Reaching out to the Community with BDU Meetups
As I prepare my bags for my trip to DC to launch our first BDU (BDU) meetup in the US, I couldn’t be happier to report the excellent attendance and interest we’ve received in BDU meetups we ran last week in four cities in Canada: Vancouver (~365 people), Toronto (~80 people), Ottawa (~80 people), and Montreal (~50 people).
Our Toronto BDU meetup was started in April 2014; today it has more than 3,200 members. We are currently running two BDU meetups per week until December — a very aggressive schedule — but attendance has been amazing. Two hours is typically not enough to cover a given topic, so in addition to providing links to all presentations, resources, and code; we also provide links to related BDU courses. We are also recording all of our events, so if you’d like to watch a replay, simply go to bigdatauniversity.com/events.
Early in the game we realized we could not satisfy audiences of different skill level. Therefore we decided to run on Tuesdays Data Science topics for beginners, and on Thursdays Data Science topics for a more intermediate/advanced crowd.
Partnering with local universities, we were able to find ideal venues that are easily accessible to attendees. On Tuesdays, our BDU meetups are at the University of Toronto (thanks to UofT continuing studies), and on Thursdays, we run our meetups at Ryerson University (thanks to Ryerson – RC4 and LaunchZone!) With Ryerson University we are also organizing a Social Media for Social change competition, and SportsHack 2015 (another blog post about this is coming). We are also collaborating with Ryerson University professor Dr. Murtaza Haider, author of the book “Getting started with Data Science“.
We’ve involved the community in Toronto to present at our meetups. For example, Martin Magdinier presented about OpenRefine and Armando Benitez presented about Machine Learning – Prediction with Artificial Neural Networks in the past; excellent community presenters. We’ve even gotten sponsorship every now and then from Panago pizza (excellent pizza!)
Using a cloud-based tool called Data Scientist Workbench (DSWB) we are able to have the attendees up and running in no time and learning hands-on the given subject (be it through Python, R, or Scala) without bothering to install anything. For all of our meetups except the very first one (which is the inaugural one) we ask attendees to bring their laptop so they follow the presenter with hands-on exercises. People love this!
With the success in Toronto, we decided to try things in other cities where we could find similar characteristics as in Toronto. On November 3rd we ran our first BDU meetup in Montreal. As mentioned earlier, we got 50 people to attend which was definitely great for an inaugural meetup.
Dr. Haider who is also an adjunct professor at McGill University in Montreal travelled to Montreal that day (for other reasons), but also helped us support the event which started with an interview-style presentation about “Getting started with Data Science”, followed by a demo about Watson Analytics, and then another demo of DSWB by Saeed Aghabozorgi.
The idea was to introduce ourselves in our first meetup and to present topics that would be of appeal to all skill levels. Starting a new community in a new city can be a challenge, and after the Montreal event we were notified another meetup about Big Data was happening the same day. That was unfortunate and we will be more careful next time, as we strive to build a community and collaborate with other meetups in town. Though we cannot get to know the entire community in one single meetup, we did meet key community members who would like to be our local “BDU ambassadors”. We will work with them and we encourage other community members to contact us if interested.
That same day in Toronto, we ran a workshop about Watson Analytics at UofT; this was our usual Tuesday meetup. And finally in Vancouver, we run that same night a BDU meetup at UBC. Partnering with Tony Hui from DataSense we run a panel about Data Science with local data scientists and also other presentations about Watson, Watson Analytics, and DSWB by Polong Lin and Karen Mott. This meetup was probably the largest we’ve had (or close to one we had in Toronto in September) with about 250 people attending as you can see in the picture below by Tony Hui.
Given that Polong had travelled from Toronto to Vancouver to support the meetup, we took advantage of his presence to also run another meetup on Nov 4th at Launch Academy with a smaller (but interesting) crowd of about 35 people, and then another meetup at SFU on Nov 5th with a very passionate crowd of attendees (about 80).
That same night on Nov 5th, we run our first meetup in Ottawa with another 80 people. It was our first meetup in Ottawa and we held it at HubOttawa. We repeated the same format we had used in Montreal, but this time, we held our interview-style presentation with Dr. Haider via Skype. Surprisingly, it worked very well.
We did have similar challenges in Ottawa as in Montreal were some people didn’t feel the content was appropriate to their needs. This was our first meetup and we understand one size doesn’t fit all. What has worked well in Toronto will need adjustments in other cities; nonetheless, we got more encouraging comments than negative ones. With no fear of failure, I think we are moving in the right direction!
And speaking of moving in the right direction, in our BDU meetups we don’t just want you to learn about data science, but invite you to apply your new skills towards social good. At BDU we are aligning as much of the things we do with the UN Global Goals for sustainable development.
In addition to the people I’ve already mentioned (who we very much thank), I’d also like to give thanks to the rest of the team involved in coordinating all of these activities (I hope I didn’t miss anyone):
- In Toronto: Grace Barker, Leo Wu, Teresa Sing, Katya Katsnelson, Leon Katsnelson
- In Vancouver: Antonio Cangiano, Lighthouse Labs, and SFU (Venture Labs)
- In Ottawa: Ana-Rita Silva
- In Montreal: Zak Patterson (Concordia Professor in Montreal)
- Watson Analytics Team: Randy Messina, Khush Gill
Wish us luck in DC!