When Maggie Philbin returned to BBC TV for a one-off special of Tomorrow’s World last month, it was to a world in which the footprint of technology had become much larger than the programme ever anticipated, even in its last run in 2003. When she returns to Edinburgh to host the DataFest’s Data Summit again next March, it will be to discover that the annual event organised by The Data Lab has grown even more than it expected.
While the Data Summit was one of two cornerstones of the 2018 programme which lasted just over one week, in 2019 it will be one of six across a two-week period from 11th to 22nd March. Like the celebrated event in the city where it is headquartered, DataFest continues to expand. “We have definitely stolen ideas from the Edinburgh Festival,” Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, told DataIQ this week. “Plagiarism is the best form of flattery.”
While the conference continues to be the flagship for the festival, feedback from this year’s delegates revealed a strong appetite for more and more specialised content. As a result, DataFringe will see workshops, meet-ups and more take place from “the Orkneys to Ayreshire”, she said. “The only way to get that breadth and depth was by involving the community across Scotland.”
The first round of applications to be included in the fringe closed at the end of last month, with a second wave open in January. Selected proposals will become part of the formal programme under the DataFest umbrella, expanding both the nature of what is on offer and also its geography.
Another new component for next year is DataTech on 14th March. With a focus on algorithms, software and hardware, machine learning technology, deep learning, data visualisation, reproducible and collaborative data science, it is for the practically-minded who want to understand what tools and techniques might help them. Practitioners can also apply to present following the model of academic sessions in front of a peer group.
Confirmed speakers include Debbie Bard, acting group lead for data science engagement at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Centre, and Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel, associate professor of the practice, Duke University, alongside Jared Lander, chief data scientist at Lander Analytics.
This underlines the international scope and reach of DataFest, reflecting The Data Lab’s mission. “We are encouraging companies to look at Scotland as a destination for investment and to start-up or scale,” said Docherty. Trade missions and delegations are part of the mix for next March, with promising leads passed to the Scottish Development International.
A major organic growth area for the event is Data Talent which sees over 300 post-graduates brought together with private and public sector organisations looking to hire their abilities. “People have been offered jobs on the spot,” noted Docherty. As well as employment opportunities, candidates can also take part in workshops on how to improve their LinkedIn profile, create a CV and interview tactics. “Last year, one organisation took 30 students in for interview and hired several on the back of that.”
With a Women in data science initiative and the Executive dinner, there will be plenty for visitors to get involved with, even without attending the Data Summit on 21st and 22nd March. But that would be to miss out on a five-fold focus looking at mass media marketing, creativity, data in action, the future of work and skills, and ethics and public engagement. Among the keynotes being ushered on-stage by Philbin will be Dr Sue Black, professor of computer science and technology evangelist at Durham University.
As DataFest continues to scale up, the knowledge economy in Scotland is beginning to feel the benefit. That is the result of a combination of investment, support and people, with that sense of a community a key dimension to the event. As Docherty said: “It is very exciting to pull the cohort together because getting talent is a tough challenge.”
DataIQ is media partner for DataFest