In this “Flashback” episode of Alter Everything, we take a look back at our Inspire London conference through the eyes of two attendees, Tina Diagne from Paris, France, and Rafal Olbert from Leeds, England. This was Tina’s first time attending Inspire, and she documented her mission of summiting the RegEx mountain and shares her tips that she picked up along the way. Raf highlighted his key memories, from being on stage during the keynote, to meeting some of his data heroes. Visit community.alteryx.com/podcast for show notes and behind the scenes photos from this episode!
We’ve also announced a competition to create the theme music to be featured on an episode of Alter Everything in 2020! To enter, send us your name, along with a 60 second .mp3 file to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 3, 2019. We’re looking for an original piece, with no vocals, that really captures the spirit of Alter Everything. Download a .pdf of the full contest rules below.
Tina: [00:00:00] So today was the first day of Alteryx Inspire. I arrived in London on Sunday night, and then I went in the morning from my hotel to the Tobacco Quay, which I had a bit of a trouble finding, typical me. I went into the wrong entry, but I eventually got there.
Maddie: [00:00:45] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Maddie Johannsen and I'll be your host. This episode is going to be a little bit different. We're going to take a look back at our Inspire London conference through the eyes of two attendees, Tina Diagne from Paris, France,
Tina: [00:01:01] My name is Tina Diagne. I've been using Alteryx for less than six months. I'm working for AEW who is an asset manager in real estate. This is my first time at Alteryx Inspire and I'm very excited.
Maddie: [00:01:19] and Rafal, Olbert from Leeds, England.
Raf: [00:01:21] I'm a data scientist at ASDA Online Groceries, using Alteryx for the past four years. It was love from the first sight and, we’ve never looked back.
Maddie: We held this year's inspire at Tobacco Dock in London. A historic building with a true “Chamber of Secrets” feel to it, complete with archways, brick vaults, and unique lighting throughout the space. When our podcasters, Raf and Tina, arrived at Tobacco Dock, I sat down with them for a cup of tea and much to my delight, Raf had brought along some Alteryx themed cookies that he baked with his daughter.
Raf: [00:01:51] So, I engaged my daughter in the last couple of weeks in the preparation steps for Inspire. So there is another inspirational work fellow flying about that sort of creates a flow of inspirational Alteryx icons and just over last weekend, she also baked some cookies with a few of my favorite icons, “Download” being probably the one that I use, and I love most.
Maddie: [00:02:27] Before the dedicated conference breakout session days. There are platform trainings available for attendees. Tina took full advantage of these to dive into areas that she felt could help deepen her learning.
Tina: [00:02:36] I went to the RegEx one in the morning and in the afternoon, a web scraping. So the first one was very interesting, but RegEx is really particular…
Maddie: [00:02:50] Yeah, like it has its own voice…
Tina: [00:02:41] Code. Yeah. So it was a bit complicated to follow, but at the second training, we did some more RegEx, so it was a bit better to follow.
Maddie: [00:03:03] And what are you guys doing today?
Tina: [00:03:09] So today is all day “Machine Learning for the Business Analyst.”
Maddie: Very cool. And how about you?
Raf: [00:03:16] So I've got a few dry runs. I've got my own breakout session tomorrow. Also taking part in the opening keynote with Dean on the main stage, which is a secret as we speak, but not when podcast goes live. So this has been great fun in the preparation steps, few calls within just to discuss, sort of like the, the thoughts that, that we will be sharing together. Just lots of cool stuff coming out. The agenda is jam packed.
Just hearing some of the great sessions from other customers, and I think there is a great balance of customer led sessions with very pragmatic use cases that discuss some very ambitious ROI figures, but also tool focused sessions, so it’s just a great balance. And I'm still deciding what sessions to attend myself, so we'll see how it goes.
Maddie: [00:04:22] And what are you most looking forward to learning about? Is there anything in particular that you came here really hoping to either tackle for the first time or really kind of hone a skill or just completely brand out?
Tina: [00:04:40] Yeah, first of all, well it was RegEx yesterday cause it's so powerful when you web scrape because when you have a HTML code and you want to extract some information from this code, it's so easy with the RegEx. And when I’ll be able to use it well, I think that it will help me do my job easier. So that's one.
