Path to DERI

This is an article about my life in the past year.

Currently: writing from Schiphol airport, Netherlands. I am on my way back to Montreal from Galway.

I’m going to press rewind for a moment:

A little over half a year ago, I left StatusNet Inc., a startup company that I was part of from the very beginning (flagship site: Identi.ca). It has grand goals: to offer a product and services that would let users people take part (i.e., status updates) in an open Web environment. This is an integral part of Web’s ecosystem, so, I joined this team as an user experience designer to contribute my small share.

I had the privilege to work with a team that believed in what we were trying to accomplish, had the energy and the smarts to make it so. That, super rocked. After a variety of valuable experiences from both internal and external to the company, I have decided to move on as I had other itches to take care of.

The itches: I wanted to widen my knowledge on a daily basis, contribute towards the global Semantic Web (or one pragmatic manifestation; Linked Data) vision, and push my abilities fully.

I did not exactly have a well laid out plan, so, I’ve decided to take time off to read, travel, explore possibilities in other domains of my interests, and just be lazy in order to realign myself. This was necessary for me in order to push myself forward, otherwise there was distraction at every corner.

I started to look at an initial (narrow) list of organizations that might help me get there. I ruled out places which didn’t match some of my core philosophies at this time. Nothing overwhelmingly stood out.

I’ve considered getting back to the academia. After all, it would ensure learning, and change my work environment. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that neither McGill University or Concordia University in Montreal offered graduate opportunities in the Semantic Web area. I didn’t want to relocate to another city for a graduate degree in this field since the idea of contributing to the Semantic Web was not tied to academia. So, I was back at where I started.

Two or so months later, a random variable was introduced to my quest: Michael Hausenblas, after finding out about my status, asked me to join his team at Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) Galway, Ireland. DERI is world’s largest research institute for semantic web research (aside: my radar was faulty as I did not broaden my search). So, naturally, I had a simultaneous “Whoa” and “Happy Happy Joy Joy” moment. Needless to say, this was the best of both worlds: real-world work to make a difference and academics.

We’ve agreed to start my fellowship beginning October (2010-10-01). I will kick-off my Masters in Applied Science now. In a year, I will consider pursuing a Ph.D.

As that was a few months ahead, I was now a bit more relaxed about my situation. I did indeed went on to take care of the other parts of my taking time off. I was in The Netherlands between 2009-09 and 2010-08, so, I’ve kept at discovering other great things the country had to offer. By the way, The Netherlands and I are a match made in heaven. And, checked a few other locations in Europe. Read, read, read. Played around with code.

Six months off worked well for me. I was totally re-energized. But, I’ll be honest here: this was something I had not done before and quite a few times along the way I was wondering whether I’ve made the right decisions. Going from total work involvement to nothing was a drastic change. Sometimes I felt lazy, because I was not producing something tangible for the world to see.

Currently: writing from somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, probably not too far from the land.

Coming back to DERI: a month alone at DERI, Galway let me discover reading groups; talks by invited experts; ability to walk up to anyone and learn about their particular area; invaluable colleagues like Michael Hausenblas, Richard Cyganiak, and Giovanni Tummarello whom helped a great deal getting me adjusted; table football challenges (I have a lot to improve before I’m a notable challenger to average DERIan); relaxed hours; regular life outside DERI stuff.

That’s an instant win in my book.

I am delighted to join the DERI team as a linked data researcher in the Linked Data Research Centre (LiDRC). I don’t have a thesis topic yet, however, given the nature of the projects that I’m involved in I’m confident that something über-cool will crystallize.

A minor note as to why I’m back to Montreal: For the time being, my partner Brigitte Schuster and I have to sort out our living logistics. We hope to move to Galway soon (in 2011). I will continue to work from here.

That is all.

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Ara Pehlivanian’s photoAra Pehlivanian replied on

Hey Sarven, so glad to see you moving into an area of such great interest to you. Pursuing a passion is definitely the best way to spend your time. I wish you and Brigitte all the best as things move forward.

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