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Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
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Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

This episode is a celebration of the incredible efforts made by students in Australia, who shared a behind the scenes look at the Alteryx For Good Data Challenge competition, cosponsored by Alteryx Partner RXP.

You'll get to hear from the four student team leaders throughout this episode as they shared which Australia nonprofit organization they supported, and ultimately how they learned Alteryx to turn real world challenges into life-changing, impactful insights.




Maddie Johannsen - @MaddieJTwitter, LinkedIn

Ishita Khaitan, Royal Flying Doctors Service Team - @Ishi_ta, LinkedIn

Long Dao, Foodbank team - @longdao 

Caroline Ng, R U OK? team - @Caroline_Ng, LinkedIn

Sunny T Islam, The Smith Family team - @Towshiq 

Lucy (Food Bank team) - @Lucyyy

Vaishali Vijay@vaishaliv, LinkedIn

Libby Duane Adams@LDuane 

JJ Phillips, Country Manager, Alteryx ANZ - @JJP




Vaishali and the student participants at the Alteryx Sydney office for Alteryx trainingVaishali and the student participants at the Alteryx Sydney office for Alteryx training


Scenes from the AFG Data Challenge kick off at Inspire SydneyScenes from the AFG Data Challenge kick off at Inspire Sydney




Episode Transcription

ISHITA: 00:00

Gosh. I can't even believe, and I can't even begin to describe how to explain this feeling. It's amazing. I can't believe that we'll actually be using this model to be able to save so many lives. Just thinking about that gives me goosebumps.

MADDIE: 00:21

[music] Good day, Alter Everything listeners. I'm Maddie Johannsen, and this is a podcast about data science and analytics culture. Today, we're going to be celebrating the incredible efforts of university students in Australia who participated in an Alteryx for Good Data Challenge co-sponsored by Alteryx partner RXP. As you just heard, the insights from this data challenge have the potential to literally save lives, and you'll get to hear from the four student team leaders throughout this episode as they share which Australian nonprofit organisation they're supporting, and ultimately, how they learned Alteryx to turn real-world challenges into life changing impactful insights.

MADDIE: 01:00

Essentially, this data challenge consisted of four university student-led teams, who were each assigned a nonprofit to support. The teams would look at their assigned organisations and provide analytics insights. At the end, each time shared their impactful analysis to their assigned organisation, and a winner was selected. The nonprofit organisation supported by the winning team would receive $10,000 sponsored by RXP and the Alteryx for Good program. This episode will be a behind the scenes look at the students' perspective as they each self-documented their experiences. Let's get started.

MADDIE: 01:38

So I'm here with the student team leads for the Alteryx for Good and RXP Data Challenge. I'm super excited.

MADDIE: 01:46

That's me interviewing the student leaders down in Sydney at the Alteryx Inspire Conference where we kicked off the data challenge.

MADDIE: 01:54

So I want to start by asking you guys to introduce yourselves. So Sunny, why don't we start with you?

SUNNY: 02:00

Yes, this is Sunny. Hi. I'm a business professional, and I study masters in analytics at Western Sydney University. Now, especially with this challenge which is a data challenge, I will be representing Smith Family.

MADDIE: 02:15

The Smith Family that Sunny's team is supporting is a national independent children's charity helping disadvantaged Australians to get the most out of their education. Sunny's team will be looking for ways to identify students who might be at risk for dropping out of school.

SUNNY: 02:28

One of the biggest charity organisation in Australia, and as a team, that will be our main challenge, to find out some meaningful insights and get some solution out from there.

MADDIE: 02:38

Great, yeah. Let's hear from Ishita.

ISHITA: 02:40

Hi, everyone. My name's Ishita.

MADDIE: 02:42

A master's degree student at University of Western Sydney.

ISHITA: 02:46

The organisation that we're working on is Royal Flying Doctor Service.

