Big Data LDN is right around the corner and this year’s event (November 13-14 in London) boasts an impressive roster of speakers including big data visionaries, experts, and real-world data pros sharing insight and tips on how to build dynamic, data-driven enterprises. One of those speakers is Gordon Coale and he’s presenting a strategy session on Carlson Wagonlit’s “Big Data Journey into the Cloud.” We interviewed Gordon to talk about his role, his upcoming presentation, and what he hopes to see more (and less of) at Big Data LDN.
What is your role at Carlson Wagonlit Travel?
Technically, I’m a senior director of analytics but I tend to call myself a data professional. The main reason being that I’ve held so many different roles in the data arena that one label isn’t particularly useful anymore. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on architecture and held various architecture roles, each with a data focus. I’ve also spent time as a data scientist, data consultant, and built reporting and analytics systems so I’ve found that the term “data professional” is one that best sums up my career and experience.
Of all those data-related roles, which is your favorite? What do you most like to do?
It comes down to pleasing my users and my clients. I still love getting my hands dirty playing with data – whether that’s as an architect, data scientist, analyst, or scoping an entire program of work – but the kick for me is giving my clients and customers new insights into their own data and having them discover new things more easily.
Over last five years, what have been the most interesting changes in data and analytics?
There are two obvious ones. The first is the whole big data revolution. It’s interesting to see how that was painted in the hype versus how it’s played out.
The second change is the meteoric rise of the data scientist. That’s an interesting label – data scientist. It’s not a role that’s new or was formed out of whole cloth five years ago because as a discipline it was always there. What’s different is the way the role has coalesced around data science and big data toolsets and into an industry discipline rather than a niche. The role has obviously ridden the wave of the hype cycle as these things go as there are huge amounts of funding currently being put into data science projects and picking up data science resources, which gives our business users another, different technology capability and viewpoint to draw on.
The data science title has been a fascinating rebranding. You have quants, analysts, actuaries and some of the smartest ones I know don’t care about titles and others are so happy to append a data scientist title. What are your thoughts on the data science title?
I agree with you. Some people love the title because it’s an easy label and brings with it a fairly well-formed idea of what someone does, even if the reality is there’s a very wide range of skills and mindsets within the role. It ranges from the data analyst level to hard core machine learning engineers or data engineers. It all depends on who’s recruiting and who’s describing their job.
Can you share what you’ll talk about at Big Data LDN?
I’ll be talking about the kind of Big Data journey that Carlson Wagonlit Travel has been on for the last 18-20 months. We were late getting properly involved in big data beyond putting more than a toe in the water and some proof of concepts (POCs) that were going on in different divisions. There was a real inflection point about two years ago when we decided that the initial wave of excitement around Big Data had died out and some of the pragmatic benefits were starting to show. That’s when it made sense for us to externally engage with the more mature products and the capabilities at that point. From an internal perspective, that’s also when we started taking a hard look at our point solutions and point implementations and bringing them together for the benefit of the entire company, not just individual teams or departments.
When you go to a large event like Big Data LDN, what’s your strategy for taking in all the different vendors and talks? Do you have a certain agenda in mind or how do you navigate those shows?
There are a few go-to vendors like Cloudera and Cazena that I always make a point of seeing, along with some of the other companies and people I’ve had relationships with through many different roles. One of the nice things about working with Cazena is that we get wide insight into what’s happening in the market. Then I like to take time to look at some of the newer kids on the block to see what they’re doing and their interesting value proposition.
Gordon Coale’s presentation, “Carlson Wagonlit’s Big Data Journey in the Cloud” is on 13 November from 2:30-3:00 at the Big Data LDN conference. For more information: https://bigdataldn.com/seminar-schedule/