5 Things I Learned at This Year’s 2019 Philadelphia Data Jawn

Three years ago, when I sat down with Joey Davidson and Dan Larson to dust off the concept of “The Philadelphia Data Jawn”, I had three goals in mind:

  1. Learn, even if we were the only ones to show up,

  2. mix with some of the smart people in the Philadelphia community to hear what others were working on, and

  3. help build the community of Data Analysts and Data Scientists in the region.

We had no interest in making money or winning clients. It was simply to make others and ourselves better through conversation and learning. We hoped to build something that benefited our community, and that was good enough. The 2018 Data Jawn hit every one of our goals — and we left elevated with our new friends. The 2019 Data Jawn was very much the same by all measures: The event sold out (twice), we had twice the number of talks submitted (which were all quality), and people networked into the late hours of the night. There was a dedicated committee outside of our walls that took over — so fingers crossed, it will be around well beyond our involvement. As I reflect on the evening — there were five things that stood out in particular to me:

1. The Philadelphia Data Community is Alive, Smart, and Growing.

The advances over the past few years and the depth and breadth of the community was quite apparent by the quality of the attendees. There were heads of large data science teams in attendance with lofty, attainable goals. The attendees were filled with practitioners who all appeared to be at the fore-front in their fields and eager to share. All universities in the Philadelphia region were also represented. Their involvement is needed as they are training the next world of data scientists.

2. There was no talk of AI, and all the talk was of AI.

The past year was a maturing year in the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and it was quite evident in the presentations and conversations. We believe the term “AI” is too hazy: it’s a word that tries to represent too many concepts. AI to us is “predictions” and the automated operationalization of those predictions. It was interesting that there were no titled talks on AI — but all the concepts that require “AI” were represented. This is a great sign as we see the industry diving deep into data analysis and data science as their first step. We are growing up.

3. The path to becoming a Data Scientist has never been clearer.

There were a few talks from industry on the path to entering the Data Science field. The steps outlined — both from academia and from industry — were clear and specific and weren’t wrapped with “just take a class”. The need to demonstrate one’s interest and talents were emphasized by the speakers. When searching for a job, what you write, practice, and preach should be evident and speak for you. Michael Becker, one of Philadelphia’s data science leaders, has provided a roadmap that any aspirational data scientist should embrace (and even the experienced ones).

Jena Vint

Jena Vint

4. The Healthcare Industry is Embracing Data in a Big Way.

There were a lot of submissions and presentations from those in the healthcare industry. It’s no surprise given that the Philadelphia region is an epicenter of research and pharmaceutical development, that advances in data science would be presented in so many ways — but it did not initially hit me until the Data Jawn on how much the industry is embracing the practices in our field. We believe that the talent on stage were those saving lives and help define the new practices that will be part of our world for the future.

5. Just as important in the process is the underlying architecture and foundation required to support all this wonderful work.

With Snowflake as a sponsor, and a great presentation by Sharath Bennur, I began to see the importance behind a very tight and symbiotic relationship between technology and the math of data science. It’s not as if this did not exist before — it presented itself even stronger at this year’s Data Jawn. Every presenter discussed the platform and tools they leveraged. I would expect this relationship to deepen in the future. Perhaps in 2020 we’ll see a greater presence of the data science and technology mix.

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Looking Forward

As we look forward to DataJawn 2020, we want to make sure we hold true to our goals and reasons for having it. We hope that it continues to grow and thrive in the future with direct involvement of the data science community. Our passion for this industry and our belief that it changes lives is stronger than ever and through the friendships we’ve made over the past few years through Data Jawn has been a big piece of it.