MADDIE: 02:52

The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia is one of the largest and most comprehensive air medical organisations in the world providing extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency service to those living outside of Australian cities. Ishita's team will specifically be looking to provide insights into how the Royal Flying Doctor Service can provide mental health care to drought-affected areas.

ISHITA: 03:13

The reason why that's special for me is because I believe that everyone should be entitled to at least basic health care, and so many people, even back where I'm from, does not have access to that. And this organisation for years and years has been doing that successfully and is really reputed and valued. So being a part of that organisation and being able to better what they're already doing and creating an impact in that organisation is something that I do look forward to.

ISHITA: 03:56

What excites me most to about this data challenge? Learning. Learning a software which is actually getting so popular. All of my friends who are working in the industry use Alteryx, and they have nothing but good things to say about it. And they're always excited about learning new things in Alteryx, and that's kind of what stuck with me. And that's why I signed up for this challenge as well because what better way than to learn Alteryx than actually get your hands dirty with live data, right?

MADDIE: 04:32

Another nonprofit that is participating in this data challenge is Foodbank, the largest provider of vital food and groceries to food relief charities around Australia. Foodbank is looking to optimise food distribution to charities in order to help as many people in need as possible. The student team leader representing Foodbank is named Long.

LONG: 04:52

Currently, I'm taking a master in business analytics at Western Sydney. Previously, I work as an IT business analyst, so I would say it's the first time I have trying to participate in a very big data challenge for a nonprofit organisation. As a team leader, I find that this is a very big challenge for us to investigate and using data to optimise the effectiveness by using the food and try to reduce the food waste.


Well, hi. My name's Caroline. I'm a second-year university student at the University of New South Wales, and I'm studying information systems.

MADDIE: 05:38

That's Caroline, student team lead supporting R U OK?, a suicide prevention charity in Australia. Caroline's team will use data to form an optimised campaign to encourage a support network for at-risk populations.


I was really excited to just jump right into it because I'm really passionate about social justice issues, and I'm using technology to help solve those issues. So I'm really keen and grateful to Alteryx and RXP to have this opportunity to learn about how we can use data to help everyone, really.

MADDIE: 06:14

Awesome. Well, thank you very much, and we'll head into the panel now. [crosstalk].

MADDIE: 06:16

After our quick chat, we all went to a session together where Alteryx chief customer officer and co-founder, Libby Duane Adams, announced the data challenge on stage.

LIBBY: 06:24

And we'll be supported by NBN, by Alteryx, and by RXP on this learning journey as they're solving for the question or the challenge that each charity has. Each table then present their results to a team of judges in early April, and then the winner will be announced. The winning team will be given $10,000 to then donate back to the charity that they got to work with.

MADDIE: 06:52

Okay. So the winning team gets $10,000 to donate back to the charity that they're representing in this challenge. Pretty powerful, not to mention motivating, but the students haven't used Alteryx yet. They just formed their team. They have this data. Where do they even start?


[inaudible] as you've already seen and [crosstalk].

MADDIE: 07:12

That's Vaishali, an Alteryx sales engineer at our Sydney office. With the student participants in attendance, they're all in this awesomely decorated conference room with a fantastic mural of clear, blue ocean water covering the wall one side and large glass doors on the other. The students are buzzing with excitement to be at the office for this standing-room only Alteryx one-on-one mentoring session.


The Alteryx Community is a fantastic workplace. It's a great platform for everybody. This is the hub where people ask questions to each [inaudible].

MADDIE: 07:48

This is the hub. This being the Alteryx Community, as Vaishali goes on to explain, is where people ask questions about how to use the platform to get insights.


And in my experience, the moment you ask the question, you will find [crosstalk].

