And Now I Am 31

Andrew Bolster

Data Scientist at Alert Logic, Founder/Director at Farset Labs

Another year gone, thought it was time for some reflection.

As @Sigma helpfully pointed out to me, 31 is officially the boundary of “30’s” not 30, so I’m gonna take this year as being my “friendly match” with my 30’s and hopefully take this year a bit more wisely.

What follows is a vaguely structured stream of consciousness, more for my benefit than anyone else’s. If you want a wee window to see what’s behind the beard, read on. If you’re expecting anything revolutionary, disruptive or surprising, you’re gonna be disappointed…

“Work”

Alert Logic

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a fantastic team at AlertLogic, and have been party to a lot of the weirder sides of the CyberSecurity world. This time last year I’d only really started to get my feet wet but now I’m much more established, both in positive and negative ways; so far have only caused / contributed to two ‘significant’ outages and one minor data leakage event… Live and learn!

But in the mean time I completely rewrote how we manage our research analysis ETL and data warehouse management stuff for incident monitoring, which, while being a lot of fun to flex my serverless skills in, also means I’m stuck maintaining it… Live and learn!

Have also been pushing for AL to get more involved in the wider tech community, including getting them to sponsor a Capture the Flag event in Farset which was fantastic craic, as well as pushing more people to venture out of the office to meet-ups.

Also managed to drag (with significant assistance from BenH) LouiseC in to the team, and frankly I think she’s settled into the place faster and more effectively than I have!

Next up we’re looking at some really interesting structured reasoning challenges; applying proper ML to payload classification and identification of time-series outliers.

Current “crusade” is pushing Python 3 adoption within the company and encouraging better packaging for “one-off scripts” to make reuse easier; the people I work with are security experts, not software engineers, so if I can be a “human rubber duck” to worry about the SE stuff and let them get on with what they do best, fantastic. Although I’ve no idea how to log that time in JIRA… 🤔

General “downside” is that due to management restructuring I’m effectively operating as a lone-data-scientist (again) liaising with the Research and Content teams. While this means my work is very dynamic, responsive, and exciting, the imposter syndrome is strong and sitting as the lone-local-data-guy is a bit tough; I’d rather have a few more peers constructively arguing against my ideas and methodologies than end up with an experiential mono-culture… But we’re still hiring! 😜

Farset Labs

It’s been a weird year for Farset too. The Dojo has been doing brilliantly, especially now that ZoeGT has taken the reins. We’ve also been pushing more family friendly events and the desk-rental population has basically hit capacity at this point…

ArtK made it on to the Board of Directors and has been bringing a massive injection of energy in to the strategic side of things; it’s both ironic and tragic that his appointment in November also coincided with a “good-news-bad-news” situation with regards to the building we’ve been established in for the past 7 years (Jesus… that’s too long…).

Upstairs became available; the landlord had made us aware of this possibility about a month in advance, and the management at Farset (mostly driven by my attempts to plan for everything…) convened about half a dozen “extraordinary meetings” top plan for a rapid expansion after a short renovation period to make sure that we were back up and running before Global Game Jam in January.

Evidently this didn’t work out…

Surveyors took one look at the building and went “Yeah… it’s gonna take more than that”.

So now after 6 months of bouncing back and forth between the landlord, the architect, the contractors, the membership and the other board members, we’re just about sure that we’ll be leaving Unit 1 temporarily over the summer while the whole building is renovated.

Upsides:

  • Up to 50 desks upstairs with capacity for “Pods” of 4-6 people working in teams; something Farset has never been able to support.
  • Purpose built meeting room upstairs (We’re gonna call it the McKee room, more on that later…)
  • Cabin lift access for upstairs (this was the biggest battle with the landlord so fecking use it if you’re in the building…)
  • Gently expanding the event space to up capacity to around 40ish from 30ish (classroom style)
  • Separation of Workshop and Member Storage, meaning that the workshop can be separately access controlled so we can start putting dangerous things in there and require training to access the room😍
  • Upstairs gets to be “semi-incubator” / “semi-professional” working space, downstairs returns to the chaos that I know and love

Downsides:

  • Shutting down for 2 months, after 6 months of “slow down” because we couldn’t commit to running any events or programmes, which has really butchered the momentum we’ve built up over time.
  • More than doubling our rental costs, up to tripling within 5 years… (upstairs is about 20% larger than down here)
  • Still 100% volunteer/member driven/managed so going from say 20 users on site a day to up to 80 is gonna be… tough…
  • It’s risky as hell; few know better than we do how the coworking/hotdesking market has changed, crashed, evolved and imploded in the past decade or so; we started off when this city had no idea was a “coworking space” was, let alone a hackerspace, and that messaging has been tough all the while. Now if anything the city is saturated with “Hubs” and “Incubators” and “Accelerators” that encourage and foster insane growth plans, usually with some kind of equity split / professional services contract, and if you don’t match those growth plans, you’re out. Farset’s always been about slow steady sustainable growth (except when we plan to double overnight… lol…); we’ve got “startups” that have been resident in the labs for years; as long as they pay their memberships, and keep roughly on top of their desk rentals if they have them, and if they contribute in some way to the wider community, we’re happy. I have no idea if we can find 50 more of those kind of folks in the city…
  • My patience and energy is wearing thin with this whole thing; thankfully DavidK is a fantastic foil to my oscillating energy levels, cheers mate.

So yeah, in this next year, we have set on to a path that will either implode my longest running personal project that’s taken up nearly a third of my life (or most of my adult life, depending on where you draw the line), or will set that project on a path for true long term sustainability. No pressure.

ETC.

Got to continually evolve the same python-for-data-science presentation over time around analysing Northern Ireland Education data, as well as making pretty population plots, eventually contributing to my presentation at an actual python conference… I’ve given talks and presented papers all over the place and honestly PyCon IE was up there with presenting at Stanford as part of my PhD in terms of presentation experiences that I’m proud of 😀

Next thing on the target for “data munging as an excuse for making presentations” is election data… STV is a bollocks to try to understand and even tougher to explain in a practical way to a lay person, so might lift that as a vocation for this year…

Continuing my addiction habit of not saying no to things; I joined the board of trustees at Vault Artist Studios, which has been brilliant; I think one of my “projects” for this coming year is to continue the stuff I started with “Data Art” and try and pull the usually exclusive worlds of “Art” and “Technology” together in a more meaningful way. Here’s hoping.

As part of that overarching addiction agenda, I’ve also been working with QUB SARC and the Drake Music Project on developing maker-grade virtual instruments for disabled kids/adults. This has been hugely “rewarding” in the sense that I’m really pushing my long-forgotten knowledge of embedded development and product design, but also my absolute absence of creativity when it comes to music/design…

Oh, also snuck in 3 (unpaid) guest lectureships at the unis, a prize-day speech at Cambridge House (cheers Becs, still haven’t forgiven you for that one, but I did owe you one…), 6 speeches/presentations on Python / Data Science / Autonomous Systems / High Performance Computing etc. (Including a particularly painful “Live Coding a Machine Learning model to predict Bitcoin Markets” after several beers which was a mistake…)

Personal

So, Lyra was murdered. That was tough. But lets get that out of the way. She wouldn’t want us to dwell.

I like to think she’d find the timing a wee bit hilarious in my grand personal arch of the year. Spent most of the year with a great partner, sharing lives and families and friends and experiences, and I thought I was ready to build something real again after having been regularly and continuously broken by people I trusted, and then a few days before Valentines day, that rug was pulled out from under me (well, that rug ghosted me and disappeared… Still no closure on that one, but live and learn!).

So that sent me into an interesting self-destructive spiral of self-pity, borderline depression, with just a dash of “liquid dependency issues”, putting on more than a stone (after somehow keeping of off during our my Christmas in France surrounded by wine, cheese and meat), completely throwing any idea of an exercise regime out the window, and swiping my way around the place without any idea or conception of what I actually wanted/needed. Probably treated several people like shite during that, and for that I’m sorry. Although, got stood up 6 times in a row so I think Karma was trying to keep me out of trouble so that’s life.

And then, just as things were settling down again, Lyra. God I’m gonna miss you you midget asshole.

While it completely fucked my work ethic for the past few weeks, and any outside work activities were basically “bad dates and Netflix with a bottle of wine”, I think I’m on the other side of all of that.

Realising that it’s kinda sad that the “Personal” side is a breakup and a murder… 🤷‍♂️

(Un)fortunately my “personal” life is so entangled with the “Work” stuff that that’s just the way it is; I’m so happy with the friends and community I have around me, and I take a huge amount of joy from being able to mix people from different backgrounds/areas/histories together and see what madness percolates 😂

One side-highlight this year was going to Naples with DeanW, ErinOH and JamesP; hallions that they are. Half of it was spent dragging people around the beautiful city, or ruins, or volcano, and the other was spent in a hammock. Hard life 😏

Have met a few new people this year, especially towards the end, that have already made an impact on my life; kicking me and slapping me around a bit when most people would just let me get on with my “bad behaviour”. You know who you are, and thanks 😁

Oh, and I trimmed the beard right down (by my standards) this morning; if you want a nosy you’ll have to pop to Woodworkers tonight from 7ish 😉

Next

So, plans this year:

  • Cut down on the drinking/smoking (ideally exclude during the week)
  • Exercise more (consistently, not “hard”)
  • Get down to <80kg
  • Get Drivers License
  • Get Election Data opened up in Northern Ireland
  • Come up with a better way to explain STV and Elections in general
  • Not-let-Farset-Implode
  • Drag Tech/Art together kicking and screaming

And since @sigma has given me the opportunity; let’s call this the real start of my 30’s…

Published: May 17 2019

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