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[music] Welcome to Alter Everything: A podcast about data and analytics culture. I'm Brian Oblinger and I'll be your host. We're joined today by Heather Harris and Tara McCoy to discuss building a culture of analytics in an organization and the impact that women can have on the industry. Let's get right into it.
Hi, Heather. Hi, Tara. Thanks for joining us.
Great day in sunny California [laughter].
It is quite nice. How's Colorado, Tara?
It's cold. It's very cold [laughter]. It's snowing.
We'll send you some sunshine if you want it, but you might not want it.
Well, I just came from California and it was cold there too. But I guess it's nicer today.
You left and it warmed up. I'm sorry.
It's all relative. I left snow on the ground this morning in Seattle [laughter].
Excellent. All right. Well, thanks for joining us. Let's do a little roundtable introduction here. So let's start with you, Heather. Maybe a little bit about kind of where you come from, what you do and how you fit into the analytics picture here.
All right. That sounds great, Brian. So I'm Heather Harris. I'm a solutions architect and data scientist for Alaska Airlines. And so I lead analytics technology deployments around the airline. So that includes Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air as well as Virgin America.
Great. And what about you Tara?
I'm Tara McCoy and I'm the creative director here at Alteryx and I've been at Alteryx for 13 years now and held a lot of different jobs and positions here. But currently, I am in the marketing organization here, and I'm focused on bringing our brand to the masses and trying to institute Alteryx equaling analytics. That is our number one goal here. So I'm all about the brand, all about getting people to love our products and experience the thrill inherent in solving problems.
I think one thing that I sort of pick up hearing you both do your intros that I'd like to maybe dig into for a few minutes is there's really interesting kind of plots and subplots, right, about the path that you took to get to where you are today. And I'd kind of like to hear maybe the backstory from each of you of how did you find your way into analytics after you came from kind of different background? So, Heather, maybe we'll start with you on that one.
Sure. So my undergraduate degree was in electrical and computer engineering, and I went into Silicon Valley right out of my undergraduate program and I worked in the computer chip industry actually for 20 years. And I always worked on emerging technologies. And after a period of time, I felt that the innovation was starting to level off, and I really wanted something different. And when I first went to college I did all of those entrance tests - what are you good at, what should you do with your life - and it always came up as actuary. And I thought to myself, "Okay. Just shoot me now. That just does not sound interesting to me at all." Despite being quite technical, I'm very social and just love working with people and being around people and just thought just sitting with numbers all the time would not work for me. However, as big data started emerging and compute power became more powerful and all the enablers really started happening that brought us to where we are today with big data and machine learning and data science, I felt like my worlds started colliding. My love of math, my passion with numbers, my computer background, my coding background, as well as just going after really fun problems. And so I went back for a mid-career master's in data science and information management and that's how I ended up where I am today. What I do find is about 15 years in the semiconductor industry we were actually at a similar place where a lot of different companies were deploying technologies and we had to bring disparate technologies together in these very sophisticated workflows moving large scale data to design computer chips. And so I feel like the data industry is sort of in that same space where there are a lot of competitors, a lot of people trying to get into the space and really trying to optimize the deployments of how we solve problems for this space. So it's been really fun applying my systems-level thinking to the data space.
Wow! That's great. What about you, Tara?
So my degree is in conservation biology. So as part of that curriculum, I had to do a lot of math, and science, and chemistry, statistics and enjoyed it. I couldn't get a job as a biologist out of college. So I went back to school for GIS and I knew very little about what GIS was when I chose to go back to school for it. But from the first class, I just fell in love. Mapping just really was a great way for me to bridge this creative side of me as well as this analytical side of me. And I became a cartographer which was probably the best-suited job I probably could have ever had for my talents and interests. And that's where I fell in love with actually data and problem-solving. And I was working on a project where I needed demographic data and I bought a little CD from the US Census Bureau. This was back in 2000. And just this $50 CD - it was crazy - I put it in my computer and it extracted hundreds of variables for thousands of geographies in no time flat and I just was amazed. And I reached out to the company that was on the CD ROM and that's where I met Dean Stoker. And I just was blown away by the technology of SRC. So I came in as the product manager for a software product that was in its very early prototypical stages and that actually became Alteryx.