MADDIE: 08:03

Now, I realise it's a little hard to hear Vaishali in this recording, but she goes on to highlight the Alteryx Community and calls out the Alteryx academy weekly challenges and our data science blog. But her favourite part, how anyone can simply ask a question about a particular challenge the user is facing with their data and several people will quickly respond. Seeing the global support and different approaches that each person provides for solving that particular problem really helps users get a sense of what Alteryx style works for them. Here's Ishita again supporting the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

ISHITA: 08:38

So we had the Alteryx training this morning, and it was incredible. There's just so much to learn. I'm so excited to learn. But Vaishali was incredible. It was so easy to understand what she was going through and to just get my hands around Alteryx. Even though I was using it for the first time, it seemed pretty user-friendly to me. It seemed like a very, I guess, friendly and a warm environment to ask each other as well. Even though, I guess, we are competing against each other, it didn't really feel like that at all. We were all helping each other, and I guess just better understand what it is that we were doing. So yeah, Alteryx training was incredible. It was a lot of fun.

MADDIE: 09:31

In addition to the mentorship from Alteryx associates, RXP and NBN are also providing support. It takes a village, but how amazing that so many people want to be involved in this Alteryx for Good challenge? Here's Caroline, the team lead supporting R U OK? after a mentor session with NBN.


Okay. So we just finished the NBN data science mentorship session where we had a mentor called Ben, and he advised us on how to approach our problem statement. And we talked with our mentor, and he basically identified for us that we were actually focusing on the wrong thing, and as a result, we were having trouble with trying to solve our issue. But actually, what our task was, was to provide insights for R U OK? and not to actually come up with the end solution to figure out how to support the older people because our mentor said that was actually the task of the R U OK? team. Our task instead is to use data, to find data to inform R U OK? on solving this problem, on delivering their campaign to encourage the support people of older Australians to support and care for older people more so that a lack of connection is prevented, and therefore, suicide is prevented.

MADDIE: 11:13

This mindset pivot sounds familiar. Sometimes you set out to use analytics to answer a question but then realise that the question you started off with might not have been the right question in the first place. So I love this insight from Caroline into the thought process on her team. It's so easy to zoom in on the big-picture problem, but when you step back and realise that you don't have to boil the ocean in order to make an impact, it's easier to see the finish line and provide tangible insights that contribute to the overall solution. [music] And speaking of interesting conversations and a shift in mindset, as we all know, the pandemic changed the way we work together.

ISHITA: 11:57

Quarantine day looks like infinity but can't even tell now. We lost count already.

MADDIE: 12:04

That's Ishita supporting the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

ISHITA: 12:07

And here we are trying to figure out macros and Alteryx, and God, that isn't easy for sure. Geez, COVID, didn't see that coming for sure. We thought that there'd definitely be more physical interaction obviously with both the Alteryx trainers as well the RXP mentorship sessions that are held every single week to support us, but yeah, I guess, you got to do what you got to do, and there are some things which are not in your control, and you accommodate according to that.

MADDIE: 12:47

Here's the Foodbank team lead by Long chatting with his team virtually.

LONG: 12:52

Hi, everyone. Long time no see. How's it going, guys? I think it's one month in the last time we [inaudible]. I feel like I half year [laughter]. How are you guys?


Not good at all [laughter].

MADDIE: 13:11

Long's team has had a rough time. From losing jobs to losing shifts at work to having to rethink housing situations, they've really had their hands full. A quick side note. Alteryx just launched a new program for anyone looking to pivot their career due to a job loss or being affected by pandemic in any way. It's called the Adapt Program, and you can get a free Alteryx license to help you learn more about analytics and help you land that next job. We'll include more about the program in our show notes at Let's check back in with Long.

LONG: 13:45

Yeah. How about the progress on your survey data, Lucy?

LUCY: 13:52

Yeah. So as I've already sent to all of you guys the final part of it [inaudible] to view some predictive model, but unfortunately, we don't have enough knowledge about that. So as you all know that we have already attend the mentorship from IXP, and some of the mentors have already give us some feedback and some of the recommendations on how to do predictive models, and actually, I have already posed questions on the Alteryx Community, and I received some answers from all the Alteryx user all over the world. And I have done some predictive model [using our?] data set. But actually, because I think the data quality issue because of the data quality issues, we cannot come up with a perfect predictive model.

