Brisbane Digital Spotlight is a blog series that aims to shine light on the exceptional talent within the city’s digital community. With each post, I uncover a devoted individual within my network who I’ve recognised to be deeply engaged in the digital industry. Whether it be a Digital Marketer, a Developer, a Co-founder, a Project Manager, or even a Recruiter – my goal is to highlight the work these remarkable individuals do; day in, day out.
Q. What do you get when a Machine Learning Engineer and a content creator join forces?
A. Daniel Bourke!
I met Dan at the beginning of the year whilst working at Max Kelsen. At the time, Dan was a passionate creator who had developed his own online masters degree. He’d documented the whole process, sharing his journey and newfound knowledge across countless platforms.
Dan’s passion for learning has led to his recent role as a Machine Learning Engineer at Max Kelsen. Within his role, he’s responsible for processing human genome data to predict diagnostic outcomes of immunotherapy treatments.
From a digital marketing standpoint, I’m constantly blown away by Dans ability to not only create content, but build a deeply engaged audience of his own.
In this feature, we delve into Dan’s journey within the digital space, some exciting projects he’s working on now, and cover some tips on how to land your first role.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you land in the digital space?
I grew up with the internet. From age 10-17 I played Runescape 8-12 hours per day and was easily the best at my school, but had kept it a secret because I was afraid people would think I was a nerd. I kept claiming the account was my cousins.
I made YouTube videos of me playing Runescape. They’re still on YouTube under the username ‘Lrd Rangerz’. Some even have 100K+ views.
In year 11 and 12, I ran a Call of Duty clan called haVoc – we were the number 1 clan in all of Australia for capture the flag on cybergamer.com.au.
I’d be the one in communications with other clans to host matches and organise practice for our team. This gave me my first real experience with what could be accomplished by gathering people through the internet.
Then I went to uni and quit most of the games I played.
At uni, I failed the first two years of pre-med. I had to meet with the Dean of Science and explain why I should stay at uni.
During this time (2011), I got interested in health and fitness. I started going to the gym and treated it how I did gaming. I was obsessed, except now the gains weren’t pixels, they were muscle cells. All of this started from watching videos of people online. Especially Zyzz, Marc Lobliner, and Kris Gethin. At this point, I started to see how much value someone could get from learning online.
I switched from pre-med to food and nutrition science in 2013. It was way easier because I was interested in it outside of uni too.
My friend Dave and I started a YouTube channel in 2014 called ‘From your bros’. We filmed one video and posted it, then gave up. It’s still on YouTube somewhere.
Then I got a job at Apple. I loved tech, it was a dream. Now I could work with it all day. But after a couple of years, I decided to leave and try to build some of the technology I was servicing.
I convinced a colleague, my brother, and a friend, to start a venture called ‘AnyGym’. We wanted to workout together, but couldn’t due to not being members of the same gym. It was always a pain in the ass trying to get together because of sign up forms and processes – so we decided we’d fix it with technology.
I quit Apple in February 2016 and we started building. The site was live. We had gyms listed on there. We entered them manually, postcode by postcode throughout Brisbane.
But after interviewing some gyms, the excitement started to dip. We found most of their revenue comes from people who don’t show up. Our business model went completely against this. We wanted to allow more access for end-users.
Eventually it all fizzled out, plus I wasn’t as excited by web development as when I first began. We decided to kill the startup.
While building AnyGym.com, I found a bunch of resources on AI/ML. This stuff really set me on fire.
I was starting to run out of money I’d saved from working at Apple. I used what was left to buy a course on Deep Learning. I’d never done Python before, but I figured I could pick it up. Three weeks out from the course, I started learning Python. Two weeks out from the course, I emailed Udacity support asking how to get a refund.
I didn’t end up getting a refund. But after completing the Deep Learning Nanodegree, I was a bit lost. I needed some structure. I didn’t want to go back to uni either. Being in control of my learning journey was hard, but far more exciting. So I built my own AI Masters Degree — and I’m still doing it, actually, it will never really end.
All the while I was learning online, I figured, it may be hard for me to get a role somewhere without official credentials, because the world still loves certificates.
I knew I had to differentiate myself. But I didn’t know how.
When I started learning Python, I was in the middle of doing a podcast a day for 100 days. I began doing episodes on programming and different technologies I was excited about.
70 episodes in, I figured, why not start recording the audio with a camera as well. And my new YouTube channel was born. The first 30 videos are me sitting in my car doing a podcast. Boring and crap. But my recent ones are a bit better.
Making things and sharing them online turned into a disease. I caught the creative bug. My mindset switched from consuming to creating. I still consume some things but I feel sick if I don’t create.
Now it’s all about having fun. Work isn’t work anymore. It’s play. Because whatever challenge I’m taking on, I know it’ll be a great story to share in the future.
The only regret I have is not starting sooner. Or continuing my creative journey from those gaming videos I made 10-years ago. I’ve learned my lesson now.
I’m still just getting started.
What does your role at Max Kelsen entail?
My title is a Machine Learning Engineer, but for the most part, it has involved preparing data to be used within machine learning algorithms. There’s plenty of data out there, but most of it needs to be twisted and turned in order to make it useful.
