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October 21, 2013
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CONVENE -- The Data Mindset




By Sarah Beauchamp, Convene

Hilary Mason recently became the first data scientist in residence at Accel Partners, a venture and growth equity firm, after serving as chief scientist at the URL-shortening service Bitly since 2009.

As co-founder of DataGotham, an annual conference in New York City for data professionals, Mason understands firsthand what it’s like to interpret attendee responses and construct a better meeting based on the results. She’s spoken to groups about everything from email hacking to the history of machine learning.

At PCMA Convening Leaders 2014, Mason will encourage meeting professionals to think differently when it comes to data, and discuss ways to mine and analyze information to advance their conferences and careers. “I’m a data optimist,” Mason recently told Convene, “in that I think there’s a huge amount of potential for all businesses that we still have yet to explore with data.”

Are there basic ways in which all professionals should be thinking about data?

It’s hard to answer that question without context. Over the last five years, a huge amount of data has become available. It’s suddenly cheaper to keep data than it is to throw it away. It’s a very simple technical change that’s gotten us into a situation I don’t think anyone expected, where businesses and professionals now have access to a huge amount of data, but don’t necessarily yet have the tools or processes or organization to really make use of it optimally. So the way professionals today in 2013 should be thinking about data is, when you’re trying to make a decision where you think the data might be able to guide or inform the decision you make, make sure you have access to and understand the data that’s available to you.

You are the co-organizer of DataGotham, an annual conference in New York City for data professionals. Where did the idea for the event come from? How has it evolved?

I’ve run an informal, semi-private group of data practitioners in New York for about four years, where we meet up for beers every couple of months. I started doing that because when I started at Bitly, I was the only data person at my company and I was sort of lonely, so I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if other people in the same situation could get together and talk with people who do the same sort of thing? Over the years, [attendance has] grown; it’s now over 300 people.

We wanted to create an event with two goals, and the first goal is to help people who care about data in New York connect with each other, and lots of relationships and jobs have come out of that. The second goal was to make a point to the rest of the world that if you want to do or see this kind of interesting work with data, it’s here in New York.


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