Decade round up post

I’ve got into the habit of writing a yearly roundup blog post (see this blog, passim), based on a suggested framework by David Allen. Since this is the end of a decade I thought it would be fun to do one for the whole decade.


Regular readers will know that as far as physical goes I have spent most of the decade getting progressively sicker with two different diseases, beating both, and then having complications from the liver transplant that saved me from the first one. Perhaps the pinnacle was having a colectomy/ splenectomy in September 2017, bleeding a lot and being very sick for several weeks afterwards and then running a marathon in 3 hours 44 minutes just 18 months later in February 2019. I went on to win silver in the 5K in the British Transplant Games in July of this year, but am now not currently running due to complications from my liver transplant. I’ll be fine, I need to go and see the doctors next year, they’ll sort me out.


I started meditating in 2019 to help me to manage my feelings about being ill. I came to rely emotionally on running and being successful at running and I found that when that was taken away it was hard to cope. I’ve been meditating regularly and have been on a few day long meditation retreats and it’s made me a better person, particularly a better dad, since it helps me to manage my emotions when the kids are playing up. I now regularly attend a Buddhist temple and am trying to dedicate myself to practising compassion for all living things.


I’m still pretty hopeless with money, and we spent a lot on the bathroom fairly recently. I’ve managed to save up a bit of money and I’m currently trying to save three months salary because I gather that’s the minimum you’re supposed to have. I hope that by about 2022 I will be debt free and have three months salary tucked away.


This decade my family changed an awful lot, because I had two kids, one in 2011 and another in 2014. I found myself an accidental attachment parent, in fact I wrote about it here if you’re interested. I have two boys, they fight a lot and one of them is extremely defiant and can really press my buttons. They are and will always be my greatest creation, and they’re both kind, intelligent, and funny. I’m pretty confident already the world is a better place with them in it, and I’m sure they’ll continue to make me proud as they get older.


As far as work goes this decade has been absolutely transformative. In 2010 I went on an R course. I used SPSS for my PhD (and some weird thing to do mixed effects modelling, I forget what it was called) but I went on a course teaching regression methods and they introduced R almost incidentally as a tool to do regression analysis. I was working on a patient survey at the time and we were using Excel macros to draw the graphs (me! using Excel macros! Don’t tell anyone, I’ve got a reputation to protect 😉). It was very time consuming and I realised that I could program R to dump all the images to a folder, and then we put them together by hand in Microsoft Word. This took a week! A whole week! Then I realised I could use odfweave (now orphaned to put the whole document together. This really turned heads. This job used to take a week and now I could do it in a few hours (a little tidying up of the formatting was required). And then in 2013 everything changed again because my Trust won some money from an innovation fund and we decided to put all of patient experience data online in an interactive dashboard. As always, when I agreed to this I had no idea how to actually do it and I hadn’t heard of Shiny. While I was working on it I heard about Shiny and starting prototyping in it, reasoning that I would need to make it into something “proper” later on. In fact, Shiny was more than equal to the task and I became one of a fairly few people at the time who were using Shiny in production. I used an early version of Shiny (maybe 0.6) and one of the early versions of Shiny server. Because I was one of a few people I ended up being approached by a publisher to write a book about Shiny and I have now written three editions of it. Now my work is very focused on Shiny and when the people who have heard of me think of me they tend to think Shiny.
The other big thing that has changed the way I work which is much more recent is the data science accelerator. The data science accelerator is a 12 day mentorship programme and it’s the best thing I’ve learned on since my PhD. I would highly recommend it, there are more details here I’m still in touch with my mentor and he was and is incredibly helpful, supportive, and knowledgeable (thanks, Dan, if you ever see this!). I am in charge of patient experience in my Trust and I work closely with the Involvement team who do a lot of work making sure the data is collected and read by the right people and that those people do something about it. They’re a great team and they’ve won many awards for what they do, you can find out more about them here (this site will give a scary certificate warning and then redirect you at the moment, we’re between websites, but that’s the link that will still work in 6 months’ time). Anyway they’ve had a big influence on me in that they are not very interested in the ticky box scores, they’re mainly interested in the comments. So I’ve spent a long time trying to build something that they would want to use, and it’s a machine to help them read all the comments. I call it the recommendation engine for patient feedback and you can read all about it here It would never have occurred to me to build it if it weren’t for the Involvement team. Anyway, the recommendation engine is incredibly difficult and ambitious and will take 5 years or even more but I got started with text mining on the data science accelerator. And now I am very close indeed to securing funding to spend a whole year building a text mining application which will:

  1. Automatically tag comments by theme
  2. Automatically tag comments by sentiment
  3. Use document similarity to find similar comments
  4. Tie it all together with a nice Shiny dashboard

This is incredibly exciting and I owe it all to the data science accelerator. I can’t talk about the project in detail yet because we don’t have the funding but once we do I’ll be back to talk about it. I’ll be recruiting a new person hopefully in April, so look out for that too if you’re interested.

The future

In the next decade it will be more of the same, really. I would like to build the biggest and best data science team in any provider Trust in the country, win a medal at the world transplant games, and watch my boys grow into the talented, unique, and kind people I know they will become. That should keep me busy. Can’t wait to do a roundup in 2030 and see how I got on 🙂