Last week I had a great trip to Silicon Valley where I met a number of people with similar interests. It was a trip where I was able to see a lot of interesting dynamics around technology and how people interact with technologies.
My main reason for the trip is that, my team donated a data set to a machine learning and visualization competition. Since it was my team, I get to be the guy who goes to the event. My lead data scientist lives in the Bay Area and he was the one who arranged this. I agreed to do this because I learned that real world data sets are hard to come by. Few companies give out real data sets. I happened to have one without any real customer data in it. It was a lot of clickstream data designed to make recommendations to a customer even if we had no identifiable information about that person. This data was perfect for a data set to give to the public.
I also gave this set because, as a team and company that wants to be a technology company, I felt it was important to give to the community we need to interact with. We didn’t do it for the PR or to get free work done, we did it because that was our way of giving back to a community that has helped me and my team in the early days of growing.
United airlines kept their perfect record of never getting me to my destination on time. I was suppose to arrive Thursday night at 8pm, it was more like midnight. I then had to get a rental car and drive down to San Jose, so for me it felt like 3am by the time I was in bed. However, the next two days made up for it.
I was able to meet people from venture funds, start ups, universities and well known companies. The conversations were great and I enjoyed them all. I learned a lot, some things I didn’t know, some reaffirming what I believed and some where me showing them a few new tricks. The thing that surprised me the most was, a lot of people are technically smart, but relating to the customer experience outside the valley, some of them fell short.
I was a part of a discussion of various product managers helping a start up to marketing their products. These other managers all talked about decision trees and algorithms to connect with the customers. Although important, things like emotional branding and neuromarketing, were foreign concepts to these managers. I found this interesting because it’s second nature for me. It’s almost like, why wouldn’t you think of that!
The competition was a great success, people kept thanking me all day for the data set. The positive response was more than I expected. Random people kept coming up to me and thanking me for the data set. I also met the winners who came from all over the world, places as far away as Russia and China. I would highly recommend doing this for any company.
I also enjoyed learning how companies like eBay are testing out concepts or Netflix. The fact that the CEO of Netflix looks at the research data every week, I like hearing that. Companies are becoming more data driven and if someone isn’t focused on being data driven at the top, chances are they won’t be around in a few years.
Up next, a few conferences in Minneapolis and then off to the Strata and Hadoop World summit all next week. Strata is sold out so I am looking forward to this. When I read the attendee list, it was a varied list of people, I look forward to it!