An Artist’s Statement

I was helping my daughter apply to an art pre-college program for the summer when I realized sometime very important. My daughter, a budding artist, has a well-defined artist’s statement.

Me? Not so much.

That made me step back and think. I always joked that I was a photographic artist but I never gave it any deeper thought. Why? Because I was always trying to make the best photos I could technically that tried to convey a moment.

I focused on the what, the where, and the when, but never about the why.

That “why” hit me like a ton of bricks. I had no why.

After I helped her with her application I went out with my camera and down to the lake. I snapped a few photos of a Great Blue Heron. It wasn’t my best photo but I felt like I had to go out and work some things out of my head.

I had to go shoot. I had to hear the familiar click of the shutter.

(c) Thomas Ott

After I shot some photos I started to feel better. My mind turned to the thoughts about how I spent all those years on Flickr making new friends and competing in photo contests. I remember how much better my photos got after that.

Then I remember how I drifted away from all that, how I got angry and lost all my interest to pick up a camera. For years my camera gathered dust as life passed me by. Sure I snapped images with my iPhone but I haven’t made anything that made my heart sing.

I realized that I’m just a technical photo snapper. I can make decent photographs but I never have anything to say with them.

I wondered, do I even want to say anything with my art? Is it really art? Do I really want to be an artist, like my daughter?

I’m so jealous of her, she knows exactly what message or idea she wants to convey with her work. All her digital work has a theme that’s evolved over time, and her message is clear as day.


I spent the next few days thinking deeply about this. I stepped back and looked at my motivations. What are my motivations to create? Why write and why photograph at all?

I started writing in earnest last year. It was a departure from my technical writings and I focused on topics that called to me. I started to write about love, relationships, parenting, living a better life and becoming a holistic person. I’m interested in understanding what it means to be a man, a true man, not one that marketing and the movies want to sell to us.

Over the course of they year I had found my writing voice and now I’m on a journey to find my photographic voice. I wanted to speak out the words of my truth in my photos. I just don’t want to make pretty pictures anymore.

I want to make photos of substance, photos that act as the visual part of my storytelling. The storytelling of all the good and bad of a life, stories where all my brothers and sisters can commiserate together and we feel it together.

I took this photo after my father passed away and it was a way for me to work through my grief. Here is a fat, balding, naked old man in a corner crying. I didn’t expect to cry when I set up the shot but then I did, knocked over by the waves of mourning for my father.

Whatever voice I was looking to speak came out in this photo, at least for me.

(c) Thomas Ott

I want to do more that, not just photos of myself but in this vain. This is the journey I’m on to find my photographic voice.

This is the next chapter of my life. To be a Maker, Writer, and Visual Storyteller.

How Blogging Led to My Personal Growth

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging now for over 15 years. I’ve written 100’s of posts, some short and some long. I’ve had my shares of ups and downs here but in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s made me realize that blogging has led to my personal growth. Blogging has become a career!

What’s happened is that I’ve been reposting and repopulating old posts from my archive. I took these posts down a few years ago thinking they were of no use, but now I realize I was wrong. Sure there was some cringe-worthy type of posts back then, but I look at them now and smile. I’m so far removed from them now and I realize I am so different now.

As I repopulate these posts I can’t help but remember where I was in my personal and professional life. I also notice how busy I was. My posting frequency is proportional to how crazy my work and personal life are. Yet still, I wrote at least a few posts a year. 

Year 2007 to 2009

Back in the early 2007-2009 era, I spent a lot of time blogging about Forex, Stocks, and using AI to trade the markets. It was during this time that I first wrote my RapidMiner tutorials. They brought me a lot of traffic and I adored the attention. I market timed and moved money in and out of my accounts, thinking I can beat the market. Lo and behold I was wrong. 

I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better.

I also held onto some crazy ideas back then about Objectivism and Libertarianism. As I grow older I realize that this selfish way of living is a folly. Life does not have to be a zero-sum game. Yes, invest in your future but also invest in deep relationships, love, health, and Nature. Cultivate those and you’ll find balance and true wealth. 

Year 2010-2014

In the 2010 to 2014 era I saw some big changes to this blog. I ramped up my blog posts around Machine Learning and what was to become Data Science. I created a lot of YouTube videos on how to use RapidMiner and it generated even more traffic for me. I was still working full time as a Civil Engineer but I began to dream of moving into the Machine Learning space. As luck would have it, RapidMiner moved to Boston and got VC funding. 

In 2014, RapidMiner offered me a job as a Sales Engineer and I accepted. I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better. 

I learned that passion, learning, and dedication can change your life. If you want something bad enough, you must chase it. You must work hard and learn, face the obstacles and work through or around them. After some time, you’ll see how far you’ve grown and how successful you can be. 

Year 2015-2017

From 2015 to 2017 I cut my teeth as a Data Scientist. I learned so much about Data Science, Marketing, and especially Sales. I’ve come to realize that I LOVE working in Sales. No matter how crazy and stressful it can be sometimes, it matches my personality. It’s who I am. The stars have aligned!

I’ve always loved public speaking and presenting and now I was presenting to CTO’s and CIO’s all over the USA. Yes, the travel burned me out but I learned how to compensate for that (now). I did make A LOT of bad decisions for my health. I ate too much, drank too much, and sat in my chair. While at RapidMiner I gained about 40 lbs, something I’m working off now. 

It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I left RapidMiner in 2017 to start my own Data Science and Engineering consultancy. I built up a client base in both fields but left after a serendipitous phone call in July of next year, more on this next.

In the end, those years were tough working years. I loved every minute of it. The startup life was and IS for me. I looked back and kicked myself for not making the leap sooner. I learned that you can’t hide who you are, you must BE who you are. The longer you hide from that, the more miserable you will become. I know it’s scary and I’ll admit that I was scared, but there comes a time when it’s now or never. I chose now. 

Year 2018 – present

I worked in my own consultancy for over a year before I got a phone call from my now colleague J. We had met back in 2014 when she was a new hire at H2O.ai. She reached out to me because she had an extra ticket for H2O World in New York and offered it to me. I declined because I had some client meetings but I did tell her that I left RapidMiner last year. 

That call set up a chain reaction where two weeks later, I had an offer to join the Sales team at H2O.ai. I made preparations to close down my consultancy in September 2018 and joined the team. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I owe it all to Blogging

I owe everything to Blogging. I do. I took my passion for AI and turned it into a career. Along the way, I’ve met so many awesome people and now I’m surrounded by so many awesome people. I’m part of the Maker culture where you “make stuff” happen and I’m humbled to be there. It’s crazy, wild, stressful, adventurous, hard, enlightening, and plain awesome. 

I would’ve never been here if I resigned myself to my fate back in 2007. Do what scares you, do what you love. Make your world sing.

Do it!

If you’ve ever wondered if you could blog yourself to a new life, you can. I share some tips on how to do it in my How to Blog Yourself to a New Life post.