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Ola Gustafsson

Data Scientist at Mynewsdesk

Unlocking Search with a Global Community

June 15th, 2022
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By Ola Gustafsson, Data Scientist @Mynewsdesk

There isn't a lot of information about how search works online or in schools, making it a difficult field to learn about. When I discovered Uplimit's search course, I'd been working in the search field for about 5 years, and most of what I knew had been either self-taught or learned from colleagues. I knew that ranking, the core of the course, is a difficult problem to solve -- I'd tried to build ranking models a number of times without success, but I'd never even seen a course that actually covered that topic. I was excited to dive in, and didn't realize how much I would end up getting out of it.

A Challenging but Rewarding Experience

When I started the course, I realized early on that I would need to dedicate time to it. Uplimit (formerly CoRise) asks students to put aside 5-7 hours/week and I definitely needed that time. The course was filled with valuable material, and I had to put in the time to unlock that value. I also found that completing the course required me to step up my engineering skills.

In this course, we worked with a large repository that contained a lot of search code. The process of just breaking down and understanding that code took time, as I had to figure out how the different pieces worked together. At first, I felt that my skills as a programmer weren't up for the task, but interactions with instructors and other learners helped me to build up my talent to meet the challenge.

Building Connections with a Global Community

Because Uplimit's courses are synchronous, learners throughout the cohort would meet together at the same time to go through the course. I was amazed that all of these people from all over the world could get together at the same time and connect around a topic that was highly valuable to all of us. I loved seeing the way that this course brought a diverse range of people together.

People in the course came from all types of professional backgrounds with various skill sets.

There were really talented engineers in the program as well as people with 10 or more years of experience consulting in search, and they all seemed to get a lot out of the class. The course required us to work together to succeed, and when people said they were struggling, people would be quick to come around and help. That's when a lot of great learning happens -- when you're open to failure. It's difficult to get there, but this course encouraged that sort of mindset.

This sort of experience would not have been possible 20 years ago. The internet made the world smaller and more accessible. Because search is a specialty field, it's hard to come by good knowledge in this domain. There aren't that many people who actually know this stuff, even in the US. In my professional life, there are only a few people who work in search, so it's hard to find this sort of practical experience.

After finishing the course, I feel like I can still reach out to other people in the course if I want to. There are a few people I've even connected with on LinkedIn. These aren't just people I ran into at a search conference and never spoke to. They're people with names and faces who I can reach out to if I want to. This course allowed me to build a network with other people in search.

Learning from Experts through Fireside Chats

The Fireside Chats were another great component of the course, as they provided a great way to learn directly from experts in the search field. The course instructors would lead a casual discussion with various experts about their professional experience, and the informal format made it easy to ask questions if you wanted to.

One of my favorite Fireside Chats was with Doug Turnbull, the person who wrote the book on relevance. The book explains the complex ideas you need to grasp to bring value to the search field. He was able to share his valuable experience in the field, such as thinking about personalization as the tweaking of "intents" - tweaking up the intents we believe the user wants, and tweaking down the intents that are irrelevant to them.

Direct Career Benefits

The moment I returned to work after this course, I was bursting with new ideas. It was obvious to my boss that what I learned in this class could be applied directly to what we were doing. My typical work day circles around building services on top of search engines, but I have a very creative job. I am primarily responsible for coming up with new ideas, from new ways of automating things to new approaches for solving old problems. This course is perfectly designed to improve that creative capacity for solving problems.

I used to go to conferences and find that when I got home, I had a notepad of 25 ideas that I wanted to experiment with. This course had a similar impact on me at a far lower cost, and the benefits from the network I've built will far out last the course experience itself.

Getting Started with this Course

While taking this course, I learned a few things that would be helpful to people who are only just now thinking of signing up. To get the most out of this course, it's important to be intentional with the study material. Read it once, and then go back and review it again. Initially, my instinct was to work on the tasks as soon as I encountered them, and then I would get stuck. By making sure I understood all the week's content before tackling the problems, I was much better equipped to solve them.

It's critical to spend a lot of time exploring the code and seeing where all the moving parts are, so that you can identify the problem that you're actually working to solve. You need to be able to identify what parts of the code you actually need to work on, and how they interact with the rest of the system. Additionally, be sure to take advantage of all the opportunities for interaction that the program offers! Consider participating in the optional coding parties, since they provide a great way to see how other people in the course are approaching tasks.

This course was an excellent opportunity to enhance my skills as an engineer and to build out my network of people working in search. If you dedicate the time that this course requires, you can walk away with truly valuable knowledge and experience!

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