Semantic web programmers: what background do you have?

In order to get a grasp of the kinds of skills that are present in the field, I wondered what kind of backgrounds people working with semantic technologies have?

I'm guessing a lot of CS, but I know a lot of people (myself included) who have other backgrounds.

Is there a benefit to be had from the (educational) background you have? Are there issues that need to be addressed if you come from a specific background?

I've been programming since age 10 when I saw an Apple II in school and soon got a TRS-80 Color Computer.

I got a PhD i theoretical physics, did a postdoc for a year, and have worked in the software industry ever since.

I've worked on digital library sites, CMS deployments, e-commerce and other kinds of web applications. I've had my hands in literally hundreds of different web sites -- some of which are my own and some of which are for other people. I've worn DBA, sysadmin, webmaster and maintenance programmer hats at various times. Whenever i've really needed a job in a pinch, it's always seemed that somebody needed a Rich Internet Application. I had a job writing Java applets back when Java was in beta and also did a semantic graph editor in GWT as well as 3-d graphics and complex asynchronous communication in Javascript -- I've never done anything successful in Flash though.

I've worked on code written by McArthur geniuses and by people who left to go to school in Artificial Intelligence because they needed it.

I worked on a project called the Global Performing Arts Database that had one of the most advanced data models in any digital library I've seen -- it should have used RDF but we used postgresql and had to write a graph traversal engine on top of it. I got lucky enough to work with some professors who work in machine learning, and learned a bit about the SVM, Hidden Markov Models and similar stuff.

I used to be skeptical of the semantic web, but somebody turned me on to DBpedia and it changed my life, just like punk rock. Last April, the semantic web became my day job and I expect it to be my day job for a long time. For a long time I built systems that "worked" using non-standard methods but now I'm starting to understand which tools really work and how to build systems that are highly expressive but have uncompromising performance.

Medical Doctor - Have had an unhealthy interest in nerdy stuff since about 17 inc. robotics, programming, internet etc. I found the Semantic Web while doing a Masters in Medical Informatics - it seems a natural coupling of globally machine-processable information and the extreme flexibility needed in a field as dynamic (and often contentious) as medicine.

Clinical medicine would benefit hugely from the liberal application of semantic web principles (integrating information resources with clinical records (eg. drug interactions, emedicine links), global electronic patient records (the flexibility of the information model and the multilingual support are huge boons), clinical decision support using rules, machine learning on rdf for clinical decision support)

The difficult issues involved are primarily learning the rudiments of programming. I have not had any formal training in computer science/programming/third-level mathematics, and free time is certainly a barrier to picking up new skills quickly. Although, while there are difficulties involved in picking up semweb principles, it certainly does provide an interesting perspective on medicine (how would this be expressed in RDF - my notes are starting to look like n3 in places). Also - having a first hand knowledge of both medicine and the rudiments of the semantic web are hopefully making it a bit easier to conceptualize the domain.

I believe that as today, there are no such Semantic Web Programmers. There are passionate, committed, believers people that have repurposed themselves from other fields (in one word practitioners). That I know many in the community have philosophic education (with them you talk of representing the world ;)), the logicians (if what philosophers say, ever make sense :)), then are the information scientists (if logicians say so I could probably put it in code), engineers like me (they go: what did you say? can you prove it?), and some representative of social science as well. Is a mixture of domains, as the web is a mixture of data to make sense of.

Programming skill can be acquired, just lately universities have introduced courses were semantic web is a topic, so shortly we can have the first handcrafted semantic web programmers :)

I don't know if this answer makes any sense but it was fun to write it :D


I guess since you mentioned: "Is there a benefit to be had from the (educational) background you have? "

I am an academic failure who is completely self taught. I have been working professionally since the age of 16 (on PAYE), first as a DBA and then moved to the Web in 1999.

I think back then, I felt the Semantic Web and would have happily immersed myself, but the pillaging and plundering of SOAP, WSDL and XML was rather depressing for a while. Still got high hopes for the Semantic Web though.