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Benefits of T-shaped expertise

Working in Tech in Regional Australia

Opportunities to connect with tech people in Regional Queensland are generally few and far in between, I have a few friends here who work in tech but mainly they are remote workers for places in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

I have never made a dollar out here, and the safe money is betting I never will, however I have clients in the major Australian cities and overseas.

To quote a hiring manager here in Bundaberg:

“Mate, in terms of tech we are 10 years behind where everyone else was 15 years ago. We just can’t hire technical people here, in fact we stopped trying. That’s why we have satellite offices in the cities. Most of what happens here is back office stuff.”

Practice what you preach Nic, don’t be jaded and make local connections

So it was with some reluctance that I met a guy who had recently moved here from Brisbane, having run his own consulting business specialising in (of all things) Lotus Notes!

I’m only really jaded because the best offer for my work around here has been for “free” or “as a proof of concept” or “”maybe if you do this for us we might let you have a chat with our CEO”. After several iterations of the following I turned my back on the town, I kind of had to - none of my potential clients are around here:

  • Can you teach my team for free?

  • Can you teach me for free?

  • Can you help us out for free?

  • It’s a great opportunity for exposure for you

I pretty quickly worked out who my clients are: small startups to medium sized companies of between 10-80 staff making their first steps into AI/ Data Science. They can’t afford Deloitte or KPMG, but than can afford me. What I charge is a good hourly/ daily rate for me and also a bargain price for them. Win-win for everyone!

Lotus Notes?

The general feeling is that Lotus Notes is old and crappy software, nobody uses it, it’s rubbish etc. However I went into the conversation with an open mind, this guy has his own business like me so it would at least be interesting to talk business with him.

What happened was a great conversation for 1.5 hours about tech, data, analytics working in regional Australia, the startup scene here - which seems to have more business coaches per capita than anywhere else on the planet and yet not much in the way of business!

So Brett has restored my faith in this town, regional Australia in general and the comical fact that I am running an AI consulting business in a town that struggles with Excel - I mean where copy/ paste monthly reporting can take 3.5 weeks and almost bleed into the next month. Facepalm!

Brett’s Story

Brett did an IT degree way back when, and he was hired to work in government right at the top end of Australia on Lotus Notes.

Back in the early days he helped with various integrations of Lotus Notes, embedding Lotus Notes on websites. So has had plenty of experience with business and tech and making legacy software stretch. Now, what’s interesting about his company is that a lot of medium sized companies would prefer to keep Lotus Notes ticking over rather than migrate to something else simply for reasons of cost.

Brett also (like me) priced his services at a level where the big end of town couldn’t compete. What’s funny when you do AI consulting is that there are some places that would just never take on a job that is less than $50k-$100k, as far as my business is concerned I mean wow! Bring it on! Give me a couple of these projects and I’ll be spending the rest of the year on the beach sipping strawberry daiquiris!

Here’s a link to Brett’s LinkedIn profile:

An experienced technology and business professional, having founded, built and exited several technology companies in the last 19 years. I have extensive experience in software development, IT consulting, complex project delivery, operations management and SMB operation.

I have been referred to as a Specialist Generalist on more than one occasion.

Things I excel at:

Software Development • Product Development • Roadmap Creation • Data Collection • Data Analysis • Community & Corporate Partnering • Problem Analysis • Complex Processes • Ideation • Team Structures • People Management • Prioritisation • Budgets • Hitting Deadlines • Finance • Thinking outside the box

Things I am working on:

Eating food with chilli

T-shaped Learning

By working as a specialist in Lotus Notes he picked up:

  • Web development

  • Java programming

  • Business skills

  • Database skills

  • He mentored at a startup space called River City Labs in Brisbane

  • Team management and project delivery

  • The list goes on

He has had his own side hustles like StartupHunt where he tracked the Australian startup ecosystem.

By focusing on Lotus Notes he has become this unicorn generalist across a whole heap of technology with a wealth of experience

This is the T-shape of learning, by deep specialisation in a certain area you can then have broad knowledge across other areas of tech. I think this is the key to outcomes based learning.

Tech Lead has a similar view “Things I wish I knew when I started Programming”

This guy is hilarious and well worth subscribing too. This video helps to make tech feel a lot less intimidating.

“I wouldn’t bet that you will be able to learn Java then Python and then Swift and after that you will have three languages in your toolbelt. No, you are really only going to have one language and that’s the one you are using at any time.”

“The only constant is change and what you will need is the ability to learn quickly”

“Focus on the project not the technology”

So, his advice is to go deep in a particular language and then learn what you need to know by doing projects. I think this approach is something Brett would agree with also.

He does favor Javascript instead of Python for beginners to learn, but for data scientists I mean making a Flask app isn’t so bad, nor creating a Kaggle Kernel to show what you can do.

Advice for people learning data science

Data analysts

  • Learning Excel deeply, I mean all the stuff nobody knows like Power Pivot, DAX etc to create dashboards that link to data sources and instantly update might be what you want to do.

  • From there the same skills would carry over to Power BI (another Microsoft product). Some of ideas of data connections and joins could carry over to SQL, and even within Power BI you can integrate R code.

  • So starting with learning Excel you could hit Power BI, SQL and R

Data scientists

  • Let’s say you use R for munging data and fitting models with dplyr and caret, well it is fairly easy to see how the same concepts carry over to Pandas and scikit as well. So now you know Python, so you will be comfortable in teams that primarily use R as well as those that use Python.

  • Maybe you then go on to expose your model as an API in Azure, which could then lead you down the path of AWS or Google Cloud.

I pity the fool!

Become Mr/ Ms T!

So, specialise in one area and go really deep in it, and then take whatever opportunity is thrown your way to get across whatever technology is interesting/ relevant.