data London, Strata Data San Jose and London, Nike Tech Talks, Berlin Buzzwords, the University of Sheffield Methods Institute (UK). Additionally, she has been a keynote speaker at JFokus in Stockholm and NoSQL Matters in Barcelona.
15:50 – What is involved in a day of a tech writer and principal technologist.
16:50 – Ellen Friedman on quiet time and Camille Fournier
19:30 – Ellen on how she conducts interviews with specialists
25:40 – What is it like working on open source projects as a non-developer?
30:30 – How is outsourcing and AI changing the world of content creation?
32:50 – Ellen talks about creating a career that you didn’t know even existed
38:40 – Advice for those looking to work in a technical field in a non traditional way
On being self taught
“I have no education in education, I’m trained as a research scientist. I have no formal training in writing and I’ve been writing all my life. So some of these things are skills that you pick up because they’re things you think are important.”
“You start doing something on the side, something you think you’ll be doing temporarily, and suddenly it opens enormous opportunity and you go in that direction.”
“One thing a PhD teaches you is the ability to think, to work from evidence, to work within a discipline, and of course it means you have specialized knowledge in that discipline.”
On working in the tech world
“In this (tech) world, I’m an observer and a communicator. I don’t actually build these systems myself with my own hands.”
“I go to the people that know the topic and talk to them long enough that I begin to understand the pieces that most matter. If I can explain it to myself I can explain it to somebody else.”
“I have certain things I know I want to find out but I’m open to learning that the thing I want to find out isn’t the only thing worth knowing.”
“If you are communicating something well and adding something fresh to it, I think you’re doing something that is not easily automated.”
“You’re not just writing. You’re thinking. You’re strategizing. You’re discovering in the world what’s happening and you’re helping people recognize the patterns in what they’re doing.”
“People who are making hiring decisions rely too much on checking off all of the boxes to make it look like somebody fits. They may be missing the best opportunities to really bring in fresh thinking and fresh backgrounds.”