Book release: Machine Learning Engineering

Hey! Andriy here. With great satisfaction and excitement, I announce the release of my new book: Machine Learning Engineering.

I've been working on the book for the last eleven months and I'm happy that the hard work is now over. More than 70 people were involved in the project as volunteering reviewers, so I'm proud of the quality of the result. I'm grateful to all the volunteers for their generous participation. Their names can found in the Acknowledgements section of the concluding chapter.

Just like my previous bestselling The Hundred-Page Machine Learning Book, this new book is distributed on the “read-first, buy-later” principle. That means that you can freely download the book, read it, and share it with your friends and colleagues. If you liked the book or found it useful, then buy it.

The new book can be bought on Leanpub as a PDF file and on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle. The hardcover edition will be released later this week. Here are links to some local Amazon websites: CanadaUKGermanyFrance.

Why the second book? Aren't the hundred pages enough?

My first book covers a wide range of machine learning models, algorithms, and techniques. It explains how machine learning works and what a data scientist should do to solve a machine learning problem. However, in industry, a machine learning project life cycle is more than that. It consists of the following stages:

Each stage of a machine learning project life cycle requires specific knowledge. This knowledge can be partially obtained from machine learning and data science books as well as online. In particular, some books and blogs cover feature engineering, some might partially cover model evaluation and deployment. However, my new book is the first one that covers, at a great level of detail, all stages of a machine learning project life cycle.

How different this book is from your first book?

The content of Machine Learning Engineering is almost entirely new. Some notation and definitions from The Hundred-Page Machine Learning Book (THPMLB) were reused in the new book. Also, some techniques of feature engineering and data imputation considered in THPMLB were also described in the new book. However, information on these topics has been substantially extended.

The main focus of THPMLB was on explaining how the most important machine learning (ML) algorithms and models work. So the focus was on machine learning science. In the new Machine Learning Engineering book, you will not read about the peculiarities of the functioning of machine learning algorithms. The book is entirely devoted to best practices. From Machine Learning Engineering, you will learn how to take advantage of a wide range of available machine learning technologies, tools, hacks, and tricks for solving business problems. So the focus of the new book, as the title suggests, is on engineering, that is how to build things that work reliably and scale. This is what Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google, tells about the book in the Foreword:

I’d like to let you in on a secret: when people say ‘machine learning’ it sounds like there’s only one discipline here. Surprise! There are actually two machine learnings, and they are as different as innovating in food recipes and inventing new kitchen appliances. Both are noble callings, as long as you don’t get them confused; imagine hiring a pastry chef to build you an oven or an electrical engineer to bake bread for you!

The bad news is that almost everyone does mix these two machine learnings up. No wonder so many businesses fail at machine learning as a result. What no one seems to tell beginners is that most machine learning courses and textbooks are about Machine Learning Research - how to build ovens (and microwaves, blenders, toasters, kettles… the kitchen sink!) from scratch, not how to cook things and innovate with recipes at enormous scale. In other words, if you’re looking for opportunities to create innovative ML-based solutions to business problems, you want the discipline called Applied Machine Learning, not Machine Learning Research, so most books won’t suit your needs.

And now for the good news! You’re looking at one of the few true Applied Machine Learning books out there. That’s right, you found one! A real applied needle in the haystack of research-oriented stuff. Excellent job, dear reader… unless what you were actually looking for is a book to help you learn the skills to design general-purpose algorithms, in which case I hope the author won’t be too upset with me for telling you to flee now and go pick up pretty much any other machine learning book. This one is different.

When I created Making Friends with Machine Learning in 2016, Google’s Applied Machine Learning course loved by more than ten thousand of our engineers and leaders, I gave it a very similar structure to the one in this book. That’s because doing things in the right order is crucial in the applied space. As you use your newfound data powers, tackling certain steps before you’ve completed others can lead to anything from wasted effort to a project-demolishing kablooie. In fact, the similarity in table of contents between this book and my course is what originally convinced me to give this book a read. In a clear case of convergent evolution, I saw in the author a fellow thinker kept up at night by the lack of available resources on Applied Machine Learning, one of the most potentially-useful yet horribly-misunderstood areas of engineering, enough to want to do something about it. So, if you’re about to close this book, how about you do me a quick favor and at least ponder why the Table of Contents is arranged the way it is. You’ll learn something good just from that, I promise.

So, what’s in the rest of the book? The machine learning equivalent of a bumper guide to innovating in recipes to make food at scale. Since you haven’t read the book yet, I’ll put it in culinary terms: you’ll need to figure out what’s worth cooking / what the objectives are (decision-making and product management), understand the suppliers and the customers (domain expertise and business acumen), how to process ingredients at scale (data engineering and analysis), how to try many different ingredient-appliance combinations quickly to generate potential recipes (prototype phase ML engineering), how to check that the quality of the recipe is good enough to serve (statistics), how to turn a potential recipe into millions of dishes served efficiently (production phase ML engineering), and how to ensure that your dishes stay top-notch even if the delivery truck brings you a ton of potatoes instead of the rice you ordered (reliability engineering). This book is one of the few to offer perspectives on each step of the end-to-end process.

Now would be a good moment for me to be blunt with you, dear reader. This book is pretty good. It is. Really. But it’s not perfect. It cuts corners on occasion - just like a professional machine learning engineer is wont to do - though on the whole, it gets its message right. And, since it covers an area with rapidly-evolving best practices, it doesn’t pretend to offer the last word on the subject. But even if it were terribly sloppy, it would still be worth reading. Given how few comprehensive guides to Applied Machine Learning are out there, a coherent introduction to these topics is worth its weight in gold. I’m so glad this one is here!

One of my favorite things about this book is how fully it embraces the most important thing you need to know about machine learning: mistakes are possible... and sometimes they hurt. As my colleagues in site reliability engineering love to say, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hoping that there will be no mistakes is the worst approach you can take. This book does so much better. It promptly shatters any false sense of security you were tempted to have about building an AI system that is more “intelligent” than you are. (Um, no. Just no.) Then it diligently takes you through a survey of all kinds of things that can go wrong in practice and how to prevent/detect/handle them. This book does a great job of outlining the importance of monitoring, how to approach model maintenance, what to do when things go wrong, how to think about fallback strategies for the kinds of mistakes you can't anticipate, how to deal with adversaries who try to exploit your system, and how to manage the expectations of your human users (there’s also a section on what to do when your, er, users are machines). These are hugely important topics in practical machine learning, but they’re so often neglected in other books. Not here.

If you intend to use machine learning to solve business problems at scale, I'm delighted you got your hands on this book. 

Enjoy!

Buy the book on Leanpub or Amazon.