Shipping up to Boston Data Festival 2015

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On the evening of Thursday, September 17th, Software Engineer Jeff Segall and Quantitative Analyst Ananth Bevinahally (a.k.a., 50onRed’s “dynamic data duo”) boarded a flight to Boston for the Boston Data Festival, an annual data science conference hosted by Open Data Science (#ODSC). The festival, which just completed its third year, showcases how different industries are using data to understand and enhance their businesses.

Curious to hear the takeaways Jeff and Ananth collected on their trip to Beantown, we sat down with them to get the details.

So, Jeff and Ananth, let’s start with the obvious question: How was the event?

A: By all accounts, it was good!

J: Yeah, I think it was a good conference overall. Of course, some talks were better than others, but there were a few speeches that I really got a lot out of.

Oh yeah? Which parts of the conference did you get the most out of?

J: Well, I remember the first presentation on Saturday morning [“Acting on Data: Making business decisions based on machine learning“ by Rahul Dav]. The guy was going over a pretty basic intro to data science, but he was a lecturer at Harvard and the talk was really good. Even though the talk covered a lot of things I’d seen before and was used to, he did a very thorough step-by-step walkthrough, so it was a great refresher for me.

I also remember taking note of another talk on Saturday afternoon [“Bayes_logistic: A Python package for fully Bayesian logistic regression” by Rob Haslinger]. The talk was led by the Senior Data Scientist from a company called MaxPoint, which is a company that does ad campaigns, targeting, and optimization. That one was extremely interesting because they’re solving a lot of the same problems we are. He talked about a library they released that they’re using to do some of their optimization. Seeing their approach was really insightful because it validated a lot of things we’re doing right now, especially on some of our newer projects.

What was the event structure like?

J: The talks themselves were a good mix of straight lectures and what they were calling “workshops.” The workshops were still mostly lecture-based, but a lot of them were, like, guided presentations. For example, a lot of workshops provided code that you could download and then run alongside the lecturer’s presentation so you could get a hands-on idea of how things worked.

A:  Yeah, the workshops were definitely a nice change of pace. It kept things fairly interactive.


What kind of people were there? Did you meet anybody interesting?

A: We met analysts, scientists, managers, and recruiters, all from a wide array of industries. We met this one guy from defense security, I met a girl in finance, there were some people there from healthcare, too. Also, there were a lot of scientists there—not just data scientists. There were computational scientists, biologists, neuroscientists— scientists from across a lot of different industries.

J: There were some venture capitalists there, too. Just a huge variety of people, which was nice. I think one reason that was the case was because we were basically at MIT. When it’s MIT, you’re gonna get a range of smart people showing up. Although, technically, the event was hosted at the Microsoft NERD Center.

It’s literally called the “NERD Center”?

A: Yeah. [All laugh.]

J: It’s actually a really cool building, which is right in the MIT neighborhood. It overlooks the Charles River.

What was your biggest takeaway?

J: My biggest takeaway was probably the fact that I was introduced to a few new modeling techniques that I’m hoping to try on some of our data.

A: Honestly, the whole experience was a takeaway for me. A lot of what we experienced might be common knowledge to someone working in development, like Jeff, but for someone with a non-dev background, like myself, it was great seeing how different softwares and methodologies all work together. It was a great industry overview for me. And now, I sort of know what to be looking at, because you don’t really know what it is you don’t know, right? So, just getting a handle on the different things out there was very enlightening.