So I was the initial product manager for Alteryx from 1.0 and I started designing the icons and writing the help and doing the samples and quickly got into setting up our QA infrastructure with regression tests and everything. And then it kind of morphed from there. I was definitely more interested in the content-side of things. So we started a content packaging team that developed apps and macros for our add-on data sets like our geocoders and our site selection apps. And then that department kind of turned into content engineering. And from there I moved on to the community team when we relaunched our community and was responsible for the content in the community which was awesome. I got to be very creative with all kinds of graphics and it offered us the ability to really dream big with fun contests and just any opportunity to actually reach out to our users for engagement and involvement. And then just this year in January, I started in this position as the creative director, and we are rolling out new branding for the company which is very exciting. And we really want to bring Alteryx to the masses and really enable and grow our evangelists.
Yeah. So it's been a very exciting ride. And I think what's funny is I've always been this creative person, this artistic person, but I've also really had a pretty strong background of science and math and analytics. So any time I can kind of marry the two I'm in my glory. So it's a fun place to be.
That's awesome. And I think it's interesting when you talk to folks that are in the analytics game you hear this a lot, "My background was in science and math, in spatial, in map making," and in my case in community. And it really is this, I think, melting pot of a place where all these individuals come from all these sort of disparate places kind of like an Alteryx workflow, right? So it's kind of interesting how all that pans out.
When I was doing my master's some of my best professors actually came from a sociology background and they found in their research they had to do so much with data. And they actually became these rock star data scientists [music].
Okay. So let's talk a little bit about data culture in and of itself. And I'd love to get your perspectives on what does that even mean. What does a data and analytics culture actually mean, and maybe how you think about it, and how you think other people should be thinking about it? So, Tara, maybe we'll start with you kind of from the aspect that you're coming from today here in marketing here at Alteryx.
Sure. When we talk about data culture I think what resonates for me is how we're all just kind of connected. And you can always break down any experience, any bit of information as a data point. And there's always an opportunity, I guess, to problem-solve and kind of make those connections. So it's a great opportunity to be creative in how we approach situations for data discovery or finding data patterns. And then also just kind of celebrating the diversity and our different backgrounds and our different strengths. The thing that we all have in common is this passion for problem-solving and for getting to an answer. But to also recognize that just about everybody that we work with can optimize that path. There's always a better way or a faster way or a more efficient way. And just understanding our different journeys and our lineages to getting there is just as important as getting there.
So from the enterprise side of the world, really a data culture to me is treating data as a key corporate asset that projects that we do begin with the idea of what kind of data are we going to be generating. And I'm thinking about developing applications and systems for the airline, for example. And it's really beginning with the end in mind and thinking about any initiative what data is a touchpoint, what data is it generating, what data is coming into the system, what kind of questions will I want to answer down the road as I build and do things. For example, we're bringing in our next-generation Boeing 737s here pretty shortly. And those planes every flight generates terabytes of data with this very sophisticated onboard network system. So we really think about how do we leverage this data as a key corporate asset? What kind of things can we do with it? So that's really the heart of it as far as what a data culture represents. And, for us, we think about-- I was thinking about something Tara just said about data being a collection of points. And if we start that way, we start thinking about each piece of data is a point in and of itself. And if we want to move up the value chain we-- I'm not sure if people have seen this out in the industry before but when you put that data together in a collection we can consider that information and that's a little bit more valuable than each data point in and of itself.
