The Unexpected Non-Virtualness of the ODSC East 2020 Virtual Conference The Unexpected Non-Virtualness of the ODSC East 2020 Virtual Conference
Due to the social distancing mandate from the U.S. federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that... The Unexpected Non-Virtualness of the ODSC East 2020 Virtual Conference

Due to the social distancing mandate from the U.S. federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that ODSC East 2020 evolved into ODSC East 2020, Virtual Conference, taking place completely online. What registrants could expect a physical conference reincarnated as a virtual one would be like was anyone’s guess. Having spent no virtual time in a virtual conference myself, I speculated it would at least involve a lot of cumbersome links to talks that would invariably start with way too much time spent troubleshooting the maddeningly routine AV issues that burden such virtual spaces. Let it surprise you that, on the inaugural day of the Virtual version of ODSC East 2020, this never happened.

[Related article: Recapping the First of its Kind: The ODSC East 2020 Virtual Conference]

In fact, I was charmed by how physical, how spatial, how somewhat normal it felt to navigate the digital conference space. It turns out that the user experience of the virtual conference was built custom for ODSC such that it would evoke exactly that: the feeling that one is actually walking from the actual parking lot into the actual Expo Center’s lobby filled with peers talking about recent work, or that one can actually go receive one’s obligatory swag bag and then wander around the actual Auditorium or mingle in the actual Networking Lounge, Career Hall, Expo Hall, or Training Areas. You can even stop at the Info Desk manned by two ODSC staffers smartly sporting uncomfortable-looking suits & standing between two huge FAQ banners beside a too small TV no doubt broadcasting the Conference Agenda in too small text.

This was ODSC alright. 

And format aside, the conference delivered on their promise: to provide the sort of high-quality content you’d expect from the makers who claim to put on our field’s leading conference. 

For example:

  • Technical subject matter experts shared expertise on technical subject matter: 
    • Like how Dr. Kirk Borne threaded a through-line between seemingly disparate tasks of predicting hurricane severity and mining product associations with market basket analysis. 
    • Like How to Stop Worrying and Embrace AI Bias, starting with what DataRobot Data Scientist & author of python’s pic2vec Jet Oristaglio calls “Step 0”: data scientists from every corner & company need-need-need to first determine if it’s possible for their model to be biased. I personally liked how he challenged the common narrative about how biased AI spells doom for humanity and instead argues that biased AI presents the opportunity to correct systems that are biased because we’re biased. 
  • You got to hear from AI business leaders and entrepreneurs at the AI Business Summit & learn more about perspectives from management.
    • Like Mike Segala, CEO and co-founder of SFL Scientific, a data science consulting firm that specializes in big data solutions
    • Like another thoughtful perspective on how to build a happy, productive data science team, with advice drawn from The Office’s Michael Scott. (Hint: lower your expectations, try everything to engage your team, even at the risk of looking (very) silly, to find the few tactics that jive with your team’s particular blend of personalities.)

The only thing I missed about this year’s conference was traveling to Boston, catching up with friends, & staying in a hotel. But for that, there’s always West 2020, provided we’re socially undistanced by then.

[Related article: ODSC Virtual Conference COVID-19 Data Science Videos Available to Watch for Free]

If you’ve ever been to an ODSC Conference, you know your problem isn’t a shortage of things to learn or people to talk to. It’s that you can’t see two interesting talks at once, and ODSC East 2020, the Virtual Conference, was no exception.

Editor’s note: All ODSC East 2020 Virtual Conference tickets are available on-demand! Get them here. Tickets are also on sale for the ODSC Europe 2020 Virtual Conference this September 17th-19th.

Brandon Dey, ODSC

Brandon is a Consulting Data Scientist at Avanade, the joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, in Portland, Oregon. Outside of work, he wonders if he's actually fooling anyone by referring to himself in the third person. Plus, he likes backpacking, long distance trail running, aerial photography, writing creative non-fiction, and attempting to write short stories with characters suspiciously similar to himself...