From Blogos to Logos

Christmas greetings to all. I’m happy to announce a major new direction: starting sometime next month, we’ll be swapping coasts and moving to Bellingham, WA, where i’ll be taking a position as Senior Information Architect with Logos Bible Software. You can read more about the history and mission of this not-so-small-anymore software company: this blog entry by Bob Pritchett, President and CEO, provides a nice overview (with heart).

This is a huge change for us in many ways. 19 years ago, i swapped coasts in the other direction, leaving California for Massachusetts to take a position with BBN Technologies, and other than graduate school and a stint with InterVarsity as a campus staff minister, that’s been virtually my entire career. I started at BBN as a journeyman computational linguist who knew a little about programming: i still remember the manager who hired me (he’s in this picture) commenting “well, I guess you know some things about language: we’ll have to see if you can program”. During these 19 years, i’ve moved through a lot of responsibilities: Lisp programmer, NLP researcher (i’ve got a few papers out there), system builder, and project manager. Since moving to Maryland six years ago, i’ve directed a small remote group, worked more closely with customers, and focused on marketing and business development. In that time, our group has grown from 2 to 8 people, and a few months ago we won a major new research project, the largest proposal by far that i’ve ever led, with me as the principal investigator. The day after we learned that we’d won (which also happened to be my birthday), i got the job offer from Logos, and decided to walk away from it all.

How come? Well, for three and a half years now (here’s my first Blogos post), i’ve been thinking about how to take things i’ve been learning from my day job about text processing, markup standards, visualization, and the Semantic Web, and use them to help people look at, understand, and apply the Scriptures in new ways. What started out of curiosity and passing interest has grown into a significant personal commitment, with the SemanticBible website as its most concrete reflection. Since that time i’ve spent literally hundreds of off -hours thinking and blogging about these things, as well as creating new data sets like the Composite Gospel and New Testament Names, and a few applications like the Hyper-Concordance. I even got brave enough to venture into the world of academic Biblical scholarship, with presentations at the Society for Biblical Literature this year and last. We’re at a place in life where we’ve got the flexibility for me to really think about what counts, not just as a weekend hobby but as a vocation. While i feel like i’ve accomplished a lot working by myself in my spare time, i can do much more full-time, as part of a larger team, focused on compatible goals, and with significant resources.

A word about those goals: one strong value that’s been a consistent part of my work on SemanticBible has been making the work i do freely available. One reason Logos has significant resources (including the ability to hire people like me!) is because it’s a commercial company that sells products: so i expect the bulk of my future activities will be directly toward enhancing those products. I’m willing to make this tradeoff in order to be able to focus my efforts and increase my (currently glacial) rate of progress, and i wouldn’t be doing this unless i believed it will result in advancing God’s word and kingdom. But everything that’s currently on SemanticBible will remain there and will continue to be freely available, just as it is now.

It’s still too early to say much specifically about what my work there will entail. New Testament Names (which is both similar to but also different from their Biblical People feature) is one possibility, since that was part of what started our dialog about joining their staff. The general idea behind the relatively new field of information architecture is structuring information in the broadest sense (which includes software applications and web sites) to make information accessible and usable. That’s been a driving concern for many things i’ve been exploring these past few years, and i’m excited about the potential to think much more broadly about this (Wikipedia’s page on information architecture provides a useful overview). I’m also hoping to have more opportunity to invest in writing about these topics, where it’s part of (rather than competition with) my “day job”.

Things have been pretty crazy for a while, both transitioning out of one job and preparing for another, preparing our house and getting it on the market, and getting ready for a major move (and too many other bits of craziness to recount). But i’m really looking forward to this new adventure, and i trust you’ll be hearing more about it in the months to come.

5 thoughts on “From Blogos to Logos”

  1. The east coast will be all the poorer for your loss, but I am excited about the new opportunities God is placing before you. Apparently, I now have a reason to visit the west coast!

    A very merry Christmas to you, Donna, and Dorothy. I miss you all more than you know.


  2. Congratulations! What a great opportunity. It’s always exciting to look back and see how God prepares us for the things we didn’t even know were ahead.

  3. Congratulations, Sean! I met you at a SBL meeting a few years ago & was impressed by your ideas & the skills you brought to the table. I’m excited for you & also eagerly await the contributions you will make at Logos.

  4. I pray that this works out for you. Sometimes what we accomplish when something is a passion that we work on during off-hours can become a drag when it becomes something you do ‘to make a living’.

    I think you’ve started something great with the sematicbible and I’d love to see that vision continue. Especially the free part. It seems like something when money is involved, things get complicated, priorities get shifted, and motivations are altered. I hope that will not happen to you.


  5. Pedro:
    Thanks for your comments (i had to chuckle about your original post). You’re right that making something a full-time job can drain the passion from it: so far, i think i’m doing okay though 🙂 Semantic engineering actually turns out to be quite difficult (and i’m still learning), but so far still rewarding. I’m getting eager to get my head out of the details of this class specializing this class, and a little closer to some practical benefits (but don’t worry, they’ll come).

    On the free side, stay tuned, but i’m optimistic that at least some of the results of this work will eventually be sharable for non-profit purposes.

Comments are closed.