Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

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An event full of possibilities – and challenges

Rotman launched its second annual Datathon on Friday October 26; organizing an industry Q&A panel made up of professionals in the field of analytics, and a networking reception. The event – a precursor to the start of the competition the next day – brought together 18 teams of three to four participants. What all the participants had in common was a passion for analytics and developing data-based solutions – exactly what they would be tasked to do in the Datathon.

Meeting at Desautels Hall before the kickoff of the industry panel, participants talked amongst themselves and networked with current MMA students who were also present at the event. The teams were excited, but also had one thing in mind: what problem would they have to solve and what technical and communication skills would be needed to do so? 

There was a lot at stake: over $35,000 worth of entrance awards to the Rotman MMA program. Participants knew they would be judged by an expert panel made up of academics, industry experts, and a representative from the Toronto Police Service (TPS), as well as Geotab.

The teams learned later that evening that the Datathon revolved around a particularly relevant problem for the city of Toronto: traffic safety in the context of ever-increasing urbanization. Their solutions could potentially be used to aid the  TPS in its efforts to improve traffic safety in high-usage areas, including schools, hospitals, places of worship, and other buildings of particular concern. 

We asked the teams to take advantage of data sets in order to submit a presentation which would be judged on the soundness of analysis, effectiveness of communication, and the actionability of recommendations. This case represented an enormous opportunity for participants; it allowed them to combine their passion for data and communication skills in order to help solve a problem that directly affects the public. 

Image of the industry panel at the Datathon kick off event

Insights from the Q&A industry panel

Jessica Yu, Career Coach of the Rotman MMA Program, hosted the panel which brought together three analytics professionals. They all had advice to share with the participants who were eager to learn more about the industry. 

Zaman Forootan – manager in the Omnia AI, Deloitte’s AI practice – had a lot to say about the growing field. With a PhD in Operations Research and Supply Chain Management, Zaman has extensive experience in machine learning and optimization projects in the oil and gas, logistics, transportation and retail industries. 

As for his advice, Zaman stated that the real power of analytics comes from “what you’re solving, and what you can get for your organization and clients.”

“It’s the really easy part of the process which is the coding part, that’s being automated. Finding the actual problem and tackling it is the most important thing. Not every data scientist is able to translate solutions to a very general language: something that a CFO or a CEO can understand.” 

The Rotman MMA teaches students how to translate data into actionable insights – a skill necessary in the industry. 

Natalie Lippey – a Data Analytics Manager at Kira Systems – believes that while the ability to code is essential, she looks for other skills when scouting potential employees.

“You do have to learn how to code for sure, but when I look for people to work for me, they have to be able to ask the right questions: it’s about intuitive leaps.”

She noted that majority of the coding languages that are relevant today did not exist when she graduated from university, and that Microsoft Excel was still in its infancy stages. 

“You have to be technically confident that you can learn anything.”

Brian Keng – Chief Data Scientist at Rubikloud Technologies and an Adjunct Professor in Data Science at Rotman – shared his perspective on the challenges within the industry. 

Brian agreed with Natalie that intuition was a significant factor in being able to solve problems. 

“When you’re looking at a dataset, you have almost unlimited possibilities on how to address it. What’s important is having the intuition about what questions to ask, what to follow-up on.”

“We’re trying to figure out if the candidates we’re bringing in really have those skillsets.”

What did participants think? 

When asked about their motivations for joining the Datathon, participants had a lot to say. Many were interested in learning about what it’s like to solve problem using code and data-sets.

“As someone with a finance background, I saw how valuable data could be. I’m interested in financial modeling, that’s why I’d like to study in the MMA program,” explained one participant.

Others were looking forward to the social and networking aspects of the event.

“I’ve decided to participate in the Datathon because it was an opportunity to meet like-minded people interested in data science.”

The kick-off event on Friday was an exciting and informative experience for everyone involved. Most importantly, participants were able to learn about analytics while interacting with industry professionals, academics, and their peers. The teams looked forward to the next day, when they would put their analytical skills to the test in order to solve the case.

Read about day 2: a day of competition with many solutions and one team announced the winner.

The Master of Management Analytics is designed to give students the advanced data management, analytics and communication skills needed to become an analytics professional. 

© Rotman School of ManagementThe Rotman School of Management is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB)