Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reminiscence of writing a book on Machine Learning: Challenges, Lessons Learnt, Experiences and Insights...

I have been working on writing a book on Machine Learning, namely “Apache Mahout Essentials" for about 6 months, which was published recently by Packt Publishing - UK.



I’m sharing my experience in this article, as it may help others who want to pursue the same.

So, I got an invitation to write a book, what’s next?

When I got an email from Shaon (Acquisition Editor at Packt Publishing) to write a book, I immediately replied saying that I’m currently occupied (if not overloaded) with MSc and office work and I won’t be able to do that. Then, Shaon again approached me saying they can give flexible timelines for chapter deliverables and asked me to give it a second thought.

Then I spoke to Abi, with three possible options in my hand and one was “not writing the book” which she straight away eliminated saying that “even writing a bed time story book itself is something she won’t miss out”.

Also, I spoke to Rafa, who was the Head of Research at Zaizi sometime back. He assured that I can do this and gave an advice which was just three words but helped me vastly though out the journey of writing the book. “Step by step!”

So, I want to emphasis the fact  that, even though I’m getting some recognition on writing a book, if it wasn’t for these people it would have been just a rejected invitation. I have no words to explain my gratitude for them for the motivation they provided.

From my side, the steady and compelling reason to start writing this book is my unquenchable curiosity about machine learning and the desire to learn more.

Yup, decided to go ahead and try out, But still…

So, I started writing and within no time I realised that this is not as easy as I imagined.

One reason is I was following MSc in Artificial Intelligence where we had to follow 4 modules in 8 weeks (and the following week exams! - no study leave) and we had lectures during entire week end 8-5 (Those who went through this struggle will realise the pain ;)). Apart from that, I was working full time as well. To make the situation even worse, I had to travel for 2 hours daily as I stayed out of Colombo.

So, I decided to utilise the travel time effectively and I was reading the required content using my smart phone even if I’m standing in a crowded train. There was a time which I worked almost all the hours continuously. As a result, I got stressed out and most of the time I was sick.

This is where "focusing one thing at a time" helped me, as it was so overwhelming to think about all the items in my “things-to-do” list. Also, I planned out the structure and the content before start writing, with fresh mindset. And then I spent all night before the deadline finalising everything.

However, regardless of the problems that came along my way, I was determined to complete what I started. I remember one day I was having a terrible ear infection and still I was struggling to meet a chapter deadline until 3 a.m.

Shaon and Nikhil (Content editor at Packt Publishing) were working with me during this time and they were kind enough to give me flexible chapter deadlines which will not overlap with my university exams.

Finally, it all worth the effort!

The book went through several stages of reviews/ revisions etc. before publishing and the happiest of all was the time I completed all the first drafts.
And the next may be getting the opportunity to decide an image with n-Shades of Grey as the cover page. ;)

Reading has been my favourite and consistent hobby since my childhood, yet I was unaware of the publishing process a book has to go through before it reaches reader’s hands. So, getting to know the process itself was another exciting factor.

In addition to learning and writing about ML concepts, planning out on how to structure and present the content to ensure others can understand was a novel experience as well.

Finally, writing a book was one of the bucket list item in my life and it turned out to be immensely rewarding that exceeded my expectations.

However, this is just one milestone in the long journey of machine learning. There is lot to learn, lot to experience and lot of things that needs to get better :)

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