How to Master Data — 2018 Review of the Masters of Data Podcast

As this podcast has been gaining listeners, I get the same question - where do I start listening? I’m really happy to say that we have over 25 awesome interviews and counting. And I totally understand how it is daunting to know where to start. What I wanted to do here is walk through some major themes of the year and help you find the ones most interesting to you.

So let’s get going. Over the course of the year, there were several key themes that came out, and I will walk you through the key interviews for each one!

  • Bringing the human to technology
  • The rise of the polymath
  • Data bias
  • Data Trust
  • Data Privacy
  • Making decisions with data
  • Using data in real-world scenarios
  • Anything can be measured
  • Moving from Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Wisdom

Bringing the Human to Technology

The interview that really defined the year for me was my interview with Christian Madsbjerg. First off, Christian is just a fantastic guy. He’s the founder of ReD Associates out of New York. And he wrote this fantastic book called Sensemaking. This book comes up in about every other interview I do because it’s basically a treatise about why technology needs to learn from the humanities — and that is the basis for a lot of the interviews we do for this show. Christian basically provided the philosophical foundation for MoD.

The flip side of that was finding a company that actually lives with a foot in both worlds — sparks & honey. Terry Young, the founder and CEO, talked to me about measuring culture. Terry and his team have put together this amazing piece of data analytics technology — the system called Q — that uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning to uncover signals in our culture and use them to help their clients understand their customers.

Sarah DaVanzo — Chief Curiosity Officer at L’oreal Paris

The Rise of the Polymath

Another great part of that interview as well is that led me to one of the former people at sparks & honey who is now the Chief Curiosity Officer L’Oreal Paris. Sarah DaVanzo. Sarah has a compelling and unique perspective. In particular, she’s the one that that got me thinking around this idea of what I call a polymath. She was making a case for curiosity — the need to explore. She spoke in our interview about what she calls the “meh-pedemic” of America. Over a third of Americans are passionately curious about … nothing. They really have nothing that they are truly curious about. And that’s kind of scary, right? And so she talks about the need to encourage curiosity and exploration.

Data Bias

One of the biggest themes of the entire year was that of data bias, as are the algorithms using the data — because the people actually building the algorithms are biased (usually unintentionally so).

Christian Beedgen, the CTO at Sumo logic, was the one that started me in this direction by suggesting books to read. He gave a great overview of the subject in his interview. He’s a great storyteller and he did a very good job of introducing the topic — including one Christian Madsbjerg’s book, as well as Cathy O’Neil.

Cathy O’Neil definitely has the best book title that I’ve heard so far — “Weapons of Math Destruction”. Cathy has a really distinct perspective around what algorithms do to our society. They are often poorly written and not well thought out, with little consideration given to the unintended consequences. Cathy has had a huge impact, and it’s a really great book to read.

Virginia Eubanks

Now, on the flip side of that coin, I got to talk to Virginia Eubanks, who’s a Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. And she’s also the author of a great book called “Automating Inequality”. This is a great book to read alongside Cathy’s book. While Cathy, a data scientist, understands the math of it, the computer science of it, and the social impact of it - I’d say that for Virginia Eubanks is coming more from the human side, more from the social science side. And so she brings a different perspective to the same set of problems. And she focuses very much on how algorithms affect the poor and the disadvantaged — particularly around social safety net.

Matt Ballantine — Founder of Stamp and Host of WB40

Making Decisions with Data

This definitely comes up when talking about data bias — how to make decisions in the workplace — in business. One of those interviews was with Matt Ballantine, who’s the founder of Stamp over in the United Kingdom — even better, he’s another podcaster with the podcast WB40. And we talked about a lot of different things. One of the things that really stuck with me was the fact that good business decisions are influenced by data, but are still based on instinct — from the gut. In particular, you have to make a lot of decisions based on incomplete data — so experience and instinct matter.

Another great interview was with Roberto Rigabon — who is a Professor of Applied Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Business. I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in an interview so far. And he has some really great perspectives as well. One of the things he talks about is whether you actually measure ethical behavior. And if you can, how can you actually use that to change behavior within a company? If you can measure ethics, you can measure what’s going on in the business — and maybe change things for the better. Now, this leads to our next section…

Jason Cohen — Master of Flavor and CEO of Analytical Flavor Systems

You can measure anything

I actually got to meet Jason Cohen in New York and interviewed him a little later. He is the CEO and Founder of Analytical Flavor Systems. Basically, his company is using machine learning and AI to analyze data about flavor — being able to measure and predict responses to flavors in order to make better food products.

Now, another thing that you can measure is climate change. So I got to interview Dr. Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, Emeritus, who’s at Berkeley. He actually started the Berkeley Earth project after going from climate skeptic to climate hero. He is an amazingly smart person with a long and interesting career in physics and now in climate science. He really gives a compelling perspective about how you should measure things, apply appropriate data science best practices, and use scientific thinking to reach better conclusions.

