Our Favorite Session from Day 1 at Strata + Hadoop World NYC

September 30, 2015 by Madison Jacobs

The Captricity team is here in New York City at one of the largest big data conferences in the universe -- Strata + Hadoop World! We attended some super engaging and informative sessions yesterday and wanted to give you a quick recap of our favorite session from day 1.

Session: Innovating Through Data with Hilary Mason

About Hilary: Hilary Mason (@hmason) is the Founder of Fast Forward Labs (@FastForwardLabs) and the Data Scientist in Residence at Accel (@Accel). She believes that technology should give us superpowers -- we agree.

Session background: Using data effectively involves changes in both technology processes and cultural processes. Hilary’s talk explored the intersection between technology and people through the lens of data analytics, and how companies can identify growth opportunities by using their data effectively.

Key Takeaways:

Data success depends on technology AND on people.

“In reality, data isn’t always a technology problem… it’s a people problem,” Hilary said. Hilary reminded us that even though technology is always changing and adapting, people stay the same. The key to success with data is not only to utilize the right technology, but also to get all the stakeholders (technology-facing and business-facing) within your organization to believe in data and its ability to revolutionize the way the business operates. “Everyone has to be bought in,” Hilary said. Hilary also recommends that you find a strong data leader who can speak to and align the business and technology departments within a company. Without a capable leadership team who can foster a data-driven culture, success with data will be extremely difficult to obtain.

Use data to deliver information to your customers that is relevant to them.

Hilary gave great examples of companies that are using different sources of data to deliver products and services to their customers that are helpful and easy to understand. “One of the most amazing data products on the market now is Google Maps,” Hilary said. By combining troves of historical data and real-time data that would otherwise be hard to find and consume, Google Maps gives users a super simple interface that anybody can look at and understand while they are driving down the street. Hilary reminded us that collecting and delivering data in an intuitive way is the key to providing your audience with information that is highly useful to them.

So, what’s this data science profession all about?

Hilary explained that data science is a blend of three components: mathematics, coding and communication. And out of all three, Hilary shared that communication is of the utmost importance.

Hilary explained that a data scientist should have the ability and willingness to sit down with a person from the business side, understand their problem or question, use tools and data to solve that problem or answer that question, and then clearly explain their learnings so that the businessperson can make better decisions in the future (AKA awesome nerds).

How do I get started with data?

“Process is like a programming language for people,” Hilary said. And, there are many organizational processes, but only a few will win. Here’s Hilary’s take on how you get started with data:

Get started in a cheap way: Take a tiny problem that needs a quick decision (a decision that you are ready to make) and invest a reasonable amount of money to fund a proof of concept to see if the proposed technology solution is going to work.

Conduct a data census -- Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What data do we have? -- What legacy data do we have? What data are we collecting on a regular basis now? What data lives in our data centers? 
  2. What data should we have? -- Now that we’ve looked through all the data we have, what does that tell us about the data we need?
  3. What should we be collecting that we aren’t collecting already? What assumptions do I make that I can experimentally identify? -- How do we prove/disprove hypotheses with the data we have?

How do I measure data success?

“Data plus problems equals helpful learning,” Hilary said. So how do you know you’re moving forward in the right direction with your data initiatives technically and culturally? Here’s Hilary’s take:

  • Identify the problem you are really trying to solve. -- It’s important to keep the business people and the data scientist on the same page. Write down a precise definition of the problem you are trying to solve. If you want to know how many customers you have, create a very specific question. Here’s an insurance-focused example: How many customers between the ages of 25 and 35 have purchased a new life insurance policy in the last 12 months (versus just... how many customers do we have?).
  • How do you know you’ve won? -- Identify what the error metrics for success are. 
  • Assuming you solve the problem perfectly, what’s the first thing you do with the outcome?
  • If you deploy the solution, will it have a large impact?
  • What is the evilest thing that can be done with the solution? -- Some of the most creative ideas come from this question, as well as an understanding of the possible negative outcomes of deployment.

What should my data goals be?

  • Communicate clearly -- Make sure everyone understands and supports the company’s data objectives.
  • Manage time investment -- Yields value immediately!
  • Develop wisdom -- Insurance companies: You’ve got tons of legacy data already; you just need access.
  • Look for significant opportunities for investment -- Always ask a lot of questions.

What are the analytics opportunities with data?

Hilary’s two cents: Use data to develop growth opportunities -- This is when analytics stops becoming a cost sucker and starts becoming a driver in how you make educated business decisions. ‘Data and technology give us superpowers,” Hilary said. “They allow us to perceive things we wouldn’t be able to without that technology.”

We’re excited to head into Day 2 of the conference - follow us on Twitter for the latest updates!

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