March 04, 2013 - 1 comment.

A first-time speaker’s experience of Strathclyde’s Big Data and Social Media Conference

It’s been almost a year since I graduated and I thought I’d left University life well and truly behind me. However, this week I found myself at the heart of a Univeristy once more – just with a little less of the drinking and there wasn’t a night out to be seen. Instead, I was lucky enough to be invited – along with the rest of Bloom’s Insight department – to speak at the University of Strathclyde’s Big Data and Social Media conference.

Fiona Ainley and I had never spoken at a conference before, and we were very excited to be donning our academic hats once more. The conference – run by Professor Des Higham, with whom we have collaborated on plethora of successful research projects,  was aimed at bringing people in commerce and academia together. It covered all sorts of things, from technical issues such as data collection and high performance computing, to how these issues impact on marketing, social sciences and the study of human interaction.

Peter Laflin, our brilliant Head of Data Insight, kick-started the day’s events with a talk on successful campaign planning. Peter explained what big data is and how campaign planning can be crucial to brands by ensuring that their budgets are efficiently invested. He then went on to talk about the developments that Bloom are making using big data to assist our clients in their campaign planning processes. By the response of the room it was evident that this was a hot topic. It sparked a ton of discussion and conversation – both in the room and on Twitter. Many of the case studies that Peter discussed – including our work on the Superbowl – were repeatedly referred to by other speakers during the rest of the day.

Jillian Ney (University of Strathclyde) then followed with a passionate talk about ‘Quantifying Business Value from Social Data’. Hayden Sutherland (Merchant Soul) then took to the floor to energetically describe ‘The Multi-Channel Consumer and Their Influence to Purchasing’, likening last click attribution to the goal scorer in a football game, taking all of the credit for a team effort.
After the first session was focused on marketing discussion, we were ready for a session filled with talk of big data. After a quick pit stop for tea and biscuits, Adrian Jackson (EPCC) and Peter Richtarik (University of Edinburgh) started the second session by introducing high powered computing and optimising big data.

Power point and notes at the ready, it was then time for Fiona and I to step up to discuss our unexpected careers in big data. Our talk covered all sorts of things -from how we found ourselves drawn to careers in big data after graduating from university with degrees in mathematics, to the unique attractions of Bloom, our roles on a day-to-day basis and our personal highlights since beginning our careers. We wrapped up by talking about what has most surprised us about working in big data, and exploring the kinds of people we believe would be suited to careers in the area.

The audience were extremely friendly and encouraging and best of all, seemed really interested. When we opened the floor to questions people wanted to know more about our experiences learning on the role and in industry and others wanted to know more about the further applications of Whisper. Our talk seemed to have been a success, and I must say, we were relieved!

Fiona Deans (University of Strathclyde) then ended the morning session with a quick explanation of the ‘Research and Knowledge Exchange Services’ available at Strathclyde, an opportunity for knowledge transfer between businesses and the University.
After lunch, Pete took over from Des in chairing for the afternoon and began by introducing Cecilia Mascolo (University of Cambridge) who gave a talk about ‘Geo-social Network Analysis and Applications.’ Cecilia’s talk focused on Foursquare data – again showing another approach to data exploration.

Alex Mantzaris, our brilliant Research Associate, was up next with his maths based presentation – ‘Data to Knowledge in Social Media’. Alex highlighted his interest in social networks and the basic concepts of studying social networks, before revealing the applications of his research into various data sets. Alex, currently at Bloom from Strathclyde as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, is a fantastic example of the importance of the partnerships that were raised by Fiona Deans earlier in the day.

Richard Martin (University of Strathclyde) followed with another interesting discussion of high powered computing and its potential to speed up and improve processes with big data – always fascinating to the Insight team – before Colin Singleton (University of Reading/CountingLab) gave the final presentation of the day.

Colin was presenting on behalf of his team in Reading which also includes Jon Ward, Peter Grindrod and Danica Vukadinović Greetham. We have collaborated very successfully with this team in the past and it was wonderful to see their approach to a data set that we had both worked on.

All in all, the day was extremely interesting. It was fascinating to see such a broad base of topics – each talk was so different. There was an effective balance between social, big data and the more technical aspects. Fiona and I found it exceptionally useful to see a variety of approaches to presentations and it was a fantastic opportunity to network. We had the opportunity to speak to a variety of people and I found it particularly interesting to talk to people who were interested in our work from both an academic and a business perspective. It made me realise quite how unique Bloom is – a focus on both academia and industry really is at the forefront of our success.