Skills hack: Keboola explains why it turned to hackathons to tackle a lack of talent and encourage diversity

#DataGirls took place in Singapore last week

Data is an area that needs a quick up-skill in many markets but for Keboola, rather than waiting for the market to sort itself out, it set about creating a series of events and hackathons to solve the problem faster.

The #DataDriven hackathon and #DataGirls take place in Singapore every few months and, while they both take aim at different problems, the investment from Keboola is to on one key objective: data skills.

Speaking to The Drum during the latest set of events in Singapore, Pavel Bulowski, co-founder of DataDriven and partner at Keboola, explains why a data business turned its hand to events.

“There are two types of events of events we focus on to fulfill the key objective. One is to create a platform for the professional community (data science, analytics, business intelligence). Rather than the sporadic meetups, we want to give these people opportunity to discover new trends, share and learn from peers and gain new skills at hands on events like the hackathons.

The other track, #DataGirls, aims at a problem we have been hearing about for ages, the lack of talent in the market place. We focus on diversity in tech generally and we provide workshops that aim at demystifying the data analytics world to women, since given the current ratios of women in tech, we are talking about an almost exclusively boys club and that, in effect, shrinks the possible addressable talent market to 50%. The goal of these workshops is not to produce a data analyst in one day, that's clearly impossible, but it is to break down the entrance barriers and to inspire and entice them to take more steps on this path on their own,” he explains.

According to Bulowski, the idea for the events came from the fact that they had wished such platforms existed when they were starting out in the business, as well as it coming from a place of wanting to give back to the community. However, he also admits that it also helps Keboola too, in that is grows the understanding of data, and the company as a result.

“Personally, I have been selling enterprise software and solutions for nearly a decade and when we launched Keboola in Singapore, we knew that many B2B IT companies marketing efforts were somewhere on the scale of clumsy to clueless, and mostly focus on individual networking. I believe that building the community is networking 2.0 and if you build relationships and have a good product or services, business will follow on its own.”

Big brands are involved in the process, which Bulowski says helps expose them to some slightly ‘out of the box’ uses of their data.

“A good example is the first run of the #Datadriven hackathon here in Singapore, we convinced Skyscanner and Propertyguru to provide us with some proprietary data sets and, in exchange, they got two days of concentrated attention from over 100 of the brightest minds. Naturally this type of 'out of the box' approach to looking at data will lead to innovative solutions and hypotheses that might be hard to come up with internally at these companies, who are caught in the 'daily grind',” he explains.

As for #DataGirls, Bulowski says the need to separate the events is to create an environment that feels more inclusive (an approach shared by many in the industry) and that, while it is a girls-only approach for now, the point is that it’s helping to push towards a more balanced path.

“Talent is rare and hiring in this field is hard. Everyone is crying about this and yet, given how male-dominant this industry is, nearly 50% of people in the potential market is not addressed because it is hard to enter. Not that women need any special way of learning, the point is that we create a more inclusive environment where they feel more comfortable. Personally, I believe women make for fantastic data analysts as they often add valuable new point of views to the subject, I see this every day in my own team,” he explains.

According to Bulowski, many brands are waving a diversity flag but “rarely are they walking the walk”, though #DataGirls is seeing support from tech business, such as Facebook, YellowFin, TAL and Google.

Yet, eventually Bulowski hopes that the need for ‘exclusive clubs’ will diminish as the diversity issues balances. “I am big believer in local communities, I like what groups like Coding Girls are doing. On the other hand, generally I think it's ultimately about general inclusivity and while I recognize that these 'women-only' groups are important for the awareness and education, they are in a sense another extreme in terms of being yet another 'exclusive club'. But I believe that we are on the path to more balance.”

In the year that #DataDriven and #DataGirls has been live, it’s travelled from Singapore to Australia, in both Sydney and Melbourne, with one more happening in Melbourne before the year ends. #DataGirls has hosted 500 women at its events and has its sights set on Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bali in 2018.

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