I’ve been teaching a course on database management systems for about six years now. We cover relational theory, SQL, normalization, MySQL, data modeling, Python, Jupyter, Docker, and PySpark. It’s a great class, and a lot of my students find their way into wonderful careers because of the skills they pick up.

Personally and professionally, I’ve always focused on the low-level, the technical. Even when I write code, I’m more fascinated by the syntax and nuances of the language than by the frameworks and toolkits that enable useful features. My interest in data science follows the same pattern: I focus most on the data scraping, the data management, the code and performance issues.

But this video of David McCandless inspired me! What a beautiful display of data and information. This is how data science can be used to drive decisions and spur us to action.

Beyond beauty, David’s presentation focuses on the context of data and the meaning behind the shapes and numbers. He provides useful comparisons, and rightly calls out the media for almost completely failing to do so.

How much is a billion dollars? What does it mean that a volcano spewed tons of CO2 into the atmosphere? Context and comparison can provide answers and motivate appropriate responses. When the news consumer has an understand of quantities and relationships, the news itself takes on a whole new, deeper meaning.

Data dashboards like datastudio.google.com and tableau allow the to assemble widgets into live presentations that change as new data comes in. Graphical libraries like D3 let the user create beautiful visualizations of data.

Data is coming to life!

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