For the first few weeks, we worked on a reinforcement learning competition from OpenAI. The goal was to build an algorithm capable of learning to play Sonic the Hedgehog. It was the first time I’d tried anything like it.
We didn’t end up finishing the algorithm in time for the competition deadline. I did however, have a great time writing an article about what we tried. At this stage, my writing is still stronger than my coding.
I’m most excited about our upcoming project with genomiQa, BGI (genome sequencing) and QIMR (Brisbane medical research foundation). Our goal is to find a better diagnostic tool for predicting the successfulness of immunotherapy treatments. To do this, we’ll be using whole human genomes. It’s an omnidimensional challenge. From a technical standpoint, how do you manage files at 300gb a piece? (whole genome = 300gb per person) And from a health standpoint, even if you do find a solution, how do you get it into the hands of patients?
It’s the intersection of technology and health which interests me the most.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of getting into data science/machine learning?
Having too much to learn.
There’s so much available and it’s all so fascinating. It’s hard to pick something and stick with it. There’s constantly some new technology or a new paper that will drop and you’ll want to try it out.
I have to keep reminding myself to stick with first principles – what’s going to last the longest?
Developers and data scientists aren’t traditionally renowned for producing personal content. I’d love to know why this is such a big focus throughout your endeavours.
I made the switched from consuming to creating. Again, there were too many things I enjoyed watching, listening, and reading, so I decided to add a few more of my own.
Plus, it’s a great balance.
There’s no word for learning to create and creating to learn in English (that I’m aware of), but that’s why I do it.
My learning fuels my creative works and my creative works fuel my learning. It’s a circle.
And if I can have some fun doing it, and perhaps share a little joy with others on the way, why not?
What are your favourite channels for distributing content at the moment?
All of them.
I think they’re all great, but it depends on what you want to get out there.
I’m a big fan of audio, but there still isn’t a go-to podcasting platform outside of the native podcast apps. Anchor is there but I think it has some ways to go.
For video, YouTube is still king.
Written word is Quora, Medium, or a personal blog. I love a beautifully decorated blog. Ghost have just updated their platform, I’m thinking of switching to there.
I probably share the most content through Instagram stories. I post 15-20 times a day there sometimes. The rawness and swiftness of a story is what makes it attractive to me. I’m very off the cuff.
LinkedIn is slowly becoming a beast too, but they’ve got some ways to go around making their platform a bit smoother. There’s a few things I’d change – like making it easier to view the things someone has created when viewing their profile.
But again, it comes down to what you’re wanting to make and where your audience finds the most value. As I’m still trying to figure this out, I’m creating content everywhere.
Twitter is a great time too. I think it’s the only ‘true’ social media. You can get straight to anyone on the platform. They might not reply, but you can at least see their stuff and interact with it.
What advice do you have anyone trying to land an entry-level role in data science, or even across the digital industry for that matter?
Get some great skills. And be able to communicate them.
Skills are the obvious one. Everyone knows this, but people forget you need to be able to showcase these skills. Have a blog, have a nice LinkedIn presence, have a great GitHub. Have something where people can find you.
Build relationships in the field by attending meetups and using LinkedIn. You’ll likely land a role through a contact or if someone knows you and thinks about you during their next hiring round.
Stand out. A resume is boring to me. LinkedIn is my resume now.
Make a website called http://www.whycompanyXshouldhireYOURNAME.com and send it to everyone you know who works there. Be sure the site is polished and showcases your skills.
I’ve never hired anyone formally but these are things I’d be checking. After all, if you’re going to work with someone, you want them to have substance.
What are some exciting goals you’re currently working towards?
I’m writing an article for my 25th birthday called ‘25 things I’m going to do before I’m 26.’
Number 1 is run a midnight marathon. Start at 12 am and then run 42km, probably straight to a cafe for breakfast. That would be a fun story.
I’d like to take up dancing sometime soon. I’ve been meaning to for a while.
I’ve started drawing recently too. My writing needed some pictures to go along with it, so I’d like to be a little better at drawing.
And my brother and I are working on a food recognition app. Ideally, people would be able to point their phones at food and get a nutrition breakdown.
What are your favourite things to do in sunny Brisbane when you’re not at work?
I love Brisbane. Sitting in the sun is fun.
I live near the water, so I’m always walking along it. My brothers and I will often go for bike rides with our dogs.
Otherwise, I’ll likely be in front of a computer screen (still) making something or moving my body around somewhere.
And I enjoy cooking. I love making food for others. Most weekends I’ll cook a meal for the family or whoever is around.
Where can we find out more about you?
My website is probably the best place to start, www.mrdbourke.com.
There’s a bunch of fun stuff there with links to my other internet adventures.
I got lucky and secured the handle @mrdbourke everywhere you can imagine (except Quora, I’m not sure what their naming system is) so you’ll find me there.
Or better yet, send me an email, I’ll reply. Promise. firstname.lastname@example.org
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I’m a twenty-three year old Digital Marketing & Conversions Specialist based in Brisbane, Australia. With a passion for all things digital and tech, I aim to connect and learn from as many like-minded digital enthusiasts as possible. If you have a passion for emerging technologies and digital practices, I’d love to connect and hear your story.