We had the pleasure of spending the last few months with Big Data MSc student Christopher Lunny at UrbanTide HQ. During his time with us, Christopher did some really interesting things with Transport for London data and developed some incredible data visualisations (more on that later.) Before he set off on his next adventure, we sat down around some pizza and found out more about this budding data engineering whiz.
Tell us about your background and your degree programme
I graduated from a BSc course in Computing Science back in 2007 and worked in the oil and gas industry for 8 years as a systems engineer and information management engineer. In that 8 years a lot has changed in the computing world and the big data revolution has taken place. I was looking at the next step in my career and big data was perfectly aligned so I wanted to get involved. I hoped to get really deep into it so I looked around the big data related university courses in Scotland (and some in England too) and I felt that the MSc Big Data course at the University of Stirling was well structured and covered the right mix of technologies that I wanted to learn about and that would be applicable in industry. My employer kindly gave me a year off work and some financial assistance to take the MSc Big Data course and it's been a fantastic experience. I've learned about NoSQL databases like MongoDB and Cassandra, distributed big data processing with Hadoop MapReduce and Apache Spark, machine learning with neural networks, decision trees and Bayesian network, graph theory and evolutionary optimisation techniques... the list goes on! There's so much to learn about in the field of big data - I still feel like I've only just scratched the surface. Having said that I am ready now to get back into industry and start developing and innovating with these new skills using real data for real-world challenges, and the project at UrbanTide is an excellent example of that.
Why did you want to work with UrbanTide?
The Data Lab, which has helped to develop and sponsor the big data courses in Scotland, has teamed up with e-Placement Scotland to provide a number of placements in companies around Scotland where we can do our dissertation projects over the summer. It's been a great opportunity to get out of the academic scene and back into industry to work on projects within a business context using real data and the objective to generate value. There were about 40 placements arranged for the three universities involved with The Data Lab this year and we were allowed to select our three preferred placements to apply for. The companies interviewed their candidates and UrbanTide offered me the place.
Why did the project at UrbanTide interest you?
Well, there were a lot of interesting projects to choose from but the one at UrbanTide appealed to me for a number of reasons. I liked the idea of working in a young startup company because it would be very different to the context of the multinational organisation that I was familiar with. The topic of smart cities was intriguing and I'm sure that this will be a growth industry with lots of opportunities for technological innovation. I also wanted to experience living in Edinburgh which is a really cool city with loads of character, and the company is located in Codebase which is full of very trendy young startup companies in the technology space and there's a lot going on to get involved with. But most of all I was attracted by the technology stack that UrbanTide is using to build their USMART product. U~SMART is being built from the ground up with big data analytics in mind and I think that UrbanTide has made some very good choices in their technology stack which were exactly aligned with the products that I wanted to develop a deeper understanding of and become more skilled in. I'm very pleased with how my skills have developed in this project and my only regret is that there isn't more time to go even deeper with the machine learning component.
What's next for you after the project is finished?
The plan is to take the new skills and knowledge gained on this course back to the company that I worked for over the 8 years prior to the course starting, in a new job role that will focus on developing and delivering the big data analytics solutions. However, the oil and gas industry is going through a very tough time at the moment with continuing redundancies so if that plan doesn't work out then I'd love to develop my own startup company (C L Data Tech) doing big data consulting in Scotland. It's a very exciting time to be in this field and it's moving so quickly - there are a lot of opportunities to work on exciting and challenging projects and there's lots of innovation going on. I'll hopefully get a chance to work with UrbanTide again in the future - which would be really great because there's a very good balance of young and enthusiastic, very bright, people there with fresh ideas along with more experienced people with sound wisdom and leadership skills. I have no doubt that, if things continue as they are, the USMART product that UrbanTide is building will be a real success... and I hope that my dissertation project will, in some way, contribute to that success.