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Community, academy and forum
come together to enhance
analytics experiences

23 / 09 / 2016

Community, academy and forum come together to enhance analytics experiences

As preparations for SAS Forum gets underway, Philippe van Impe, co-chair of the 'Boost your analytical experience track' popped in to the SAS Brussels office to plan for the session. We indulged in a broader discussion about the analytics landscape and the data science community.

IV: Congratulations on the recent launch of the Data Science Academy. We are of course delighted to support this initiative. What do you believe to be the unique features of this academy?

PvI: What makes us different is that we focus on practical, hands-on training like our September bootcamp. We’re really excited about this. The bootcamp is running for two days every week for 12 weeks, and the students will be working on business cases and projects, and learning from both instructors and fellow data scientists in a very hands-on way. The idea is to develop the students into all-round data scientists able to work confidently and competently on really challenging data issues. We had 130 applications for this first bootcamp, with 30 places at our summer programming camp on offer.

IV: How do the community and academy co-exist? 

PvI: The community is structured in a non-profit way, and is sponsored by some of the large organizations in Belgium, including of course support from SAS. It has over 2,000 members, and their motivation is very much learning and sharing. It would be fair to say that it is still very much for the benefit of the members, rather than their employers, at this stage. The academy, on the other hand, is a commercial activity. It has a professional manager, and she has commercial, profit and loss, responsibilities. We see the academy as a professional training center, even if it provides opportunities for community members.

IV: The Data Science Community has come a long way since you started in 2014. What are your priorities these days? 

PvI: They are actually the same as when we started! We aim to empower academics and professionals to apply data science to address what we think of as humanity’s ‘grand challenges’. In practice, our activities focus on bridging the gap between what businesses need, and what academia has to offer. It’s very much a practical approach, with lots of knowledge- and information-sharing encouraged. We also have a program called Data 4 Good, where our members offer their support to NGOs and public institutions on a pro bono basis, to help them get best value out of their data. Our guess where our priorities have changed is that we now have plans for geographic expansion. Initially, we worked mainly in Brussels, but we now have a team in Ghent, and last week we opened a new office in Antwerp with another team.

IV: What has changed now that you have two years of history and track record under your belt? 

PvI: When we started in 2014, we had a real struggle to get hold of data. We wanted to be as hands-on as possible, but it was hard to get datasets. That’s why we started Data 4 Good, so that we had some real data to work with. The biggest difference now is that our growing reputation means that companies are much more willing to provide datasets for our hackathons and for the bootcamp. We have become much more confident in our professionalism, and how we handle data, and that shows in the trust that is placed in us.

IV: How do you find partners? 

PvI: They find us! We don’t really do much marketing, and potential partners tend to approach us. Sometimes they get involved through our hackathons, and we’re happy to work with anyone as long as they are not in direct competition with any of our existing partners. That would give us a problem, so we have to be careful about that.

We find it easy to work with SAS because our vision is aligned - to share knowledge, and in a way that fits very well with the community’s aims and mission. SAS also has an academy with a formal certification program named SCYP (SAS Certified Young Potentials), and shares the same objectives of addressing a real skills shortage in data science. It’s a good match.

IV: We are looking forward to your co-chairing the analytics experience track and your panel. What can the audience expect? 

PvI: I’m really looking forward to that! The track will have a very practical focus, with lots of tips and tricks, and will encourage attendees to share ideas. And last year’s mini-hackathon was so successful that we are going to organize another. Over lunch, I will also be facilitating a panel discussion about the new role of the Chief Data Officer. The speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, including a big Belgian bank, a retailer, Carrefour, and a consultancy, Deloitte, so we’re hoping for a lively discussion. This kind of event is great, because it gives us a chance to reach members, especially those that we are not actively in touch with. It’s also helpful to be able to position our training events.

Ivy - needs a closing call to action para - ideally painting to the community, academy and forum.

IV: Thanks for the talk Philippe, and together we are looking forward to hosting another successful track at the SAS Belux Forum. For those who aren’t registered yet and want to boost their analytical experience by attending presentations from Shell, Barco, Direct Pay, Carlo Ratti and more, you’re most welcome to register here

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