And the second one, I come from a Data Science, Engineering diploma schools so I would like to go more into the data science side of my job. So today the machine learning training will be very interesting for me to learn how to really use Alteryx to be able to do some data science projects, and I think that today will be very, very interesting.
Maddie: [00:05:39] Absolutely. I'm excited to hear everything that you learn about as you document your journey. How about you Raf?
Raf: [00:05:45] So I did my homework – scanned the agenda points, and I see three main themes going on:
One, discovering the aspects of spatial. So going all the way to the basics of why Alteryx is great. I was exposed to spatial just a few weeks ago trying and passing my advanced certificate. So again, not being exposed to this in my daily job, it's just broadening the horizons and giving new options.
Second one is at the core of what I'm involved with at ASDA - so data science and machine learning specifically. So aspects like guided AI design, some sessions covering Python and, and how Alteryx is opening up for the open space, which is a great to see. Um, so yeah, these are in my choices.
Maddie: [00:06:51] Tina and Raf then set off to explore the conference.
Tina: [00:06:54] So just got out of my 9-5 “Machine Learning for the Business Analyst” training and woo - wow. It was intense because it was a lot of information, but so interesting. So the morning was just about the introduction of data science and also what is a citizen data scientist and how he's the person between a business analyst and a data scientist because business analysts and data scientists don't always speak the same language.
After that they gave some definitions like, what is machine learning, what is a data scientist, etc. Also the data science life cycle so when you have a data science project, what steps do you need to take to have a successful data science project? For example, first step will be the topic expertise, then the data acquisition, then the data prep and exploration. Then the predictive model and evaluation, and then input, interpretation and deployment. So I liked how it was interactive because he had an application where he would ask a question and then we would give answers on our phones or computer.
And for example, one question that he asked was, “what is the most important step of the data science project.” So for me, the most important was data prep and data exploration because it's the one that takes the longest time and it can be a bit challenging to know what to do with empty values or outliers or things like that. For some people it was interpretation, for other people it was the predictive model and evaluation, so I found that quite interesting. The afternoon was a use case that we did on a loan payment default. And then again, I find that the best way to learn something is to practice it. So with this use case, we asked some questions about the life cycle.
So the key point here that was mentioned was to never make assumptions on your data. Always ask the business if it's normal to have certain data, or is it strange? And they will be able to answer you or not, but never make an assumption on what it means to have certain values in your columns.
So at every step I learned something new, so it was very, very interesting for me. And it will be very helpful in the future because I will probably work with them, and it was the reason why I chose to do this training. Also I did not have a certain tool, which is the model comparison tool and actually it's a macro that you have to download from the Alteryx Gallery. So that was something also that I learned there that will be useful. The last thing that they shared, and that I think will be useful is a website with resources in Alteryx where you'll find some predictive training, so you'll just have to type “Predictive training Alteryx” and It will show you the content and it's free. So I think that this will also be very helpful. So to conclude on my day, it was an amazing training. I learned a lot, and I feel like data science is really some powerful tool, and I hope to be one day a specialist to be able to do some cool stuff.
Maddie: [00:12:04] After the training days, it's time for breakout sessions and keynotes.
Dean Stoecker: [00:12:07] What I love about data and analytics and the predictive modeling space is that you can come from any background. You don't have to have a data background. You can come from any industry, any functional area. Anyone anywhere on earth. So don't be afraid to step into the spotlight. Now there's a gentleman who has stepped into the spotlight…
Maddie: [00:12:32] Remember how Raf mentioned he was going to make an appearance on the main stage with our CEO, Dean Stoecker?
Dean: [00:12:37] He's pushed himself and his coworkers to the ends to make sure that they're driving career opportunities for themselves and outcomes for their organization. Let's hear his personal and company story now. Please welcome to the stage data scientist, Rafal Olbert of ASDA.
Raf: [00:13:04] Hi everyone. My name is Rafal Olbert, I'm a data scientist at Asda online groceries. I started learning English at the age of six, one of the first key phrases that I learned was, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
Maddie: [00:13:18] We’ve included the full keynote in the show notes, so tune in there if you’d like to hear more.
Raf: [00:13:23] Without English, I wouldn't have been able to go to the U.S. for my high school senior year and become the first runner up for the Prom King.
