Gold Mining Versus Data Mining

glittering gold

glittering gold

Being a North Carolina native and current North Carolina dweller, I enjoy shared N.C.-related factoids.

Were you aware that the first discovery of gold in the U.S. occurred in North Carolina? It’s true. The birthplace of American gold was not in California, as you might guess, but, rather, was here in the Old North State. Gold was first discovered here on the Reed Farm in Cabarrus County in 1799.

I recall studying The California Gold Rush during my youth, and I remember wondering about the character traits and motivations of those thousands of gold-seekers. I imagined that they were adventurous and driven souls, daring to immigrant to California and brave harsh mining conditions in order to attain a golden precious metal that could offer life-changing opportunities.

Today, we live amongst miners of a different type – data miners. Hundreds of thousands of them, and I wonder…what character traits do those successful in data mining hold?

Are the data miners of today similar in nature to the gold miners of yesterday? Are they adventurous and driven by the promise of better opportunities? Or, are data miners today “safer” in outlook and more rigid in nature, preferring mathematical and statistical rules and order, steps and procedures?

Back in 2005, while answering a question about the difference between analytics and data mining, Larissa Moss explained that those engaged in data mining often do not know what they’re searching for: “One of the official definitions for data mining is: ‘Data analysis without preconceived hypothesis to unearth unsuspected or unknown relationships, patterns or associations of data.’ Simply put, ‘without preconceived hypothesis’ means you don’t know exactly what you are looking for…”

In our Big Data world, data miners have to sift through daunting amounts of systems-generated data, and not knowing what they’re looking for means data miners must be open-minded, curious, seeking, and, to at least some degree, adventurous.

What do you think? Do you think the practice of data mining isn’t for the faint of heart? Or do you think yesterday’s gold miners would say today’s data miners have it easy?

Imagine a data miner of today traveling back in time to the early 1800s. Imagine that data miner sharing a cold beer in an Old West saloon with a gold miner, tired from spending hours in a mine searching for gold. Imagine the gold miner complaining to the data miner about the challenges of gold mining. How do you think the data miner would respond?

I imagine that the data miner might answer with, “Aw shucks! At least you know exactly what you’re looking for!”

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