A group of final-year IE University students aim to put data science on the map and break down accessibility barriers with the launch of a new datathon in early 2022.
Camila Barbagallo from Argentina, fourth-year students Rocio Lantero and Paula Garcia from Madrid—all Bachelor in Data and Business Analytics students—and Paula Fernández from Málaga, who is in her fourth year of the Bachelor in Behavioral and Social Sciences, have come together as a team after initially studying together as first-years.
Having worked together on several projects in their time at IE University, they have a strong team dynamic and a clear idea of how to combine their relative strengths to succeed. We spoke to them to find out more about their mission to make the world of data more accessible.
Tell us about the initiative. What’s the main idea and motivation behind it?
Newset Datathon is an accessible and inclusive datathon that will take place between February 14, 2022, and March 28, 2022. For anybody not familiar with the concept, a datathon is a competition in which a data provider raises a question and provides a dataset to the participants with which they will be able to solve the proposed question.
Newset was born from the idea of breaking stereotypes and giving greater visibility to new talent. With this in mind and taking into account our previous experience in other datathons, we have created our own version. Our participants will all have under a year of professional experience in data. They’ll work in teams of between two and four people, with the gender make-up of each team being mixed. We also highly encourage groups formed of people from different backgrounds. If they don’t have a team, we can put one together for them. They will have an entire month to work with the data and the problem at hand, and we’ll guide them through weekly webinars and mentor sessions, so they don’t feel lost, regardless of their level. After that first month the top five teams, ranked by metrics, will have two weeks to prepare a presentation addressing the business side of the problem. They’ll have to explain their solution in an intuitive way—sell their work, essentially—to our judges at the closing event, which will take place at the IE Tower.
Run us through the decision process—how did you come up with the idea, and how did you put the team together?
If you take a look at the team and our backgrounds, you can probably guess how this came about. We are a team of four young female professionals pursuing careers in STEM. Whenever someone talks about a technology student or professional, they imagine the stereotypical image of an introverted male, wearing sports clothes and isolated in a dark room, coding day after day. As you can see, we by no means fit this description! So, this is something we want to advocate for. That is also how we met one of our partners, Women in Machine Learning and Data Science (WiMLDs).
We’re graduating in June 2022, meaning this past summer we’ve been looking for internships. In a few months we’ll be out, as we like to call it, in “the real world.” Although we’re lucky enough to be guided by IE University on how to prepare for interviews and where to look for jobs, we know this can be very daunting. We have also experienced the feeling of not showing your worth in a 15-minute interview or on a CV, or even finding an entry-level job or internship in which they don’t require previous experience. So we realized that creating a new kind of datathon could cover all those needs from these central ideas. First of all, through our training, we can show that data is accessible—you just need to have the courage and proper resources to jump into it and get your hands dirty. Secondly, through our sponsors, we are able to give our participants that extra push to contact them and share their CVs and work done throughout the competition. Following this principle, we wanted our team to represent this idea, and through our previous experience working together, we knew that if anybody could bring this project to life, it was us.
What’s the vision for this project—do you plan to expand it, make it a global competition?
Newset Datathon is here to make the data world more accessible and inclusive by boosting new talent. Our vision is for this project to be a reference where newcomers can showcase their talent. Right now, Newset Datathon is a European competition. We will finance all logistical costs for the five top-ranked teams that attend the final event in person if they don’t reside in Madrid. Our goal is to get 100 participants from different backgrounds. We also like to think we’re creating a community of newcomers that will support and learn together from professionals and each other.
We’d love to repeat the competition and its dynamics in the future, covering different continents and even expanding worldwide. Furthermore, we’d love to break into other fields and create competitions so that newcomers can showcase their talent and learn new skills.
We can see a rise in data and how data impacts the world, especially on a social level. Can you explain the social impact goals you have for the datathon?
We know data is everywhere, and there are many NGOs that base their work on data. Data science has been one of the trending topics of these last few years. Although not everyone knows exactly what it is, it has been called the “sexiest job of the 21st century” by Harvard Business School. That’s why we want to educate people on the subject through social media and the competition. More importantly, we want to break the stereotypes and show that everyone can become a data professional if they are willing to.
As females in the industry, promoting inclusivity is close to our hearts, and we believe that gender, like any other demographic or characteristic, doesn’t define what you can and can’t do. Not only data but technology, in general, requires a lot of creativity and new perspectives. These are only possible with diverse teams, regardless of gender, backgrounds, and any other characteristics one may think of. Education is also essential; as future data scientists, when explaining what we study, we’ve had reactions like “Do you have access to a database in which you can search my name and get all my information?” We think everyone should be informed about what data science is all about, what’s happening with their data, how data science can be ethically correct, and how we can all benefit from it, regardless of the field it may be applied to.
How does the datathon impact the IE community and the student community at large?
We believe the datathon can bring a new perspective to IE University students. Through it, they’ll collaborate with students studying other degrees, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, or by forming part of one of the IE University Bootcamps. They’ll also be able to work with people from other universities or backgrounds because you don’t need to be enrolled in anything to participate. We believe it will bring students out of their comfort zone within the IE University community and give them a sneak peek of what’s waiting for them on the outside. This will also make a positive impact by showing that those who study or work in data science aren’t “nerds.”
What ethical implications does data science have? How does your datathon portray those values?
Data science has substantial ethical implications everyone should be aware of. All our human biases are portrayed in the data we feed our algorithms with, and therefore these can also be biased. An example of this might be a recruitment algorithm created by a very large company. It may suddenly become clear when implementing it that no women were being recruited for the next phase, and you may well ask why. Historical data shows that men have reached higher positions than women, and even today the boards of directors of many companies are mainly men. This influences average income and therefore the data, so the algorithm concludes that men are more successful than women, even though we should all be considered equally.
Apart from the core values we explained previously, we want our community to understand and question how this may happen—how it’s ethically incorrect to jump to conclusions just because the data seems to say something. Through education and experience, we want people always to question their data, analyze the distributions and consider how they can be wrongly interpreted.
Finally, what message do you want to spread through this datathon?
That DATA IS FOR EVERYONE!
The group is active on all social networks, and are happy to talk about the datathon, selection processes, what companies are looking for, and the world of data in general. You can follow them, get in touch or ask any questions on their website, on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. We’re excited to see the datathon develop and can’t wait for the first edition next year. Good luck to the team and all the participants.