Maddie: [00:13:33] Raf has been on an episode of the podcast before. You may remember him from Episode 32: Excuse me, do you speak Alteryx?” At the end of his keynote appearance, Raf closed with,
Raf: [00:13:42] “Excuse me. Do you speak Alteryx?"
Maddie: [00:13:46] It was fun to hear him use that phrase again on stage. When Raf reflected back on his time in the spotlight during the keynote…
Raf: [00:13:53] It was an accelerating experience for me from the preparation phase, coming up with the talk theme, getting on a call with Dean, all the way to a few dry runs the day before and in the morning of the main event, where on one occasion, I suddenly just forgot everything I had to say.
It was an amazing personal experience, one that has certainly taken me way out of my comfort zone with over a two and a half thousand people in the audience plus streaming media, but I would absolutely love to do it again one day.
Maddie: [00:14:39] after the keynote, attendees like Tina get to choose between dozens of sessions and build their own agenda for the day, depending on what most interests them.
Tina: [00:14:45] So today was conference day. So I had plenty of conferences and attended four of them. In the morning, I attended Data science: The Best Practices and Assisted Modeling. So, the Data Science Best Practices was really about how do you start a data science project from A to Z.
Maddie: [00:15:14] Friend of the podcast, Sydney Firmin, was the speaker for this Tech Talk that Tina attended.
Tina: [00:15:19] From meeting the stakeholders and asking lots of questions to defining the scope of the project and the results that they would want out of this project, to defining exactly what the data science project will be, setting a timeline, and then diving into your project. Two key points that I got from this conference was to really act as a consultant when you will meet stakeholders, and really ask them a lot of questions, repeat the questions to be sure that you understood correctly, to start on a good base. And then the other one was not to re-invent what has been already done. And this was also mentioned in other conferences today, so I think that it's really important to always look lookout for what has been done in your project that can be similar to your projects to go and see what you can take from there and it will save you a lot of time.
Maddie: [00:16:40] Raf was also a speaker at a breakout session in the Data Analyst track.
Raf: [00:16:42] My presentation was called “The Million Dollar Project That Didn't Cost a Penny” and was about a large-scale system integration looking after online media which contributed 5% to the online P&L and where we saved $1 million in internal cost. In this project, we have leveraged Alteryx playing a role of an orchestration layer, and the number of other great technologies like Salesforce, Microsoft, SharePoint, and Microsoft power apps to create a completely bespoke system that allows us to manage this complex data space, collaborate with hundreds of suppliers and deliver a very great looking and engaging website for our customers.
I have also presented our customer feedback solution, which involves aspects of machine learning in form of a number of natural language processing algorithms like topic modeling, keyword extraction, sentiment analysis, and anomaly detection, all aimed at acting upon our customer feedback when it happens and engaging our engineering teams through automated support requests being raised through our API integrations with ServiceNow and JIRA.
It was another great experience of stepping out of my comfort zone, presenting to a large audience of nearly 300 attendees and hopefully adding value to their Inspire experience.
Tina: [00:18:29] In the afternoon, I attended two more conferences, one on API and SDKs and the other one on advanced data science.
So for the APIs and SDKs, I think that I probably went into the wrong conference because this was not at all what I was expecting. I feel like it was a lot more for the developers and I was looking forward to hearing more about how APIs and SDKs can be used to collect data. I know a bit about APIs, but I wanted to know more about SDKs, but it was more about defining the difference, the different types of APIs and SDKs that exist, and you have C++, Python, HTML, things like that that, so really far the developers. And then how to create a tool that will be more user friendly or things like that.
So it wasn't really what I was expecting, but I did learn something new. And I will try to do some research about this on the data science side because it could be interesting. And then for the advanced data science, there I completely overestimated myself like I am not there yet.
Maddie: [00:20:02] This Tech Track session was presented by Alteryx Chief Data Scientist, Dr. Dan Putler.
Tina: [00:20:09] He showed a use case on the use of opioids in the UK. He started by setting the stage, explaining the context then made some hypothesis on what could be the cause of the opioid deaths. What was interesting is that usually what I do with a data science project is that I have a database and then I try to find in this database what fields are the most important to my target field. And here it was the contrary actually.
