Sabbatical Half-year Report Card

Report CardJust over six months ago my sabbatical began.  This mid-life professional break saw me leave EMC with great trepidation and uncertainty.  I knew this break would be enjoyed but at a great opportunity cost.  But I also knew it could change me in wonderful ways.  So from my sabbatical’s start I was committed not to waste the opportunity.

In early June I started sharing with my friends and family the personal goals for this year-long break.  I wanted to formulate a rough development plan that would prove to myself that a “break” from work could be as productive as employment.  Its been six months since that plan was conceived.  So it is appropriate now to give myself a half-year report card.

Below are my sabbatical projects, a grade, and commentary.

Sabbatical First Half Report Card

Personal development: write one blog a week.  Execution: A-.  Effort: A-.  Except for a weekend or two break I have dedicated some time each week to personal reflection.  I have committed to developing my writing by sharing the observations of that period.

Chinese studies: learn to read, write, and speak.  Execution: B-.  Effort: A+.  Learning Mandarin has been complex, to say the least.  My reading comprehension has soared.  I struggle mightily with listening comprehension.  But my commitment has been strong.  I am surely studying more than most of my classmates.

Big data consultancy: meetings, website, blogging, and network building.  Execution: C+. Effort: B+.  I have presented half a dozen times to business and academic audiences.  My professional blog‘s audience has grown steadily.  I have been invited to join research groups and industry events based on my work.  But building a reputation takes time.  And a consultancy/advisory business would take many more months’ worth of reputation than I originally anticipated.

Exercise.  Execution: B.  Effort: B.  I now attend yoga about three times a week.  I hit the gym one time a week.  I run about 10km a week.  Not a bad regimen.

Open Data volunteer work.  Execution: B.  Effort: B.  I have not been as involved with the Open Data Hong Kong group’s administrative activities as I might have originally liked.  But I have made great strides in building a team of researchers that use ODHK’s data.

Entrepreneurial ambitions.  Execution: C.  Effort: C.  Certainly for the first three months the idea of starting a business was only a shadow of a dream in my head.  Now my energies are focused and I have a shot to create something successful.  I was rudderless for the first four months but feel I am on track now.

Bonus project: big data community.  Execution: A.  Effort: A.  I wanted to develop a network of people interested in big data analytics in Hong Kong.  The work I was doing to build Information Incognita’s readership unexpectedly produced a group of students from three different Hong Kong schools that want to learn about big data.  I started a Google+ community dedicated to Hong Kong Big Data.  It today has 111 members and will have its first meeting next week.

Sabbatical Second Half Projects

I initially planned for this sabbatical to last about a year. That timeline was defined primarily by the one-year diploma curriculum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Chinese Language School. But the one-year limit is heavily influenced by my dwindling finances.

With about half a year left, I have a few more things I want to accomplish:

  • Continued Chinese study.  My last term will include business discussions and newspapers.  But I sorely need improvement in my listening comprehension.
  • Big Data community.  I would love to run three or four meetings for computer scientists, statisticians, and data hackers in Hong Kong.  Building this network and helping young students may provide its own rewards.
  • Exercise.  I hope to continue getting at least four good workouts a week.  Ideally five or six.
  • The Big Idea.  My business partner and I have started early phases of market research on a business for Asia-based technology companies.  Within six months I will need to qualify or disqualify this idea.  Then it potentially becomes a full-time job.
  • More writing.  I am doing well with this personal blog and Information Incognita.  My plan is to continue contributing once a week to each.  But should other professional writing become important these two blogs may suffer.  But as long as I am writing something I will consider this goal fulfilled.

The Price Tag On Dreams

One year. That was to be the approximate length of my sabbatical. One week ago I thought I might break the sabbatical early. Now I am back to the original plan. One year.

I knew this sabbatical was going to test my mettle. I knew it would slosh around emotions like a great hurricane. Hell, I was warning myself about these vicissitudes only a couple weeks into this hiatus. My Mandarin studies are a known source of emotional disruption. The effects of professional enterprise–individual projects and the occasional offer to re-enter Big IT–are difficult to predict.

At sabbatical start I planned for “about one year”. But I admitted to friends and family that the right job offer might change my mind. There are so many things I want to accomplish in a sizable and growing organization. I want to build an organization of trust, accountability, reward, empathy, and positivity. I would not pass up a chance like this. Such an opportunity landed on my doorstep several weeks back.

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Waves of Disruption

Massive, technology-induced disruptions seem to happen every few years. In the past few years the internet, smartphones, and the cloud have changed the way we work, play, and communicate. Maybe 3D printing is the next huge disruption. But its not really mass consumable today. But Big Data is being produced and consumed by us all, whether we know it or not.

Pond SplashDisruptions are a rock in a still lake. The force of the rock plunges into the water, scattering drops in all directions. The water responds and thrusts itself to new highs. The waves ripple out, decrease in size, and are less influential or interesting at great distances. But in business disruption creates opportunity. It is a sign of a change of balance somewhere in the world. A shift of equilibrium. And when the water calms some have been moved away from the epicenter. Some have been drawn closer. Many have been changed.

Right now big data is a huge disruption in industry. Its changing the way businesses think about their customers and their operations. Its encouraging governments to embrace transparency and leverage the free market and volunteerism to govern better. Big data is changing careers every day. You have read this far because you are interested in the subject. Will this article, a small part of the big data explosion, bring you closer or further to the epicenter?

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