And then when we start to do basic analysis on that information-- for example, we take an average of it or we talk about how that data is distributed - how many of this or how many of that - that's what we call descriptive statistics, and that's where we get to what we call knowledge. So we go from data to information then to knowledge. And then the next step, and this is something that Alteryx is really helping people do really well, is we look for patterns in that data so that we can try to predict the future, right? We look for 'guests on Alaska Airlines like you tend to like this, and so this is how we want to give you the remarkable guest experience'. And when we use those patterns to predict or to prescribe what one of our guests might want, then we're moving into what we call wisdom. Or in a business sense we like to talk about monetization, right? So you can go from data to information to knowledge to wisdom to monetization. And really that whole picture is what creates a culture of data.
Yeah. No, that's awesome. And I think the thing that from my perspective coming from community building and thinking about how we build communities of people around things I often hear the terms big data and data and things like that used sort of as a descriptor for kind of these ones and zeros that exist out in cyberspace somewhere or on someone's hard drive. And I actually think that-- and part of the reason we're doing this podcast, right, is to sort of raise the level of awareness around this stuff that the culture piece is about people, right? And partly about people. Who are the people that are doing this work? Who are the people that are contributing to it? What are their lives like? How have their lives been affected? How do they affect the lives of other people, right? And so I think it's interesting hearing sort of the three different takes but they all have sort of common threads or elements in them that really, I think, put it all together into a really nice story about why are we doing this and why is it so important and why should other people be as passionate about it maybe as we are [music].
So I think what would also be great to talk about next is we've talked about what we think a data and analytics culture looks like but how do you actually go about building it? What are the steps? What are kind of the down and dirty piece of this? How do you get people to buy into it? How do you sell it for lack of a better term inside your organization or to people that you talk to this about? And I think, Heather, you have some really interesting insights on this that would be great to share.
Yeah. So I co-lead a group at Alaska Airlines. We call it simply the 'analysis and reporting community'. Not a real sexy name. Or ARC for short. And I co-lead it with two analytics managers in different areas of the airline. And our whole mission is really to elevate analytics around the airline. And we do that by bringing people together essentially because like you mentioned, Brian, people the heart of it. And when you're bringing new technologies in, when we're starting to talk about big data and machine learning and all these terms to the business that they don't really know what it means or how it applies to what they do. A key part of it is actually just demystifying it. So I teach a 90-minute class called introduction to data science and another one called introduction to machine learning. We do them over lunch to make them accessible. And really the first one is just going through what is data science, what does that even mean or what are different versions of what that means. I think still today we don't always have the same definition. But it leads to levels that are business so that they understand that and how it's practiced. And in that class, I talk a lot about data science as a team sport. And what I mean by that is we have so many data scientists flooding the market now. Well, maybe not enough which is why we need citizen data scientists, and I'll talk about that too. But we have people coming out with these data science degrees and they're really well-educated and they really know their stuff on a technical level but they might not really know our business or they might not know the specific data.
So we tend to find that we're really successful when we pair a data scientist with our business analyst who have been eating and breathing that data and that business for a lot of years. And then we also have people who maybe their expertise is the visualization piece or just the business experts who know how to ask the right questions. So we really have to bring people together to solve these data-science-oriented problems as a team. So we talk about that quite a bit.
We a lot of the same things Heather just mentioned. At least Alteryx in the Broomfield office-- this is our technology center. So a lot of individuals come with heavy engineering and computer science backgrounds. So they may never have actually used the products before. So we have a lot of activities to get people really understanding how Alteryx works and from the inside out. So we do lunch and learns as well. We call them book club and they look at a lot of the different weekly challenges that we host on community. They'll tackle a weekly challenge and they'll solve together. And we have our online Alteryx community but we also have an internal version of that that not a lot of people know about. So there's discussion forums on there and there's contests and everything that we try to promote so that we understand what's going on with our customers and how we're using our own products. And then we also support some pretty cool things internally and we've had a couple of blog posts on this but we call it innovation days. And it's basically two days where we let anybody in the company-- but it's actually a really big event here in Broomfield. They get to work on anything they want for two days and it can be-- it's supposed to be focused on Alteryx but it doesn't necessarily have to be something that is part of their work. But it just gives anybody, our associates, the ability to innovate for two days and to kind of come up with a pet project, to team up with other associates.
