This month, I School students, staff, and faculty came together in Denver, CO, for the School’s first regional MIDS Immersion program. Immersion is a four-day experience for our online Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) students to learn from faculty and industry leaders, meet with data science professionals, socialize, network, and build community with their I School peers.
The Denver program was a markedly different experience from our past immersion programs, with a smaller group, and students, faculty, and staff all housed together under one roof. While every Immersion is a special and unique experience, this program was especially intimate and provided an opportunity to try new things and visit an up-and-coming tech job market.
Immersion participants included students from eight states and three countries; including students who traveled from China, Brazil, and the UK. From the US, students traveled from as far as New York and Boston, as well Austin, Philadelphia, Seattle, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Florida, and San Francisco. We also had students local to Colorado, including students from Denver, Golden, Colorado Spring, and Westminster. For the first time, the I School also welcomed back a few MIDS alums, Carson Forter, Joe Downs, and Rohit Nair, to the Immersion program.
Several participants expressed happiness at being able to attend Immersion in Denver, either because they currently lived there, or planned to seek a data science role there in the future. “Being a Denver resident it was a great experience to have the I School staff and students here,” one student shared. “Tech treks were very valuable. Even though I'm local here it's not always that I get a peek into how the companies here operate.”
On Saturday evening, November 3, participants checked in to the Renaissance Denver Downtown hotel, then came together for a welcome reception and dinner with I School faculty and staff.
Sunday, November 4, was full of learning and leadership sessions led by UC Berkeley faculty. In the morning, UC Berkeley lecturer Mehmet Sevinc and Bill Collins led a leadership communication session on “finding your authentic voice” as a leader. Students then had an opportunity to update their headshots with a professional photographer over the lunch break, and take advantage of one-on-one sessions with Career Services counselors for a LinkedIn profile review.
MIDS faculty then offered a series of lectures. James Shanahan presented “Deep Learning at Scale for Computer Vision Tasks on the Edge;” Mike Rivera discussed how attention to the cognitive biases we experience can make us better data scientists with “How a ‘Beginner’s Mind’ Can Make Us Better Data Scientists;” Paul Laskowski presented “New Rules on Personally Identifiable Information;” and in his talk, “Turn Down for What?” Alex Hughes asked: can messages delivered via email from a neutral source increase voter participation on election day? Followed by a discussion examining the effect of email messages sent to 500,000 registered Florida voters in an experiment conducted during the 2016 general election.
“The talks from the MIDS professors/staff/alumni were all amazing,” said one participant. “And just the chance to talk to them and other students — both about data science and just casually — was fun.”
On Monday, Immersion participants went on a Tech Treks -— visits to several Denver and Boulder tech companies — where they learned about data science “in the wild.”
The day started with an in-hotel presentation by MIDS student Mike Frazzini, the CTO of eBags. Frazzini’s talk: “Traveling Beyond Business Intelligence and Analytics: Journeys and Adventures in Applied Data Science at eBags.com,” highlighted some of the challenges and successes the company has faced as they have adopted data-driven approaches to growing and running the business.
Students then broke up into smaller groups to visit downtown Denver tech companies Ibotta, Healthgrades, and SendGrid. At Ibotta, students learned how the company is harnessing the power of massive amounts of shopper data to drive business for their retail customers all while helping consumers save money. At Healthgrades, students explored two essential functions for the data science team — creating and improving data, analytic and predictive products and using data and analytics to make better business decisions.
In the afternoon, students trekked to Boulder for visits with Sovrn, Twitter, and CableLabs. At Sovrn, students got a behind the scenes look at the world of online advertising and the complex auction process that determines which ads users see on screen — all powered by data science and machine learning. At Twitter, students explored various data science roles — from engineering to analytics — and how these roles contribute to data platforms, including the Twitter data platform which gathers and provides real-time data from social networking sites. The CableLabs visit gave students an opportunity to hear about interesting use cases for data science and AI in the cable television industry, with speakers from Comcast and Charter.
The day culminated with a community meet-up at Wynkoop Brewing Company, located in a historic downtown building, with other I School students, alumni, and faculty. In the post-event survey, participants consistently shared that the opportunities for relaxed networking and community building are some of the most valuable aspects of Immersion. “Networking!” one student wrote, was the best part of Immersion. “By far, the best thing about the program was getting to meet fellow MIDS students. I also very much enjoyed having some of our favorite instructors there.”
“The people,” were the best part of Immersion, another participant shared. “Everyone was so engaged and encouraging, and the event built such camaraderie.”
“Meeting my friends from class!” shared another. “Having time to get to know them and make a real connection was priceless.”
The final day of Immersion began with intimate conversations between Dean Saxenian and students at a Town Hall brunch, where she had an opportunity to visit each table and talk with small groups. Then, Director of Career Services and Alumni Relations Rebecca Andersen delivered a highly-rated talk titled “Bringing the *Personal* back to branding.” Finally, Drew Paulin, MIDS Academic Director, led MIDS alumni panel; three Denver-area alums shared trends in the data science field and their perspective on how MIDS has benefited their careers post-graduation.
“Overall,” a participant shared, Immersion was “a really great experience — I left really feeling like a Berkeley student.”