Graph Expert you say? What’s that?
… let me explain. So not too long ago I’ve took the leap of faith and started my own little business. I admit that this move was a wager of sorts. I am to this day rolling the dice on the quality of my knowledge of data science, software engineering and my scientific training in general. Plus, it has been said about me that I am a crafty individual. I don’t know where this is going, but I am learning every day. Some of the things I learn I want to share via this blog.
So my mission is easy to state but difficult to explain. It has two vital parts that belong together. The first, part is something like the following: Using the concepts of graphs to solve real-life problems. And to do just that I focus on combining theoretical concepts and practical tools found in the world of graphs.
So what are these mysterious real-life problems you ask? Applicable problems are everywhere and come in all shapes and forms. When I say everywhere, I do mean it. For example:
- The question could be how to best store certain types of connected data to build a data science application on top of it?
- How to organize the communication between robots or sensors to make sure a piece of information is guaranteed to be available when needed?
- How to navigate a complex forest of processes by selecting paths that take us from A to B in the most efficient manner?
… and the list goes on.
It is fair to say that problems like these, problems that can be tackled using graph concepts are ubiquitous. You see, most of us have been taught all our lives to think in lists, rows or columns and the like. Think about todays todo list or your good old excel sheet. Well, these things are familiar and useful and there’s nothing wrong with that. Thinking in terms of lists served us well … up until now.
Today, we live in a world that grows increasingly interconnected by the day. This connectivity comes with a price however, it comes with rapidly growing complexity. To meet the significant challenges that come with a highly complex, interconnected world, we need to adapt the way we think about stuff.
To be more precise: Whenever the relations between individual things become as important or even more important than the things themselves, a paradigm shift in thinking is in order. A shift from thinking in terms of list to thinking in terms of graphs!
I’d argue that thinking in terms of graphs is a natural thing to do for humans. After all, the various social networks we are part of are of vital importance to us throughout our entire lives. Think about your friends for a moment. Now try to enumerate the friends of your friends. What you did attempt (and probably soon aborted due to sheer number of names) just now is thinking in terms of graphs. Why? Because the important aspect of friendship is a relationship between people. So in a sense, all of us are already somehow connected to the concept of graphs, it is just, the fact is not commonly known. It doesn’t help one bit that despite their ubiquitous nature graph problems are sometimes difficult to recognize as such. As a result, it quickly becomes difficult for people to see the point of graphs altogether. I can relate to that.
The situation is similar to mountaineering. Most people naturally enjoy the idea of getting fresh air and climbing beautiful unspoiled mountain ranges. However, many of them don’t know that they lack something that is naturally useful in such environments: the proper training, knowledge and the tools required to navigate safely. Especially when wading into difficult and maybe even unknown territory, a well-versed mountain guide is what they need. An experienced and knowledgeable professional showing them the way. So to wrap up the metaphor: I am to graphs what a mountain guide is to mountains. Note that, people in need of a mountain guide typically at least recognize the fact that they are moving in mountainous territory. People that move in a territory where graphs are key often don’t realize where they are at.
Thus, the second part of my mission can be phrased like this: Showing them the territory of graphs and becoming the guide they need. To introduce people to graph concepts and to put them in a position that allows them to look at the problems they grapple with from a new point of view - the vantage point of graphs!
Needless to say, graphs are extremely useful but no miracle cure. I am of the firm opinion however, that the ability to look at problems from different angles is strictly beneficial. So why not add graph thinking to the old toolbox?
Currently I find, that I spend a significant portion of my time working on the second part of my mission. That entails listening and talking to people which it is fun and instructive. Whenever there is a conference, a start-up pitch or some other form of business event, I’ll randomly show up simply to meet people and pester them about graphs. If you do that consistently, it turns out that you meet lots of interesting people that are eager to learn.
Most of the talking on my part revolves around explaining what it is that I do. Basically, I talk about the things you just read up to this point. Explaining the idea of graphs, sketching the importance and the practical impact of the application of those ideas and why people should care to take a look. And so on and so forth …
Every now and then, I run into a person that is surprisingly well-informed (i.e. the enthusiast mountaineer), but it seems that for most people the idea of graphs is at best fairly new. As a result I explain the same things multiple times per day. It can be exhausting, but as long as people are curious and willing to learn I don’t mind that. Plus, I enjoy the fact, that there are very little misconceptions attached to the topic of graphs as of yet. There is little to no public opinion - no exaggerations, no hype. It’s refreshing. Compare this situation to what is happening around Data Science, AI and Machine Learning. And with that I stop my ramblings.
If there’s a topic you, brave reader who made it all the way to the end, want me to cover, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I will see what I can do. But please, no crazy requests, only if you must!