And then we also really focus-- we have a strong focus on our corporate and social responsibility. And we try to grow an analytics culture through that as well. Things like AFG - Alteryx for Good it allows us to not only volunteer our time, but we can also volunteer our expertise with the product and with analytics or coding if that's our biggest strength. We have engineers that also will participate in different codeathons. And we also host a number of meetups here as well for our developer communities. So there's a lot that you can get involved in here at Alteryx. There's a little bit of something for everyone and there's definitely a focus on kind of building our skill sets inside out and outside in as well. So that's what we've got going on [laughter].
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I'm also wondering about some of the, I guess, sort of challenges, right? What are the biggest challenges you've had thus far in instituting that culture in your various organizations and how did you navigate that? How did you break down those particular problems and overcome them to get to a better place where you're able to either have more folks using analytics or more people buying into it or buy-in from leadership? That's kind of an interesting topic, I think.
So when we talk about deploying new technologies like Alteryx into an organization from an IT point of view we really think about change management. And there's a three-dimensional approach that we used when we deployed Alteryx throughout the airline. And the three dimensions are people, processes, and technology. And by using these different arenas, by adopting a strategy and a structure around them, we really navigated that well. And I can describe that a little bit. So on the people side, this is where my involvement with the analysis and reporting community comes in. It's a pretty large organization with analysts spread out throughout the whole airline. And for competitive reasons, I won't say exactly how many people are in that audience but let's say it's in the hundreds and we do different initiatives to really address really people, processes and technology. So the kind of things we do are trainings. And part of that was we had a very close relationship with Alteryx coming on-site monthly, giving lunch-and-learn trainings as well as one-on-one consults. So that's a key part is really equipping people to leverage the technology to solve their problems directly. Not just some fluffy training class, but something that relates to what they're doing. We also do knowledge-sharing events. So those are the brown bags that you guys talked about where we'll have a particular analyst come in, share about the work they're doing over lunch. And that tends to bring in a nice audience because people can typically get away for lunch.
We recently did an Alteryx showcase and that was really a celebration of our first formal adoption year with Alteryx. And we brought in analysts from different business units to really share what they had done with the tool. And we find that when people are sitting and seeing what other people are doing it really gives them ideas or it's like, "Oh, I can do that with this problem as well." And so especially when it comes to actually working with other technologies. So we might have someone come in and say, "Hey, this is my Alteryx workflow. I'm also using it with these Azure cloud-hosted resources and I'm automatically generating emails based on my findings. And when we see that complete kind of end-to-end solution then our imaginations can go wild about what we can do with it. And so those are the different things. And then we just do happy hours. We get together quarterly, right? There's nothing like bringing together a bunch of geeks together over microbrews to get the juices flowing. But it sounds funny but so much happens in those happy hours. People do talk about what they're working on and it really is effective in creating that culture and managing that change piece. That change management piece that can be sticky when you're deploying new technologies. And so that's the people part. The processes part are those knowledge-sharing events where you're talking about what you're doing.
And then the third component of that is technologies. And that's where IT really comes in. It's setting it up so our analyst and data scientist don't have to worry about licensing or software installations or upgrades or the server. Making all that seamless for them so that they can do what they're good at. And by adopting this people and process and technology strategy, the change management piece really just flows from that nicely [music].
All right. So one of the other things we wanted to talk about is really this idea that there's a lot of things in the news, there's a lot of things that have happened over the years here in terms of inclusivity, diversity, things like that in organizations and I'm sure it's no different across our specific organizations here. But what I'm really interested in hearing from either or both of you is how do you see sort of women fitting into the analytics industry? As we record here in late February we're a couple of weeks away from International Women's Day and I think it's a really important topic. And here at Alteryx, we do something called Women of Analytics for that. But I'd love to hear your takes on how you've seen that shift in positive ways, kind of where we're at, and maybe where you think it could go.
