What does “Big Data” mean?

In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Dennis Overbye writes about “Big Data”. This is a phrase that I deal with every day: my company, Aspera, writes software that can quickly copy huge amounts of data over the Internet. Many types of businesses generate Big Data: movie studios, where a full-resolution feature movie can consume more than 4TB; bio-tech firms, where DNA sequencing produces TBs of data, and the subsequent genomic analysis even more; web sites like YouTube which receive multiple TBs of video content every day and must store, organize and collate them for easy retrieval; and so on. This is what the computer industry means by “Big Data”.

But that’s not what Dennis Overbye meant in his New York Times article. He used “Big Data” to mean the heaps of data that Facebook, Google, or the Government are using to keep track of us and our buying habits, so that they know more about us than we do ourselves. Overbye meant “Big Data” with a clear allusion to George Orwell’s “Big Brother”. As he wrote, “Big Data is watching us, but who or what is watching Big Data?”

I am very interested in this unexpected usage of “Big Data”, especially as I use the phrase every day when talking with customers. In our Facebook Age, neologisms can go viral within days. If the computer industry loses control of “Big Data” we’ll be obliged to coin a new phrase to avoid the undesirable Orwellian overtones. I’d suggest one, but I haven’t thought it up yet.

Use well the days

In early December I was laid off. It was a new experience for me, and it has been an interesting few months. (Here is where you can read about my career campaign.)

Part of my severance package was a one-month membership to a career counseling firm called Right Management. They have over 300 offices worldwide, and I have been quite impressed with them. They understand which job-search methods are most effective in this age when 80% of all job requisitions are not advertised anywhere. The counselors are experienced at gently yet firmly focusing you on those methods. They’re also very good at conducting group classes, keeping the mood positive and upbeat when it could easily be dour and depressing.

Amongst the lessons I’ve learned (or re-learned):

  • Use well the days. Looking for a job is a full-time job.
  • Enjoy the time off! Go outside, breathe the fresh air! This is not mutually exclusive with lesson #1
  • Network, network, network. It’s the only way to find the 80% of the job reqs that aren’t advertised. LinkedIn is your friend.
  • Always have business cards in your pocket
  • The San Francisco Business Times is an excellent resource
  • There’s nothing like a glass of adult beverage to catalyze the networking process

There’s no such thing as bad networking. Last week, a fellow Cal alum sponsored a networking event called “Depression 2.0 – Party Like It’s 1929!” at a vodka bar in San Francisco. I thought “what the heck” and went. I came back with several good contacts, including an offer to go have Friday afternoon pizza and beer at this one fellow’s company. It might not turn into anything, but you never know.