Datathon 2018: challenges and successes

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in Zenica, in this photo illustration

As technology advances, the management of collected data is increasingly important. As a field, data analytics is about turning that data into information and action. In the second annual Datathon, Brock students showed their commitment to furthering this cutting-edge field.

The organization of the conference can be attributed to student co-organizers Nour Hage, who covered logistics, Thomas Lillo, who managed marketing, and Conrad Lipie, who handled external affairs.

As a relatively new field, many students are unfamiliar with data analytics. Weeks prior to the conference Lillo, Lipie and Hage were determined to intrigue students about the conference so they set up in the hall to talk about data analytics.

“Data analytics, at least the analytics that we are teaching, is essentially analyzing large amounts of information with technology,” said Lillo. “We teach you the tools that people can use to analyze information.”

While learning more about the field may be one reason for the event’s substantial turnout, Hage cites other motivations as equally prevalent.

“Primarily people attend, I think, as either a network opportunity or a skills-building opportunity,” said Hage.

In addition to the event being a useful learning opportunity for students, Hage maintains that the annual event boosts the reputation of the university.

“It definitely makes Brock look good as well. The people we bring in to Brock are not people who would normally come in. We work really hard to bring in these high-level speakers. We work really hard to bring industry experts to teach our workshops. Some of these people have never even been to Niagara, and we, as a student organization, have managed to bring them all the way out here,” said Hage.

The event heard opening remarks from Brock President Gervan Fearon. Following, the speakers list included many successful people working in the data sector: VP Business Analytics of BMO Lori Biedathe, Director of Big Data Services of CIBC James Li, Director of Solution Sales of Microsoft Technology Centres Gladstone Grant, Chief Growth Officer of IG Liaison Strategy and Business Consulting Anferny Chen, Director of Artificial Intelligence of Deloitte Ofer Shai, Head of Content and Location Services of RBC Arthur Berrill, Managing Director of Drew Fones, Chief Executive Officer of Fireside Analytics Shingai Manjengwa and Senior Operations Manager of Autzu Andrea Chan.

In addition, the conference included insight from familiar faces: Dr. Anteneh Ayanso, the Director of Center for Business Analytics at Brock; Dr. Ivan Medovikov, an Associate Professor at Brock and a Consultant for Spartan Fund Management and Roelof Makken, the Founder of Tern Analytics and an adjunct professor at Brock.

There were four workshops offered by these industry experts. For the sake of time, students were advised to pick one workshop to attend. The focus was on teaching different types of programming language and helping students master specific data analysis programs such as Excel, Python and Power BI.

The co-founders emphasized that Datathon could not have succeeded without the support of faculty, staff and sponsors. However, Hage and Lillo noted that student led events face many challenges in terms of coordination.

“We do honestly have some fantastic individual faculty and staff that we have been working with and they are great, so I am not disparaging them. They are fantastic. But as a whole, department communication is insanely difficult,” said Hage. “We have had some terrific sponsors,”

The students explained that the barriers they had to oversee were not due to specific faculty members or lack of sponsorship but rather the lack of communication between them all.

“Conference Services at Brock does two things: room booking and table booking. If I want to go to Conference Services and book, lets say, extension cords, they send me elsewhere. When I want to order food for the conference, they will send me to food services. If I want to get monitors for the conference room they send me to AV,” said Hage. “There is no interdepartmental communication there.”

Despite barriers to implementation, the conference ran smoothly. Due to the success this weekend, the event will be running again next year.

At the end of the conference the students announced their biggest success yet: the Chairman of Qualcomm, a leading company in 3G and next-generation mobile technologies, will be coming to speak at Brock in January and Datathon will be the primary organizer.

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