I think it's interesting because when we talk about women in analytics, I mean depending on where you're looking for numbers it seems to be like we are very represented. There is a very large representation of women in analytics. And I grew up right after Title IX. So I always had plenty of opportunity in my life to be involved in math and science, in technology. Yet there does seem to be this void. And I guess it's kind of a tricky thing to talk about because ultimately we want to celebrate diversity everywhere and the more diverse the population the more perspective we have. And I think we get better. Just gives us more tolerance. But one the whole I think there are seats at these tables for women, for anybody really to step up and insert themselves and speak up and be specific about what you like to do, what interests you. Not to necessarily wait for what you might feel you've earned or have been working towards, but just really asserting yourself and just playing to your interests I think will serve you very well and it will be respected amongst your peers. At Alteryx we have Libby Dwayne who is one of our chief-- she's our chief customer officer. One of our founders. We also have Langley - our chief strategy officer. So we do have women in our C-level. We have women on our board. We have a very strong contingent of emerging leaders who are women. From the VP level to director level, and everybody is just very well-respected for their talents and what they can bring to the table.
Well, this is an area that I'm super excited about actually. And this is something I'm going to give a shoutout to Alteryx for because I see analytics as being an area where women can make significant gains in technology. And I'll explain. As we have deployed Alteryx around the airline there's been a buzz. People see that they can bring data sets in and it's drag and drop. And I am super excited about the number of people coming to me saying, "Hey, I have this data. I've seen this tool. It looks kind of interesting like maybe I could do something with it. What do you think?" And it's not just women coming but I will say that it's coming from roles which are traditional female roles. For example, it's women in our training department, women in HR, women in communications who have no training whatsoever in data and anything about a relational database or columns or rows. They just know they have data, they believe that that data can tell them something, they see this technology that's not super intimidating, and it just opens up a lot of potential. And I believe that a really big part of our growth is going to be around this bringing in new data users. And while that will be men and women, I see particular opportunities for women to enter technology at a rapid pace.
I will say, Heather, based on what you just said and that Alteryx is really an easy way to kind of get into data and to really explore and understand. I will say that most women are wonderful inquisitors. I mean we ask really good questions and that's another benefit of what Alteryx can do. It really leads you down that path of, "Well, what if I do this? And wait - taking a step back - are these numbers correlated?" And it's a wonderful piece of software that lets you work with just about any type of train of thought. And I think it is definitely reachable to all different stages of proficiency with data. You could be very sophisticated with your background and understanding of all sorts of statistical problems or predictive analytics or you can be just learning. So it really is reachable to all sides of the gamut.
One final question I have for both of you on this, is there someone you'd like to namedrop? Who are the women of analytics that have influenced you or you've seen influence others or that you admire?
When I was working on my master's the name and the person that really inspired me was Hillary Mason. And I would just see the amazing stuff that she was doing and just the levels of success that she had achieved. And really inspired me.
She was a keynote speaker at Inspire. Was that two years ago? Three years ago? Brian, do you remember?
Yeah. I think that's right. I think it was in Boston if I recall correctly.
Yeah. Boston. Yeah. She was fantastic. I am going to namedrop somebody here at Alteryx. And that person is Linda Thompson who is an architect. When was she hired? About 10 years ago she came on and there were no women in our engineering department. She swooped right in and was just a really talented individual. She produced a lot of-- she wrote a lot of really great features in the products. But what she has also done is really mentored a lot of women here, a lot of engineers, QA. She has basically instituted our whole build process. She audited all of the code. That was one of the very first things she did when she came in. But she's just operated at just a high level of competency and professionalism. Like I said, she's mentored a number of junior developers - men, women included - and is just one of those unsung heroes. She comes in, she puts her head down, she gets to work, she produces really good work and really gives credit where credit is due and recognizes every individual that also works on the code. So yeah, Linda.
