Visiting the mother ship

Northwestern Sept 2012Though I’ve long socialized and worked online, I am for the first time in my life enrolled in a school program that is completely online. This has been more difficult for me than I imagined it would be when I first enrolled in the Predictive Analytics program at Northwestern. After all, in the time I was at Blackbaud I worked easily with clients and co-workers hundreds of miles away, many of whom I never met face to face.

I jumped at the chance to attend the 2-day September open house that Northwestern hosted for students in four online MS programs: Predictive Analytics, Medical Informatics, Information Systems, and Public Policy & Administration. Having the chance to meet other students face to face, hear from faculty, and see presentations from people working in the field was much appreciated.

The highlight for me was a talk by Bill Franks, author of Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave, who gave a presentation about how working with Big Data is different from our previous experiences of working with smaller sets. A tip that surprised me: “Much big data doesn’t matter. It’s like sipping from a hose. Let much of it go and reduce it to a manageable size.” He focused some on harnessing text data for analysis purposes (like Facebook or Twitter feeds), an area I’m planing to focus on myself. But whatever type of data you’re talking about, he stressed the importance of developing standards for format, input, and usage.

I was glad to be exposed to Bill’s work so early in my time at Northwestern. I’m following his blog now and think that this post “You don’t have to ‘go big’ to get started with Big Data” is particularly useful for nonprofit organizations looking for tips on how to begin.