He made some assumptions on what the field would be, the variables that would be important to our target field. And to do that, you have to be able to know a bit on the subject, or, a lot on the subject, and for that, either you are an expert on the subject, or you need to do a lot of reading on the subject to know a bit more.
He also mentioned two problems that we can have with our data. And one would be for example, the data that we know, but we can't observe, and that what we call “the latent features.” Another one was the problem of, of multicollinearity, and he also mentioned that the day before in the Machine Learning for the Business Analyst training, and one way to tackle that was to add some more data. But where he lost me was when he talked about a special model that he applied to this data because the data didn't apply to any existing models, so he created a model himself. And I can't possibly explain to you what the model was about, like it was too complicated for me, but it was cool to see it.
Maddie: [00:22:25] Probably the most fun part of attending Inspire, or any conference for that matter, is meeting with people in person. I work with people on our online Community every day and to be able to meet with them face to face is always such a treat. For Raf, it was the same.
Raf: [00:22:39] When I think of the tool there is so much more beyond Designer and the Server and these additional engagement layers is what really makes a difference. When you consider perspectives like tool adoption, training, analytics maturity of an organization and stakeholder engagement, all these elements play an important role.
The Alter Everything Podcast, User Groups, Alteryx for good, Certification, community.altryx.com and of course the Alteryx ACE program. All these teams where they're at Inspire really to showcase some truly great examples of engagement from the wider community and individual organizations and the use cases.
Maddie: [00:23:39] Jumping forward in time when Raf returned to Leeds, Tina returned to Paris and I returned to California…
I already miss it so much. I don't know about you guys, but it was, it was so much fun for me. Did you guys enjoy your, your experience?
Tina: [00:23:53] Yes. It was very good for me to learn a lot.
Raf: [00:23:57] Absolutely. Was probably the best week for me, just an exhilarating experience and I can't wait for it for next year.
Maddie: [00:24:13] So what was your overall favorite part of Inspire? You know, it could've been the networking and meeting people from the community, it could've been the breakout sessions or maybe even the food or the parties, or, you know, what was your favorite part?
Raf: [00:24:23] You know, really all around from, from great venue to just truly inspiring content and amazing people. I just can't ask for anymore. Just being able to meet all those data heroes, as I like to call them - the brightest stars in the constellation of data.
Maddie: [00:24:45] That's great. Tina, how about you?
Tina: [00:24:46] So for me, it was really about learning new things, like best practices in data science, meeting the Data Scientist in Chief, Dr. Dan Putler, learning a lot about him, and everything data science really. Learning all the use cases, the tips. And about Alteryx, seeing how other use Alteryx, and again seeing use cases and always giving me ideas on how to use Alteryx better for my day to day job and, uh, yeah, really learning, learning and learning.
Maddie: [00:25:40] That's great. I love that. So, what was your ultimate takeaway? You know, the one thing that you learned that you were, rushing home to try and show off to your team in Paris.
Tina: [00:25:55] So for me, it was really one thing that really changed my life, and it was about the RegEx, the regular expressions, and it's a website that one of the presenters shared with us, and it's a website to help us understand RegEx better. So, to try your regular expression first, to see what it returns, and then integrate it on Alteryx if it's what you want it to return. So, the RegEx101.com website was really something, because before RegEx was for me, really complicated to do, but with that, I am getting better and better. So, this is really the one thing that I took away and that will help me a lot.
Raf: [00:26:56] It's also one of my most favorite websites for this. We're actually setting up a group to sort of level the knowledge and experience of using this universal feature. And it’s just though those little things that make a difference, that inspire those individuals to, you know, push the boundaries. That is what is truly inspiring about Alteryx and the platform and the Inspire event.
Maddie: [00:27:31] Yeah, absolutely. That's a great tip and we'll be sure to link to that website on our show notes so everybody else can benefit from it. So thank you so much for both of you calling that out. That's awesome.
So I'm curious if there's anything that you wish you would have done differently at Inspire, um, you know, maybe if you wish that you had the chance to speak with more people or had more networking time or had prioritized any trainings. Anything like that, just so you know, I'm curious if you have any advice to your former self, but also advice that could be translated to people who might be attending Inspire New Orleans.
