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  • Writer's pictureMonica Kay Royal

Portable's Low-Key Data Conference

Portable hosted its very first conference, with a focus on discussing data with a low-key vibe and it was wonderful! Sometimes it is hard to attend the conferences that include the vendor focused sales pitches, IMO, but this one was different. You got to hear from data professionals talk about what it’s like to work in the field, for real! There were discussions around trends (including hot takes), the MAD landscape, VC markets, the current job market (including resources, tips, and tricks), and the general data community. Here are the highlights 🤓

Trends in Data

- Joe Reis - Best Selling Co-Author of Fundamentals of Data Engineering + CEO of Ternary

- Lauren Balik - Owner at Upright Analytics + Co-Host of The Tech Bros Show

- Alexander Dean - CEO at Snowplow

- Peter Fishman - Co-founder at Mozart Data

This was probably the most entertaining session, starting the conference off strong! Ethan asks Lauren “If you were the Head of Data and was given $100K, what would you spend it on?”. Without hesitation, Lauren pocketed the money as a bonus 🤣 The discussion boiled down to the fact that you need to focus on solving the main problems of the company and most likely these are not going to be directly related to data or require additional money. Joe suggested to spread the love and buy some pizza with the $100k. I personally think that might be a bit too much pizza, but maybe pizza is more expensive in Paris?

Joe had a similar take after being asked how to educate executives about the impact of data. The main advice here is to not even talk about the data and to meet the executives where they are because data typically scares people. You can try to change your vocabulary to terms everyone can understand or even map their verbiage to data verbiage. But at the end of the day people just want to do their jobs and get things done.

Peter jumped in bringing the spice, literally, as he was the co-founder of Bacon Hot Sauce in 2010! He shared a personal lesson learned in that if some things are successful at a company, that does not mean you should bring those same methods to apply to a new company. You should learn and speak the language of the business and focus on the areas that smell suboptimal. He has a theory that if you have done something manually 3 times, get a tool. Alex agrees with this theory and hinted at something similar with the 5-whys and mentioned that no one has time for these such methods anymore. While my audit days were basically framed around this 5-whys method, I may have to be more convinced this is the case. However I do agree with the general essence that the middle-man should be avoided, where it can.

Ethan threw another loaded question to Lauren and asked, “Are data teams bloated today?”. Again, without hesitation, the answer was YES! Over the last couple of years, we have noticed that it is cool to go on social media and talk about the new tools that everyone is using, likely open source. This increases the hype and what used to be a team of two people now inflates to 10 because the amount of stuff that needs to get done has also increased. But maybe you only need a team of 4 and buy a tool that does more than the open source frameworks you are currently using. If we are going back to money, the biggest cost with everything here is the people, not the tools. Joe agrees and shares that tools will not solve all of your problems. You need to actually start simple, ask questions, and pay attention to what people want. Again as mentioned previously, meeting the people where they are. This is where you start to create business value.

The topic of hiring and firing was brought up with the reference to most hiring managers not having experience with data. I loved the analogy that Ethan came up with, it actually hit a little too close to home considering a home project I recently had completed. He said it’s like when you hire a plumber. Likely, you don’t know that much about plumbing so you are at risk of the plumber coming in, suggesting unnecessary parts, and up-charging on a job that is actually very simple. The question here is “How do you know what needs to be downsized if you are the COO or do not have a data background?”. While this wasn’t something that was solved, Joe jokingly says you could just fire your whole data team and see if things blow up.

Pete then brought up the idea of causation vs. correlation in respect to how hard it is to even measure the value the team is providing. He went on to discuss the techniques of prioritization and how difficult that is when the team gets flooded with various dashboard requests. Joe shared the Avoid At All Costs List, by Warren Buffett. This is where you list out the top 25 tasks you want to accomplish, circle the top 5 goals, the rest you completely ignore (a.k.a. Avoid At All Costs). Joe says it’s times like these that force ultimate clarity.

To wrap things up in lightning round fashion, Ethan asks everyone for their hottest take over the next 12 months.

  • Joe: Pendulum swing back to old school stuff like data governance and data management

  • Alex: Master Data Management is going to come back in a really big way

  • Pete: Old school tools making a comeback

  • Lauren: Pushback against NRR / NDR

The entire time, the comments section was blowing up. Guess this is why they are called hot takes 🔥🔥🔥 Great job folks!

