Why We Became Data Council (1/14/19)

I’m excited to announce that our community & event series for deeply technical data professionals around the globe is no longer called DataEngConf; we are now Data Council!

Since our origin as a data engineering conference (in 2015 when a ‘data engineer’ was rarely a specific role on most tech teams), we quickly branched out to also embrace data scientists. We knew it was important to recognize the technical and cultural interplay between both data engineers and scientists as they worked to support each other on nascent data teams.

But for the past year, our expanded aim has been to embrace all technical topics surrounding data - infrastructure, engineering, science, analytics, machine learning, deep learning, AI product development, the list goes on. Our new name reflects the both the breadth of the high quality technical data-oriented content we’ll continue to curate and distribute in our events and community, as well as our focus on building the top community of data influencers. We knew from the beginning that we might not be the biggest data conference series, but we are certainly working hard to be the best one.

As a founder, I believe the identification of a startup’s vision and values are core not only to its brand, but also its name. In our specific case, we’re on our fourth year of running technical data engineering and science conferences, and as the newly minted Data Council, I’m excited that our team is ready to go out and tell our story at scale to the world.

So, what’s the big idea?

From my earliest email newsletter experiments dating back to our origins in 2012 the goal of the company has always been about building a global network of technical professionals. Regardless of how many years have passed, experiments run, funding raised, MVPs launched and team members changed, the goal is still the same, though many details of our approach have been refined based on our learnings.

To put it simply, our goal is to create human connections amongst technical professionals.

Deeply technical professionals (software engineers, data scientists, CTOs, etc.) are lifelong learners, and they acquire information voraciously in any way possible. It’s easy to understand how access to digital content has been game changing when it comes to coding education and continuing skill development. But there is another key way knowledge is shared that might seem both obvious yet under-appreciated at the same time: receiving information orally and in-person from trusted colleagues, mentors and friends. Is it any wonder that the Bay Area seems to have the deepest concentration of experienced software engineers in the U.S., and arguably, the world? The university engineering programs, continual tech events, face to face meetings and a plethora of work experiences are the flywheel of technical knowledge sharing opportunities. And all these mechanisms transfer knowledge in primarily the same way - via human, IRL, connections.

It’s obvious that engineers have long resisted typical online ‘social networks’ instead preferring to vet the fidelity of the sources of their information in their own heuristic ways. For example, there is nothing a typical software engineer hates more than self-promotion, and it’s hard to wade into any online social network without running headlong into a staggering amount of navel-gazing, at least by others, if not sucked into it oneself.

But we’re currently undergoing a major technological shift that’s creating an asymmetry of technical knowledge - and it’s most apparent between the U.S. and China. Interest in Machine Intelligence (some call it Artificial Intelligence) is sweeping the globe, and the very rapid advancement in machine and deep learning research is creating an unevenness in the distribution of technical knowledge in AI tools and techniques. All AI advancements are driven by mathematics, algorithm development and a deep understanding of data-oriented technologies. However, due to the rapid pace of new developments in the knowledge, innovation and algorithms driving machine intelligence, the potential for meaningful information gaps in this field between those not connected to each other is real.

The desire of technical professionals to gain more knowledge and skills in data technologies related to the advancement of machine intelligence has created a new opportunity to build a fast-growing network of human connections across the globe. Data Council’s vision is to capitalize on this moment, and to connect all data-oriented technical professionals in the world together in one community.

How do we achieve it?

Our go-to-market is, in a way, reverse from some recent social networks, and it's based on our proprietary experience in creating physical spaces for engineers in the form of high quality events that foster the special trust they demand for relationship building and knowledge sharing:

1st: Live events (high quality conferences & meetups build person-to-person and brand trust) ->

2nd: Knowledge sharing amongst community (via digital content from our community influencers that's differentiated by technical depth) ->

3rd: Intentional matching across members ("social networking" features designed to connect members in order to solve problems faster, share increased knowledge, find the best jobs more quickly, etc.)

The output of this sequence produces the world's first social network specifically designed for technical data-oriented professionals.

And why the name “Data Council?”

Here are some more specific reasons we feel “Data Council” connects well with our vision and values:

1.) A Community of Influencers

The current, and future technical leaders of AI are found in our community. We like the way the word ‘Council’ infers high-quality discourse amongst a smallish committee (in our case, a high-quality community) of thoughtful individuals.

Above all, we see ourselves as being in the business of building community. As opposed to most other data/AI conferences that exist, we organically go deeper through our monthly meetups in 10 cities (and growing!) across the globe. We pride ourselves in our commitment to this grassroots community building by giving our volunteer meetup organizers the support and help they need to build successful outposts of Data Council in their cities. These efforts help build meaningful community fabric year round by making connections between local data practitioners, teams and companies each month.

The output of these groups shows the true power of our movement, er, model. At our meetups we see engineers educated, tools discovered, open-source contributors matched and team members hired regularly.

While we currently monetize via our largest annual events (currently three main conferences each year in SF, NYC and Barcelona), we see ourselves as having a much bigger vision than a traditional events business due to our focus on building a grassroots global community.

2.) Open-source Knowledge Sharing

We firmly believe in open-source: code, content and mentality. We feature top open source contributors and tools at our events. Afterwards we publish all event content for the broader data community, for free.

Many top open-source contributors and leaders participate regularly in our community (Apache Hadoop, Spark, Arrow, Kafka, Flink and others). If you want to hear about the vision and roadmap of these crucial data projects, tune into our YouTube channel for the most up-to-date info on open-source data tools and platforms. And attend our events to meet and converse with the committers themselves!

3.) Identifying the Best Innovations

Our community of experts is a natural filter for discovering the best AI and data innovations and products. As an engineer/founder myself, I have a passion for supporting other technical founders, and the most innovative AI startups will always find a home and support in our community.

We routinely have data-oriented startups and new open-source projects ‘launch’ in conjunction with our events, and discovering and featuring the top innovative companies of the future is a priority for us. (Here are some awesome startups that presented last year at just one of our conferences.)

4.) Careful Partner Integration

Finally, we believe it’s our unique mission to foster and encourage connection across all layers of industry and academia. Our community features AI researchers from universities such as MIT, Stanford, Columbia and Carnegie-Mellon, mixed in with industry leaders from Google, Facebook, Lyft, Netflix and Spotify. Some partners wish to share knowledge, some wish to recruit new team members, some wish to obtain feedback on their early products and some wish to find new customers.

We know how sensitive technical professionals are to certain methods of sales, marketing and recruiting, so we carefully screen and integrate partners into our community in meaningful ways without the over-sponsored glitz and glitter of sales-and-marketing-driven data conferences. (Yuck!)

We consider it a privilege to build this community, and we take care in how we connect the dots amongst various community members as we focus on maximizing value for all parties in each interaction we create.

Let’s Go!

We’re thrilled and honored to be building a brand and community that technical professionals respect. And after three years of successfully building a deeply technical data community across the U.S. and Europe, we’re extremely excited to expand Data Council to our next region of Asia by launching a Singapore conference in 2019!

Imagine what the world will look like when all the deeply technical data professionals and AI researchers are connected together in one community; advancements spread more quickly, challenging problems become easy, startups are incubated, amazing technical content is created and new team members are matched.

This is our vision of the future, and the vision we’re building towards at Data Council!

I’d like to sincerely thank all of our community members and supporters for their help in getting us to this inflection point. We could not have done it without our amazing community of speakers, volunteers and community organizers.

And if you personally would like to come and work with our awesome remote-only team to spread AI knowledge across the globe, we’re currently looking for a Head of Content and Community to join us!



Pete Soderling

Founder, Data Council