And outside of work she's a mother and just so dedicated to her family and it just-- she really has that work-life balance and just somebody that I have just an enormous amount of respect for [music].
Okay. So that brings us to our final segment that we lovingly refer to as community picks. And what we'd like to do in this segment is talk about things in the Alteryx community whether that's online or offline that have kind of piqued our interest. Things that we think other people might find interesting that we want to point them to. So, Tara, I'd love to start with you. What have you found interesting from a community perspective lately?
'Road to Inspire' is a contest that they're running in the community. And what we're looking to do is have people submit their stories about how Alteryx enables them to kick butt at work, but also what it allows them to do to fulfill their passions outside of work. So we're looking for that work-life balance and looking to highlight our users - how Alteryx excited them but also what their passions are outside of work. So you can go to the 'Inspire Buzz'. That's where you can find details about the contest and you can submit your own story and we have some really great prizes that are on the line. Things like a free pass to Inspire and then also we're looking to feature people. So we're going to go out and visit them at their work to see how they're using Alteryx and then do whatever activity they want to do. So if they want to go skydiving or snowboarding or if they just want to walk their dogs. Whatever their passions are in life we are going to share that with them. So that's my community pick.
That's fantastic and we'll put the link that in the show notes and we'll direct everybody there at the end of the episode. How about you, Heather?
Well before I talk about my community pick I really have to talk to the contest that Tara was mentioning. So, Tara, you know my passion, working for an Airline, is travel. So if you were to pick me, then one of my things that I love to do is travel to Alaska because we actually fly into 20 different airports in Alaska. And so I have a mission to visit all of them. I've only visited 15 of the 20. So I mean if you pick me you might have to just to go to Alaska with me [laughter].
We'll talk after the podcast. I think we can work something out.
But really as far as the community pick, I really do see Alteryx as a community and we've been very well-supported by that community. We had an amazing team that worked with us throughout our adoption program. Paul Zawatsky, Tony Moses, Tom McCrory, those are all Alteryx field folks that really came onsite a lot to help us. So we really saw that there was a partnership. A genuine partnership. And so I actually also had the privilege of spending time at the Alteryx Global Sales Kick Off recently where I got to be with your entire global sales team. And I think that was really wonderful in that we got to have a dialogue. I mean I was on a panel so maybe I was doing most of the talking but it was really about what works and how that partnership does work and really getting to talk about that.
All right. And I'll round it out. You both stole all of my picks. So I'm going to have to do this on the fly. But I think it occurs to me that probably some of the folks listening to this maybe haven't visited the community before. And so like, "Hey, where do I get started?" One thing I'd like to plug in that vein is something called community highlights. And so the team here has been putting together periodic highlight posts where they're basically recapping, "Here's all the cool stuff that's happened in the community that's happened in the last month or so." And so there's just a treasure trove of information there. And I'll put the links to that in the show notes. But it's a great place to start if you've never been in the community and it's also a great place to keep up with because we link all kinds of amazing posts from customers in there, solutions, workflows, all kinds of amazing things. So that would be my pick for this time around.
Tara mentioned the contest that you guys have and I really liked one that was recent about 'what would you put the periodic table of tools on'. And I don't know what you guys are going to end up picking but I have to plug my idea was a beach towel because Alteryx Inspire will be in Anaheim and so we're all going to need beach towels for those sunny warm days. So it's a great fit to stick it right on a beach towel.
I feel like you're going to Alaska, now you're talking about beaches. I like your style.
There's a lot of coastline in Alaska, right [laughter]?
Excellent. Well, hey, Tara and Heather, thanks so much for joining us. This has been great. I know that our listeners probably got a lot out of it. I will upload the show notes to this as well. So anybody who's been listening and wants to go read more about our panelists or about any of the things that we talked about you'll want to go to community.alteryx.com/podcast. And you can find out more there and interact with us a little bit as well. And thank you so much for joining us.