A multi-ethnic, mostly male crowd teemed in and out of windowless meeting rooms and the sprawling vendor exhibit hall. Some stood mesmerized like disciples before large LED screens. Others wandered between booths, munching on popcorn or nursing craft beers. Many lounged in crowded common areas, discussing graph databases and Hive. Another day, another tech industry event in Silicon Valley.
Or was it? There was a DJ spinning club music (I think I caught Skrillex’s pumping remix of GTA’s “Red Lips,” and Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” looped reliably) and a few presentation titles (“Can you afford to drop ACID?,”) actually caught me off guard.
Last week’s Strata Hadoop World drew a predictable crowd with some surprise features. Like most tech industry affairs, it has its admirers and detractors. I spoke with attendees on both sides and have summarized the two prevailing perspectives.
Perspective 1: ‘Nothing New’
An old friend, a media company exec who had worked on more than his share of enterprise data warehouses, took a seat beside me during a panel discussion of big data trends.
He leaned toward me. “It’s the same old shit,” he whispered. “They’re jabbering on about all these new tools like they’re revolutionary. But they’re just tackling problems no one ever solved the first time!”
I asked him why he thought there was nothing new, when fully half of the vendors exhibiting had been in business for less than five years, and I hadn’t heard the terms “data quality” or “dimensional modeling” even once.
“Everyone’s just trying to nail down data so they know how to talk to customers better and increase average purchase amounts,” my friend said. Before I could argue with him, a panelist launched a treatise on “journey engineering.”
My friend looked at me triumphantly. “Same circus, different monkeys,” he said dismissively. He pulled some earbuds from his backpack, squeezed my shoulder, and headed for the door.
Perspective 2: ‘Sunset or Perish’
On Tuesday I keynoted the Women in Big Data luncheon, which turned out (encouragingly) to be standing room only. Women in their 20s and 30s were there to network, hungry to meet their peers working in the big data world.
After my talk, a woman approached me and thrust her phone in my direction. “I built this app in my data science class,” she said. I examined her app (which I promised to keep secret) and was duly impressed, not just with the functionality but with the idea. Where did she come up with that? I thought. Risking embarrassment, I asked, “What did you use to build it?”
Suffice it to say I thought “Docker” was something men put on one leg at a time and “Flask” was something you hid in your desk. The young woman continued to explain how she would soon replace her Kron jobs with streaming data. She was smart and earnest and she addressed me as if at any minute I would be asking to review her source code.
I hope that hers is the new face of big data. Hell, I hope hers is the new face of technology. Her energy, smarts, and passion reminded me how much there was to learn. I made a mental note to check out “Hacker Monthly” and commit to a daily dose of gingko biloba.
The different perspectives at Strata Hadoop World reflect the divide among attendees, and indeed of the big data industry as a whole. Some of us are looking for specific solutions to targeted problems. Others are in search of the next big enterprise stack to replace the old one. But what we all have in common is interest in what’s new, what’s next, and the most straightforward solutions to the data’s growing complexity. It’s a quest on which everyone in the San Jose Convention Center was a fellow traveler.
Jill Dyché has been thinking, writing, and speaking about the interrelationship of strategy, analytics, and data for most of her career. As a management consultant and executive advisor, she’s helped companies through the change that accompanies innovation.
Jill is the author of four books about the business value of technology. Her latest,The New IT, profiles IT leaders who have driven significant transformations at their companies. The book was named one of Inc’s "60 Great Business and Leadership Books Written by Women."
Jill was the co-founder of Baseline Consulting, a data and analytics strategy firm that was acquired by SAS in 2012. Jill now counsels executive teams, managers, and boards of directors on the strategic importance of their technology investments.
Jill is regularly featured as a keynote speaker at prominent industry conferences, university programs and vendor events. Her first book, e-Data, has been published in eight languages. She is the author of The CRM Handbook, a best-seller (and featured in CIO magazine), and Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth, featured stories of customer loyalty programs at companies including Royal Bank of Canada, Amgen, Intuit, Ceasars Entertainment, and Overstock.com.
A popular blogger on CIO.com and an advice columnist for TDWI’s UPSIDE, Jill was recently named one of the "12 Most Influential Women in Big Data and Data Science" by Information Week, one of Retail Leader’s "2017 Women to Watch," and by KDNuggets as one of "18 Inspiring Women in AI, Big Data, Data Science and Machine Learning."
Jill sits on the boards of Klearly, a prescriptive intelligence platform for marketers, and Continuum Animal Health. She is also Executive Director of,a href=https://www.outtathecage.org>Outta the Cage, a shelter animal advocacy non-profit. Her recent e-book, "Big Data, One Dog at a Time," argues for the digitization of the animal shelter system. She lives in Los Angeles, where she samples fringe Cabernets, fosters shelter dogs and pens the occasional haiku.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Jill Dyché and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications Inc. or its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.