MADDIE: 14:53

How many listeners out there have experienced this? Roadblocks that can be attributed to data availability or data quality issues. The students experience this too, but as long as teammate Lucy mentioned, they were still able to get training from their RXP mentors and the Alteryx Community. So even though they're facing these roadblocks, they've still picked up new knowledge about predictive analysis.

LUCY: 15:18

So I think we can just come up with some insight, associations between the rival or some conclusions that-- or come up with a first prototype so that could [inaudible] and then try to build the model better in the future, I guess, like that.

LONG: 15:36

Yeah. Previously, we cannot expect the high accuracy [crosstalk]--

MADDIE: 15:41

Let's fast forward. [inaudible]. The students are nearing the big day where they present their insights to the judging panel. Caroline's team created a model for R U OK? analysing demographic and survey data to potentially help deliver R U OK?'s support network campaign. And the Foodbank team did a spatial analysis of top food desert areas that Foodbank can pass service through their existing distribution network, and they're each preparing in their own way.

LONG: 16:11

Yeah. We will do some rehearsal prior to the final testing even. Okay. So--

MADDIE: 16:23

Here's Caroline and what her team did to prepare.


We had a session with RXP about our data storytelling, and they were able to give some advice on presenting, and they said that one key thing out of the way was that every slide should have a purpose and a message to get across, and fancy graphs aren't that important because actually, what's important is getting the message and our point from the data across simply and effectively and concisely, rather than explaining a lot with words as a graph will depict it clearly and effectively explain what we're trying to convey.

MADDIE: 17:17

Here's Ishita whose team's spatial analysis resulted in this interactive visualisation to easily identify air strips and air bases nearest to these at-risk populations living in rural areas. So theoretically, our FDS could more easily provide mental health care services to these populations.

ISHITA: 17:36

So we are presenting today, and I'm a bit nervous for the presentation, but I'm also excited to finally be able to show everyone what we've come up with because I'm so proud of the entire model that we've built. And along with Alteryx and Tableau, whatever we've come up with, in my mind, it's inspiring, and I want to be able to show that to everyone, so I'm excited for that.

MADDIE: 18:04

Sunny's team was likewise looking forward to the presentation, where they would share their analysis of demographic and survey data to find insights behind why students drop out of school and potentially help shape Smith Family programs and public policies to help these at-risk students.

SUNNY: 18:20

Finally, being able to present this project in front of a panel of professional judges is a great opportunity, we believe, that will definitely boost our professional confidence and sharpen our skills. The greatest part of our analytics is that a Smith Family can utilise what we pointed about key areas of Australian social and economic domains when more focus can be done. Like kids from remote areas in families with very low-income profile. Places where poor health and transportation is a problem. That leads to higher dropouts of Australian school students.

MADDIE: 19:06

Here's Caroline reflecting on her presentation.


So a couple of days ago, we had the presentation for our results and for the other teams, and the plan was for myself and my two other teammates to present, but actually, when it came to the time, my laptop had some technical problems, so I wasn't able to present. And also, our team was scheduled to present being the last team, the fourth team, but then we were pushed to being the second team to show our findings. So even though I was disappointed that I didn't get to showcase or myself speak about what we found and since I rehearsed and practiced a lot, yeah, even though that was disappointing, I'm really proud of my team member for stepping up really at the last minute and being able to present for the team on behalf of our team. So it didn't go to plan, but I'm really proud of what our team produced at the end. And even though it's been really challenging, I've grown as a team leader being my first time, being a team leader for a project like this, delivering data insights.

MADDIE: 20:42

Hearing Caroline describe this presentation roadblock of having technical issues and not being able to present like she had planned; I completely feel her. This has happened to me before, and I'm sure it's happened to a lot of you too, but it's just such a good reminder of the importance of being able to quickly adapt and the importance of having a great team dynamic so that you can quickly pivot and rely on other people when these unforeseen challenges do come up.

