Scotland Salutes Emerging Data Talent

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I took to the stage just after 1.30 on Wednesday afternoon at an amazing venue in Glasgow’s East End to open an event we’d called “Data Driven Decision Engineering – the next Chapter in Data Science”

Being asked to chair an event of this size and prestige? Yeah, a bit of a heart in mouth moment, to be honest!

We had almost 200 guests at the venue, a very cool and trendy space called BAaD (Barras Art & Design) and they had assembled for one reason: to celebrate the success of the 2017/18 Data Lab MSc Placement Programme. MBN Solutions had partnered with The Data Lab for the 2nd year to deliver this showpiece programme, and we had gathered to share the stories of success from the 70+ students who’d spent their summer working in over 40 Scottish organisations on a variety of Data-related projects.

First up on stage was Brian Hills, Head of Data at The Data Lab. A veteran Data Scientist, Brian kept it succinct and to the point (as advised by his daughter!), his guidance centred around passion, knowledge and networking.

I then introduced a very special guest speaker – Jamie Hepburn MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Business, Fair Work & Skills. With the Scottish Government being hugely supportive of the Programme at a wide variety of levels, it was an honour for us to welcome Jamie, who spoke with passion and intelligence around the government’s commitment to ensuring Scotland maintains and builds on it’s deserved reputation as a national centre of excellence for Data Science.

The theme we had chosen for the day’s celebration was “the culture of collaboration” – demonstrated in spades by my illustration of the large amount of people involved in delivering just one placement project. We thought hard about our event theme, drawing upon our knowledge of successful Data Talent initiatives at a wide variety of organisations, and our research within the community brought up the same recurring answers: collaboration, diversity, challenging convention, openness and trust.

Our next two speakers reinforced these themes as they talked through their individual and organisational stories. First, Fraser Ingram, currently Director of Innovation, Technology & Change Management at Clydesdale Bank Group took us through his vision of where Data Science would enable competitive advantage within the Bank, and the culture of openness that is allowing CYBG to be viewed as a “Data employer of choice” in a hugely competitive market.

Fraser was followed by Matt Grest, Director of Platform from the BBC. We were hugely fortunate to secure BBC Design & Engineering as a keynote sponsor for the day, and Matt’s presentation combined a blend of honesty, humour, technical know-how and “future-gazing” and set the perfect tone for the day.

I took over from Matt, announcing a short break – and an opportunity for everyone to catch their breath and take some time to continue the networking activity that had started pre-event. We headed out to the (awesomely hip!) open air networking space to take a chance to catch up with the many familiar (and loads of new) faces in the audience.

Returning to the stage, I passed the mic to my colleague, MBN Solutions Chairman Paul Forrest, for our panel discussion. Paul was joined by Marta Portugal of Merkle Aquila, Cathy Mitchell of Scottish Funding Council, Stephen Ingledew of FinTech Scotland and Martin Thorn from Clydesdale Bank. The panel brought a wide range of experiences, from the public to the private sector, from start-up to corporate and reinforced the message that we’d been hearing since the start of the day – success in Data Science is a collaborative exercise that requires a diverse approach!

Next up, I had the pleasure of introducing Joshua Ryan-Saha to the stage. Josh and I have worked together for the last 2 years, he is my main point of contact at The Data Lab for the MSc. Programme. Josh chaired The Data Lab Project Awards part of the day – an opportunity for the students who had undertaken a placement this summer to compete for the prestigious Student Project trophy. I’d been part of the judging panel for this year’s competition and I have to say it was a very tight call. On the day, we watched presentations from the final 3 shortlisted students: Mark Wallace, who’d spent his summer at Wood MacKenzie, Debbie Maltman, who worked with Volunteer Scotland and Laura Hepburn, who was placed with Scottish Funding Council. All three gave informative presentations and they all did incredibly well to stand in front of a couple of hundred guests to present their findings (from experience, I know this is NOT easy!)

The award went to Debbie Maltman, who collected her trophy plus a variety of additional prizes from The Data Lab. Debbie had demonstrated a strong understanding of the very specific requirements of the challenge, and clearly articulated the impact her project had on the organisation she was placed with this summer. Well done, Debbie!

Data Lab CEO Gillian Docherty presented Debbie with her trophy, and moved seamlessly into bringing our event to a close just before 5 o’clock. Gillian then invited me to join her onstage for a very special couple of “thank you” announcements.

Firstly, Joshua Ryan-Saha was thanked for the massive contribution he has made to the Programme over the last few years. Josh is moving on to pastures new soon, and it was important to recognise the legacy that he leaves behind. As Skills Manager for The Data Lab, Josh has been instrumental in developing this Programme into something that is regarded as THE showpiece for academic/commercial collaboration in the Data Science arena.

Then, I got the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for a long time now. To publicly thank my colleague, Georgia Boyle, for the amazing work she has done in support of this Programme. Georgia led on the organisation of the day’s event but, more importantly (to me, anyway!), acted as Project Lead and partner to me in delivering both the training elements of the Programme and the creation of, and matching to, the dozens of Placement Projects that students undertook this summer. Having ran this Programme for 2 years now, I know it is not an easy task to undertake, and having Georgia by my side every step of the way was of massive personal benefit. She’s a wee star!

Both Josh and Georgia were presented with beautiful bouquets of flowers to acknowledge their contributions – and with applause ringing around the arena I brought the day’s formal events to a close – and headed off out to the networking area for some BBQ and a (very large!) glass of red wine.

Next year? Plans are already underway for the 2018/19 Data Lab MSc Placement Programme which, I am delighted to announce, will once again be supported by MBN Solutions. If you’ve liked what you’ve read about here, and want to find out how you might get involved in the coming Programme – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.