You can also measure politics. Personally, I am a politics junkie. I had the great honor of interviewing two very interesting people around politics. First, Carin Robinson, who’s a professor of political science at Hood College in Maryland. She talked a lot about how campaigns and politicians use data as part of their process of trying to get elected, how they actually think about their constituents, and how they reach those they can persuade.

David Shor, Head of Political Data Science, Civis Analytics

And we followed that up a little later in the year with David Shor right before the midterm elections. He is the head of political data science at Civis Analytics. He’s an Obama 2012 campaign alum. So we talked a little bit about what he went through on that campaign and how he’s been applying those learnings as part of what he does now, and how things are changing in the world of politics.

Bill Burns, Chief Trust Officer, Informatica

Trust and Data Privacy

Now to take a completely different turn. Another big topic of the year was around trust and data privacy. I got the chance to interview a lot of really interesting people about how you actually think about trust in the real world and in real companies. The first interview I published was with Bill Burns, who is the Chief Trust Officer at Informatica. He also had a previous stint at Netflix and did a lot of interesting things before that — so he’s had a bird’s eye view of security in the modern internet age.

One interview was with our own Chief Security Officer at Sumo logic, George Gerchow. He gave us a good idea of you know what it means to be a chief security officer. And we also talked a little bit about GDPR, the data privacy regulations that came out of Europe.

This also led me to another interview (in a quest to get the European perspective) with a fantastic guy named Bill Mew who is a thought leader around data privacy and GDPR in the United Kingdom. He has a studied viewpoint what GDPR and data privacy means in Europe. And I definitely encourage you to listen to both of those interviews with George and Bill. And we will be hearing more from them in the new year. So look forward to that.

Scott Vlaminck, Co-Founder and VP Engineer, Samsung SmartThings

Applied Data Mastery

Now, I also got the chance to talk to some people in the industry. So one of the really fun interviews was with Scott Vlaminck, who is a co-founder of Samsung SmartThings. We talked a lot about what it was like to start his company and why they started it. But one of the interesting things to come out of that interview was the idea about trust. SmartThings have the Smart Home hubs and other devices that live in your home. Think about what that means from a consumer trust perspective that they have devices that are in your safe space. It was fascinating to see how Scott and his fellow co-founders built that trust and the things they’ve done to maintain it.

Also got to talk to John Visneski at Pokemon. He’s the Director of Information Security and Data Protection Officer there. He came from a completely different viewpoint of not just devices but thinking about who’s interacting with your data your products. In the case of Pokemon, there are fans of Pokemon across all ages, and particularly children. So how do you think about data privacy and trust when some of your main customers and fans are children and their parents are trusting you with their children’s data.

I also got the chance to talk to Sarah Guo, who is a partner at the Venture Capital firm Greylock. When we talked to Sarah, we got to talk a little bit more about what data privacy and data trust mean early on in a company’s development. Sarah has helped many startups and mentored them through that minefield.

Chris Dancy — The most connected man on Earth

Now for the data privacy perspective, we also got a chance to hear completely different perspectives as well, not just from the corporate world. Chris Dancy is known as the “Most Connected Man on Earth”. He has a different view on data privacy. From his perspective, he sees it as more of a personal issue and the lack of privacy as the reality of this is the world we live in. He says you need to be comfortable with that. His new book, “Don’t Unplug” argues that there is a way forward in this new age of data non-privacy.

Another person at Christian Madsbjerg’s company the ReD Associates was Bill Welser. He has broad experience around technology and artificial intelligence. He talks a lot about how artificial intelligence’s impact on technology and how to think about it appropriately. He also worked on Dinosaur Train, which is, you know, really the most important thing in my book.

Now, I also had the great honor of interviewing Yoon Lee, who is the SVP and Division Head of Content and Services and Product Innovation at Samsung Electronics America. He’s the one who actually started the innovation office here in Silicon Valley in California for Samsung, It was really interesting to hear how his thinking has evolved and changed over time as he’s been leading innovation at Samsung and thinking about how to get to the kind of the next generation devices and apps. He is thinking about how will we will interact with our devices and how you make the things that people really need. And in particular, he coined this term which I love about changing from artificial intelligence to artificial wisdom.

Now I also got to talk some other great thought leaders that were thinking about real-world applications. Alistair Croll is a serial entrepreneur and a thought leader that I’ve been following for a very long time. Alistair is got his hands in a lot of different things. He’s thinking it both from the application of data analytics to startups to using it to improve the government.

Linda Holliday, Founder and CEO of Citia

I also got to talk to Karthik Krishnamurthy who is a senior vice president at Cognizant. Karthik drives a lot of the strategy around analytics at Cognizant, and is particularly interested in bringing the art of storytelling to analytics. I got to talk to Linda Holliday who is the founder and CEO of Citia that does work around content management and placing content in new and interesting ways. Linda in her own right is is a very interesting person. She’s really what I would call a living example of the polymath did I discussed before this has her hands in both Design and Technology.

So as you can see we have got a lot of different really interesting interviews with a lot of interesting people. You can take your pick and find the ones that are most interesting to you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions. I would love to hear your feedback. Happy 2019 and happy listening!