MADDIE: 21:10

After the judges deliberated on all of the presentations, country manager for Alteryx Australia JJ Philips announced the winning team. Here's JJ.

JJ: 21:20

So when we are coming to fruition, probably about 18 months ago now, between a conversation we had with our founder and CEO and a ceiling of an idea that he had, and today, that really came to fruition, and there were some excellent presentations. There were some things that really stood out for me, in terms of the quality of the presentation that we saw from each of you. The winning side really demonstrated strong use of Alteryx, and as the country manager and leader for the Pacific, that was really lovely to see the use of Community. But I think the most important thing that really resonated with the judging panel was the strong storytelling used by data-- or used through data. And sometimes, it's when we have that gut-feel, anecdotal analytics that I call it. When we've kind of got a gut feel, but when you can support that evidence-based decision-making through data, that's really where it comes into fruition.

JJ: 22:32

I think that really with the winner, most importantly showed a very clear path and a data-based recommendation to help ultimately save lives, and I think that's the big newsworthy insight. And I think it's so much more important now that we're living in a COVID-19 world, and so I think all of this around mental health and awareness is so important. And with that, I'm really super pleased to announce the winner was a team from RFDS. [applause]

MADDIE: 23:09

The analysis from Ishita's team landed RFDS or Royal Flying Doctor Service the $10,000 price.

JJ: 23:19

Yeah. Ishita and team, you guys did an absolute cracking job. I was on the edge of my seat from the very beginning of the presentation right the way through the end. So a massive congratulations to you and to your team. And a massive congratulations to RFDS, and thank you everyone that participated. Some fantastic insights.

MADDIE: 23:41

Weeks of hard work wrapped up in these presentations. I'm so excited for these students who provided insights to the charities they represented. The feeling of giving back, that sense of accomplishment, plus being able to walk away with new analytic skills. I can't wait to see what these students do next. For Sunny and the team supporting the Smith Family Foundation--

SUNNY: 24:03

It was a great experience to be able to practically work for analytics with such a dynamic platform. And it's been a great challenge to source the right data for the correct information, basically, to work on. And also being new users in Alteryx. But with proper guidelines from our mentors and with our teamworks, we have managed to complete this task.


And I think I can speak on behalf of my teammates too, saying that this project has really taught us about-- or given us the experience and skills to transform data and clean it and, yeah, transform it and really draw out insights that can help our society, especially during this time, to be more caring and more united. I'm really also proud of the other teams because what they produced was really incredible too and to the winning team, especially. And so I want to congratulate the winning team too and all the other teams for really persevering through this.

ISHITA: 25:26

I cannot believe we won this competition. It's so surreal. Gosh. I can't even believe, and I can't even begin to describe how to explain this feeling. It's amazing. I can't believe that we'll actually be using this model to be able to save so many lives. Just thinking about that gives me goosebumps. And I'm really proud of me and my entire team to be able to build this model which will be making a difference. So I'd like to thank Alteryx, RXP, and everyone who has given this opportunity to us because without this opportunity, we would not even know what we are capable of, so thank you.

MADDIE: 26:23

[music] Thanks for listening to Alter Everything. Visit Alteryx for Good on the Community to learn more about the data challenge projects from these amazing students. You can also use the AFG space on Community to learn more about the student Alteryx license, engage with others, connect with user groups for your internships, and get course-certified to put Alteryx on your resume. Extra special thanks to the Alteryx for Good program and Alteryx partner, RXP, for co-sponsoring the prize donation. And thanks to all the students for participating. I also want to give a shoutout to Alteryx country manager for Australia, JJ Philips, Neil Osipuk from RXP, and all of the judges and mentors who came together to make this data challenge such a success. And if you can't keep track of everything that I just called out, just visit our show notes at Thanks.


This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).
Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track for this episode.