This article appeared in the Fall 2016-Spring 2017 Bryn Mawr Math Alumnae Newsletter.
According to the conference website, “WiDS inspires and educates data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and supports women in the field." An impressive slate of speakers offered encouragement and advice to those in attendance.
Diane Greene, senior vice president at Google Cloud, shared her experience of doing what excited her, and not worrying about where it would lead. After getting her master's degree in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, she worked as a software engineer, and started VMware with her husband and graduate students. Greene talked about how she got into racing and sailing, from which she learned to constantly optimize decisions. She also discussed how data science uses optimization: machine learning for financial services is optimization for money, while analytics in health is optimization for a better world. She used the example of Airbus, which utilizes satellites data, to argue that machine learning has become better than people ever predicted. At the end of her talk, she encouraged people to try new things because they are more likely to succeed if they are less preoccupied with stuff going wrong.
Executive Director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group Megan Price also spoke at the conference. She showed how data science is increasingly important for humanitarian organizations, especially those working in conflict-driven areas. As an example, she described her work documenting deaths in Syria. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights sponsored this project because it was hard to analyze the datasets available to get the results they wanted.
In addition to engaging streamed talks, the Philadelphia satellite conference also featured a live career panel. Nicole McCabe, global head of gender equality for SAP, talked about her role at the company and what attracted her to data science. Sue Metzger, instructor of accountancy and information systems at Villanova University, encouraged students to be willing to take risks in their professional life. SAP Senior Data Scientist Patricia Tillotson talked about some interesting projects she has done. And Chelsea Crawford, a preSale solution engineer at SAP, talked about her experience serving as a bridge between clients and scientists.
The day before the conference, Tillotson visited Bryn Mawr. She spoke about what data science is, how to prepare for a career in the field, and the exciting life of a data science professional. She discussed how data science is used to optimize pizza delivery, monitor heart health, and conduct server load prediction. She offered valuable suggestions to students considering the field, such as building a solid foundation in statistics, programming languages, machine learning, and more. A lively question and answer session followed the presentation. One student asked Tillotson about the most interesting case she had ever worked on, and she recalled a project for which she advised farms on whether or not to plant certain crops.
Overall the data science immersion weekend was informative, and students learned a lot. The authors of this article hope that Bryn Mawr College will continue to participate and support events like this in the future.