Why non-tech people make data better

On the home page of DataCharrette.org, I mention that our event is unusual in that we specifically designed it to welcome non-technical people in addition to data specialists. There are several reasons for this, but it relates to my favorite explanation of what data scientists do.

In response to the Quora question “What does a data scientist do? Can you become one without being hired as one?” Steve Andrews give this excellent description:

  1. Clean data.
  2. Clean data.
  3. Clean data.
  4. Clean data.
  5. Clean data.
  6. Clean data.
  7. Clean data.
  8. Clean data.
  9. Clean data.
  10. Clean data.
  11. Clean data.
  12. Clean data.
  13. Do some math.
  14. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  15. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  16. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  17. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  18. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  19. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  20. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  21. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  22. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  23. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  24. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  25. Try to get everyone to understand my findings.
  26. Repeat.

The point of this is that the technical part of data science, in many cases, constitutes only a small fraction of the work involved. Steps 1-12 (“clean data”) can be done by people with even limited technical training (and, at the charrette, it’s usually done in Google Sheets). Step 13, “do some math,” requires technical training. Steps 14-25 (“Try to get everyone to understand my findings”) can often be done marvelously by non-technical people, once they have consulted with the person who did step 13. In fact, it’s often done better by the non-tech people. But, regardless, it makes it clear that there’s room for everyone in the data world, and certainly at the Data Charrette.


Announcing the Spring 2017 Charrette!

We’re thrilled to announce that for the spring 2017 Data Charrette, we will be partnering with two outstanding, Salt Lake City nonprofits:

  • Utah Pride Center, which exists to support a thriving LGBTQ+ community in Utah.
  • Spy Hop, a nationally-recognized program for youth media programming.

Thanks to our partner, datalab.cc, everybody who registers for the charrette will receive free access to their video courses on data science, R, SPSS, survey design, and data visualization.

The spring 2017 edition of the Data Charrette will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22. Thanks to our friends at V School, we’ll be able to share their space at 150 S State Street in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City. (They are located on the third floor of the Impact Hub co-working space.) And thanks to a generous grant from the Office of Engaged Learning at UVU, participation will be free. Lunch, snacks, and drinks will also be provided. And, in a tradition with our earlier charrettes, we will give away two iPad minis, one on each day! This is a bring-your-own-gear event, so make sure you have your laptops and your favorite software. And don’t forget to bring your insight and enthusiasm!

The Details

Location: V School, on the third floor of Impact Hub, 150 S State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. (Click here for a map.)

Days & Times: Friday, 21 April 2017, from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM, and Saturday, 22 April 2016, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. You can come one day or both days, and you come and go as you please. We’re happy to have you there in any capacity.

Food: Free lunch, snacks, and drinks, thanks to UVU and V School!

The Ukrainian Data Egg: To Be Revealed!

We have some excellent swag for the Utah Data Dive but perhaps the most interesting will be a custom, handmade, data-themed Ukrainian Easter Egg by Lehi artist Rynna Poulson (here she is on Etsy). We figure it will be a simple variation on all those other Ukrainian data eggs… oh, wait, it’s a category of one. This will be available as a raffle prize on Saturday afternoon – as it is still being created – but it should be wonderful. Photos will be posted upon arrival.

While we’re at it, the Utah Data Dive is getting a standard chicken egg, but Rynna has offered to create a Ukrainian Big Data Egg… on an ostrich egg, of course. Contact Rynna via her Etsy page, Ukrainian Eggs Etc. A must have for any serious data egg-head! (You knew that was coming.)

Official Utah Data Dive Theme Song

In lieu of doing something truly useful for the upcoming Utah Data Dive – although I did get the tables, power, and wifi arranged this morning, which is good – I have chosen an official Theme Song for the event. I’m not actually going to tell you what it is but I will let you know that it’s in a one-song playlist on Spotify and you can get to it here. (I believe you have to have a Spotify account to hear it, but I really don’t know how these things work. And, to head off any complaints about Spotify exploiting artists, I will mention that I have FIVE paid accounts to Spotify, so I’ve paid my part. You should, too.)

By the way, I’m also in the process of creating a public playlist for data dive songs that other Spotify users can add to. Get your geek on!

Enjoy and I’ll see you this weekend!


The beat to the still-incognito Official Utah Data Dive Theme Song was liberally borrowed from its creators and made popular in the US by Afrika Bambaataa in his song “Planet Rock.” This poster by Rob Ricketts is a depiction of the programming for the Roland TR-808 drum machine that creates the beat. It’s also an excellent visualization of musical data.

Planet Rock - Afrika Bambaataa - 808 Pattern 1

More food, more swag

I felt very optimistic when I decided that maybe 50 people would come to the Utah Data Dive, so that’s what I wrote the grant for. But now we’re still over two weeks away and we have nearly 60 people registered, with perhaps another 40 who will show up without registering. As a result, we have had to do some financial gymnastics but we’re going to make sure to have food and t-shirts for 100 people! (And silly raffle prizes!) So don’t hesitate to come down!

From the Hill Pedagogy Lab

My wonderful colleague Jessi Hill and superstar undergraduate collaborator David Anderson have posted a great entry about the Utah Data Dive on her site Hill Pedagogy Lab. Here’s an excerpt:

What is a Data Dive?

Sadly, it has nothing to do with Star Trek or scuba diving. Rather, a data dive is a type of service project that helps local non-profit organizations understand and use their data. Data can be very helpful in making important decisions, but most people at these organizations don’t know how to work with data. The data that organizations have is so large that it requires special skills to work with, or the data might be in a strange format that isn’t conducive to the standard row and column spread sheet.

Many non-profits find that they fall in the latter of the two categories of this predicament. The data dive provides a solution to these problems. We simply put a whole bunch of nerds in a room with computers and food for 48 hours and they analyze, interpreter, and visualize the data. Now I know what you’re thinking “I don’t have any special skills to work with big data, and I hated my statistics course”. You still have a few different options on how to help out.

So take a look at the full article. Hopefully that will get you all fired up and we’ll see you at the end of March!

We’re scheduled and advertising!

After a few starts and stops due to room availability, the Utah Data Dive is now officially scheduled and invitations are going out. (It turned out that I was not able to get one room for two days anywhere on campus. Nor, for that matter, could I find one anywhere in Utah County that cost less than a $1000, when the budget for space was exactly $0.)

The important information, as shown on the front page, is this:

  • Location: Utah Valley University, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem UT 84058 [interactive map]
  • Friday, 27 March 2015: 9am – 7pm in room 206 of the Sorensen Student Center [complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks]
  • Saturday, 28 March 2015: 9am – 4pm in room 101 of the Liberal Arts Building [complimentary breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks]

We’re still working on a number of other details but it’s all under way! And, given the difficulty in getting the space, we’ve already started looking at the schedules for fall of 2015 and spring of 2016 for the next iteration of this event, which may or may not be at Utah Valley University. If you’re interested in having it at your school, please let me know! Email Bart at UtahDataDive@gmail.com.