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Insight and analysis of technology and business strategy

Data Day Texas 2024 Recap

The AT&T Conference Center and Hotel | Data Day TexasThank you to Lynn Bender for hosting another great Data Day Texas (DDTX). After more than ten years, DDTX is an established part of the Austin community, bringing participants from all over the world. The continued evolution of DDTX is a testament to the maturity and passion of the community. As the data landscape evolves, we continue to see new topics for engineers to grow their skills. Building upon previous years’ focus that included NLP, graphs, cloud data warehouses and other timely topics, this year's focus was business value, career growth and AI.

I appreciate the community and conversation at DDTX in ways other technical conferences can not deliver. DDTX was built upon the idea of practitioners speaking to practitioners. There are no vendor pitches, even from sponsors. This keeps the content practical and avoids the traps of marketecture.

This year's focus on business value and career development was particularly interesting. Many of the sessions were focused on providing data practitioners with the tools necessary to engage with executive partners, showcase the value of the work they do and better understand how to prioritize their work to maximize impact.

The opening keynote was given by Sol Rashidi. Her four lessons are a guiding light for anyone looking to execute at their best across an ever more complicated and changing organization. I believe these are foundational to the culture of successful data teams;

  • Process over Perfection - The more effectively an organization can apply their choice of methods (waterfall, agile, hybrid) focusing on incremental movement forward, the more progress they will see over the long term.
  • Relationships over Recognition - Building trust is paramount to affect change in an organization, data teams should leverage their data to open doors and showcase how they can assist other teams and never use their data or insights to blindside leaders or teams.
  • Preservation over Pride - Be humble to be engaged. It builds trust and ensures that you can drive the adoption of the capabilities you build for the organization.
  • Collaboration over Control - Every organization has their own challenges in determining the right mix of centralized or federated control and execution. Those with patience and broad organizational relationships will see success over those who push for control or centralized rapid decision-making.

Data quality was a part of multiple sessions, a theme of growing importance in many organizations as they rely on more data, increase their data diversity and look to invest in AI. Santona Tuli led a session focusing on how to establish the right standards, metrics and processes for data quality. She believes that "process-driven is better than data-driven" which resonated with me. Ensuring the alignment of your data quality metrics to your business process ensures teams across the organization know the why of measuring data quality and the how of constant improvement. She shared best practices including a focus on proactive data correction, implementation of observability capabilities across your enterprise data landscape and documentation on how data evolves through systems and processes. All key components to provide ongoing visibility to improve data quality.

Many sessions focused on the topic of 'business value'. Each took a different form for how to measure or communicate value. Ron Itelman led a session regarding data products and their effectiveness as a tool to drive alignment across organizations. He shared multiple tools from his toolbox to help define and manage data products.

Very few decisions in the technology world are binary. When these decisions intersect with the priorities and tradeoffs of the business, the number that can be a binary decision goes down further. Continuums provide us with a tool for effective collaboration for empowering decision-making across an organization that balances speed with business requirements including revenue growth, market pressures, compliance, uniformity and speed. This is a great visual tool for collaboration sessions where teams are working to define and document their place on a spectrum of decision-making and considerations for biasing one direction or the other.

The second tool he shared was the Success Spectrum. I appreciate this for both its communication detail and simplicity. The idea that you can easily showcase elements being built into a data product over time is powerful. It communicates clear priorities to engineering teams, sets expectations with data consumers and allows for spirited discussion about the sequencing of work and the impact each tradeoff will have on key objectives.

The final major theme I observed was leadership in data. Often data teams are seen as plumbing for an organization making career growth difficult for data professionals. Aaron Wilkerson gave a passionate talk where he shared his tools for "changing the narrative" of how you are perceived within an organization. Giving data practitioners new tools to evolve into more strategic engagement and language. Aaron hit on a key challenge data teams experience daily which is how to effectively showcase the value we deliver to business teams and create business partners that want to invest more in their data teams. His approach to "changing the narrative", being diligent in how you ask questions, and the language you use will create trust with executives and showcase you as a leader with a clear strategy on execution that aligns with the prioritized needs of the business.

See you all next year at Data Day Texas 2025.

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