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VISION: “i see big data”…and the art of visualizing complex algorithms



blog-details-eye-slashSep 10, 2013


I am a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina and while college experiences go by fast, nothing compares to how fast this summer went by!

I spent the majority of it interning at Tresata in Charlotte, working as a front-end developer (and of course playing some golf!). At the start of the internship, I was intrigued as well as intimidated by the idea of working with “big data,” a subject I knew nothing about.

I tried to approach the internship with an open mind, so my two goals were: 1) develop new skills, and 2) test out a “real life” for a few months. Tresata gave me just that, and much much more.

Not only did I advance my technical skills, I also learned about what makes a successful startup, something that I hope to develop on in the future. Seeing how the company operated on a daily basis was a huge eye-opener.

On the job, I was the “UI” guy, which meant that my role was to represent data with visualizations that were captivating, beautiful, and easy to understand. My summer consisted of two main projects.

First, create a simple tabular visualization of data produced from one of Tresata’s analytics engines. I organized the visualization so that it would be easy to pinpoint important information about the data. For example, one column was color coded in such a way that it highlighted the ratio between null values and unique values, allowing quick deduction about the nature of the data.  Although not a complicated project, it was a great one to get familiar with Tresata’s software stack.

Second, help with re-factoring the front end for a very powerful engine ORION called NET (‘Network Exploration Tool’).  NET is a big data visualization tool that allows a client to explore hidden relationships between unique entities…at massive scale. It was an interesting project because I learned a lot about bringing a beta software to a production level and market ready product. I was amazed at how thorough the process needed to be in that every piece of code had to be tested, and retested, before it could be incorporated into the main body of code, which amassed to something larger than I had ever built.

On a technical level, the internship was invaluable. I learned so much about big data technologies and software design concepts, but also got into the nitty-gritty of writing code. Since Tresata’s front end architecture is web browser driven, much of the code was written in JavaScript using libraries such as Dojo and D3. Every day, I learned the conveniences and inconveniences of the language, which only made me realize that I was scratching the surface of a much more complex ecosystem.

Tresata was one of the most interesting, challenging, fun opportunities of my life. Between the intense coding and the much more intense ping pong games (Davis – I will beat you), this summer was one I wouldn’t trade for anything else.