Careers in Data

- Dustin Schimek - Co-Host, Data Careers Summit

- Kedeisha Bryan - Senior Data Engineer, Booz Allen Hamilton + Co-founder & Community Leader at Data in Motion

- Rajan Patel - Data Analytics Manager at Lacework

- Sonali Kumar - Co-founder of Data in Motion + Data Reporting Analyst at Nike

- Mark Freeman II - Founder at On the Mark Data + Moderator of Data Quality Camp

Ethan was most excited about this one because it is front and center for a lot of us in the data community right now. There are a bunch of us looking for jobs and figuring out what’s next in our careers. I would add that you should always be focusing on what’s next in your career, but I totally get it, it is a hot topic right now in our world. The chat during this session was also going wild, I wish I could have captured more here, but it definitely showed everyone’s strength and willingness to help the data community 😊

Mark shared about how he started out his content creation when he was looking for a job. He set a goal of creating 1 piece of content on LinkedIn that provided value to 1 person. This approach was successful as it got the attention of some recruiters and helped him in getting a job. The whole experience was neat too because it eventually led him to being the rockstar that he is today, providing value to TONS of data peeps out there.

Dustin agrees with this approach and mentions that brand building can be powerful. Without the investment in branding and community, he wouldn’t have the job he has today. However, he does advise to be cognizant of the company you may be currently working for and make sure that your sharing on social media doesn’t jeopardize your position. Sharing and networking on LinkedIn is a great backup plan if you have a job and also a great investment if you don’t have a job.

Sonali shares how to set yourself up for success, from a mental health perspective. She reminds us that it is important to not compare yourself to others and also not to spend hours upon hours just applying for jobs. You need to take time out of your day to do something that makes you happy. Another way to set yourself up for success is to continuously learn as shared by Rajan. He believes that this makes you a good candidate for jobs because it shows you know what’s happening in the industry. It also helps to follow the right people on LinkedIn and leverage the platform to help you with learning.

Kedeisha is known for wearing many hats with her activity in the data community and Ethan asks why she is doing two things at once. Besides needing to pay the bills, Kedeisha feels that she needs to still build her career while also building Data In Motion as a side hustle. She mentioned that she does fully intend on switching full time when she can. Ethan asks Sonali for her take on building your own company to which she advises, make sure that it is something you want to do before you get into it and it is ok to pivot. She admits that it is difficult having a full time job and running a business but the times when you are pushed beyond your comfort zone, it is totally worth the amount you will learn from the process.

Ethan asks Dustin a similar question with why he participates in his various ventures and the short answer was IMPACT! He said that for some reason, he can’t not do the things that he does. He started the Data Career Summit about 5 years ago after he kept getting questions from the community, including parents, on how to get into data and analytics. He saw trends happening during that time that he wanted to capture, mainly so that he could respond to the incoming questions with data (what a natural data professional!!) and continues to update this report today. If you would like to see a copy, reach out to Dustin and he would be happy to share!

In regards to trends, Mark shares the trends that he has seen related to the different paths that people take when entering or navigating the data space. He advises to focus on what problems you want to solve and where in the data lifecycle you are interested in working. If you like statistics, you might want to be an analyst. If you are interested in learning more about the products, data science might be a good fit. If you like to clean data, you might want to check out data engineering. As long as you remain curious and follow your passion, any career in data is the place for you.

Rajan and Kedeisha share a bit about the hiring process and how to prepare. Rajan mentions that he looks for 3 things when hiring a data professional

  1. SQL

  2. Domain Knowledge

  3. Enthusiastic Culture Fit

Kedeisha suggests some ways to prepare are with

  1. 8 Week SQL Challenge by Danny Ma

  2. The Mentorship by Orbition

  3. Data In Motion Discord

A big question that everyone always likes to ask is what would you do differently if you can do it all over. Sonali says that she would have loved to be part of a community to help her learn and grow. Dustin agrees and shares that there are many ways you can build your community whether that is through in-person or virtual means. If you are networking on LinkedIn, consider inviting others to a virtual coffee to chat.

Ethan ends this session by asking what everyone is excited about in the next 12 months and the group unanimously agrees with more conferences and more networking!

Data Community

- Benjamin Rogojan - Owner and Data Consultant at The Seattle Data Guy

- Veronika Durgin - VP of Data at Saks

- Chris Tabb - Co-Founder & CCO at LEIT DATA + traveler of the #meandatastreets

- Naheil McAvinue - Senior Data Manager, GitLab

- Aswin James Christy Nayagam - Manager & Global Head -Partner Solution Architects

This last session was more of a casual discussion, with no agenda, around the general data community. I think the data community is in agreement that we are enjoying the increase in conferences and in-person networking. There have been several low-key happy hours that have been sweeping the US, one of which I attended with Ben in Phoenix earlier this month which was neat! Shameless plug, I recorded one of my podcast episodes at the event and you can check it out on our podcast page.


The conclusion to the conference left us with anticipation since the closing remarks was invite-only. All I know is that there will be more low-key events in the future, but we need to follow Portable and Ethan to find out the deets.

Thank you to all that were involved in helping put together this conference in just under one month's time. It was low-key but also a very exciting and energized event!

Thank you for reading, thank you for supporting

and as always,
Happy Learning!!

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