Tina: [00:28:10] Yeah. For me, the one advice that I will tell my past self is not only to read the title of the presentation, but also the description because, well, it didn't happen a lot, but for one conference I was out of place, I didn't understand much. And so I thought it was a bit of a pity because I could have gone to another conference that would have helped me like spatial tools. So yeah, I will tell my best self to read the description and see if it really fits what you have in mind and what you want to learn about.
Maddie: [00:29:00] That's a really good one. I've definitely been there, where I'm sitting there and I'm like, “I am not following this…” So Raf, how about you?
Raf: [00:29:05] Probably very many things that I wish I had done differently, but that’s provided I had more time. I was running around the clock over those two days, with you know, some sessions being repeated more and more times, so just conflicting, times of some really amazing sessions. I haven't discovered that the downstairs with the Community ecosystem so in-between my very ambitious agenda, I didn't experience the whole event with all of the great features.
So probably, maybe over some break sessions next time, or just give up one session to experience the whole thing because it really was great as those individual sessions but, you know, the whole sort of like synergy of the place, and the people was even greater than those individual parts.
Maddie: [00:30:32] So, you wish that your former self had built a time machine so you could go back, and it just experience it.
Raf: [00:30:40] Totally.
Maddie: [00:30:43] Be sure to check out our show notes on community.alteryx.com/podcast for behind the scenes photos from this episode. And if you plan on joining us, Inspire Sydney, Inspire New Orleans, or Inspire Amsterdam in 2020, send us a tweet using #AlterEverythingPodcast.
Raf: [00:31:19] As much as the event was about the product and technology, for me it was also about great customer stories and the amazing people I had the true privilege of meeting. I’d like to mention a few individuals and mentors that have made a profound impact on me personally and are the greatest examples of change leaders, the Alteryx, and wider data Community.
One of main highlights of the Inspire for me was meeting Dan, Alteryx Community username, @danilang with an unmissable bass guitar grip us as the icon. The current top one contributor of the Alteryx community, phenomenal Alteryx expert and an amazing individual. I met Dan a while back in the virtual space where we were racing together to answer some of the community's questions, and on that very, very few individual cases where my answer was accepted as solution, I started getting stars from Dan and it just felt very special to be acknowledged by such an expert. So I wrote a quick message saying how thankful I am for the recognition, and this is a how we first met. I actually assumed that Dan was an Alteryx ACE already. It wasn't until the first day of Inspire when Dan approached me and introduced himself, when I learned that we both got our ACE nominations at the same time. I think there is a picture somewhere in the social stream of the Inspire event where I'm speaking with Dan for the very first time, surrounded by other amazing new ACEs, Arthur from France, and the Roland from Germany. This image is the perfect encapsulation of how amazed we all were to get to know them.
I would also like to recognize another great individual and mentor who has been a great inspiration for me personally for the last few months. Someone who pushed me to achieve my very best and step outside of my comfort zone whenever and wherever possible. This special person Is Alteryx ACE lead, Tuvy Le.
I like to think of all the amazing people in the ACE Program as the brightest stars in the constellation of data and Tuvy is certainly the guiding star of this group. From driving and expanding the ACE program, to organizing the amazing ACE Track at Inspire all the way to countless user group meetings all around Europe in the last few weeks, Tuvy’s dedication and enthusiasm is simply unmatched.
Another great moment of Inspire for me was meeting Margarita Wilshire from Alteryx support team. Margarita used to be our first point of contact for what I like to call extreme problem cases over the last few years, and has always been above and beyond reacting to our support requests in an instant and assembling the best possible to help us, and when the problems were first happening. I would always go to Margarita when I hit a wall, and I don't remember a single call where we didn't resolve or significantly progress with the resolution of the issue. She’s absolutely brilliant. It's one of these where you know someone but have never met in person.
Meeting Margarita was certainly one of the greatest highlights of Inspire for me, and we spent a good hour, if not longer, chatting and sharing stories. It was amazing. Margarita is one of the owners of the hugely popular and Inspire sessions called Tips and Tricks, which I had the great pleasure of attending for the very first time this year. Two weeks after the Inspire, Margarita presented Tips and Tricks over WebEx at our Leeds Alteryx user group. By doing this, we could spread the excitement and the energy of Inspire to a wider user base, which received some amazing feedback.
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