Info Technology students, faculty organize ‘Data Jam’

Student teams analyze data and create visuals using Tableau

Written By Mitchell Drake, Staff Writer

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Information Technology professors and faculty co-organized the Data Jam event with the Information Technology Student Organization (ITSO) in the West Penn lobby on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

The Data Jam tasked teams of three to four students to analyze a set of data and create figures and plots using Tableau, a program that allows users to create visualizations of data sets and analytics. Although the contest invited students to use Tableau, they were permitted to use other programs they may have felt more comfortable with, such as Excel, Python or Weka.

Information Technology Director and Assistant Professor Mark Voortman explained the students would use Tableau to utilize different attributes to predict attrition or gradual sapping of a company’s effectiveness when employees leave and are not replaced.

Vice President of ITSO and freshman IT major Sabrina Tatalias detailed the teams were given a comma-separated values (CSV) file of data that was pulled from publicly published data from real company polls.

Voortman praised how the contest would make students pull various insights and conclusions from the CSV. For example, the students would need to find out how an employee’s age, performance and distance from their job could drive the attrition of a workplace, then create a visual poster of their correlations and conclusions using Tableau or another similar program.

In his opening presentation explaining the objectives of the teams, Voortman had also featured a quote from a Harvard Business Review article that named data scientist as the “sexiest” job of the 21st century.

The contest remained open to students of any major, and drew students from diverse fields of study.

Senior human resource management major Kristen Blazeyewski had no previous experience working with Tableau or Weka, but is learning how to use them while competing. Blazeyewski found working with the programs intimidating, but appreciates the opportunity to learn the software through a scenario that she may encounter when working in the human resource field.

Senior IT major Edwin Obuya, who finished second place in the Growth from Knowledge (GfK) NextGen Hackathon Competition with Tatalias, Alexa Lake and Tanner Campbell, is also competing in the contest without prior knowledge of Tableau. Obuya says the contest is not only helping him learn more software skills that will benefit his future career, it is also enriching his interest in business analytics.

He also stated that the data in the provided CSV appears more manageable than what he worked with in the Hackathon and has been given much more time to prepare the poster presentation with his team.

“It’s a real challenge, and I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Obuya said.

Sophomore funeral services major Bryanna Madden joined the contest to learn more applicable skills and experience for her future career. Madden originally thought working with the CSV was going to be intimidating, but found the work to be relatively easy to understand.

“I’m here because I found out that my major has a lot more to do with marketing than I thought,” Madden said.

Tatalias, who helped organize the event and signed in competitors at the front table, stated that she wanted to share her passion for data science with others through an event like a Data Jam. She had previously competed in a Data Jam with Pittsburgh Data Works while attending Bethel Park High School, which she said kickstarted her interests in big data and predictive data analytics.

The contest will continue with another workshop on Wednesday, March 6 to allow teams to reconvene before the presentation of their findings on April 3. The teams will present their conclusions on posters to industry professional judges to attempt to win prizes such as a Data Jam trophy, Barnes & Noble gift cards and Stage AE tickets. Voortman noted that the contest will not give certificates of completion for a specific reason.

“If you apply for a job in this field, they won’t be asking for certificates or degrees, they will pose a problem to test your skill sets,” Voortman said.

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