Women in Big Data St. Louis Chapter Kickoff

Usha Ramalingam, Chapter Director

On June 18th, 2020, the 30th Women in Big Data Chapter in St. Louis was launched virtually and was well received by many women in the analytics community.

Usha Ramalingam started the event with a welcome speech and was followed by a presentation on WIBD by Regina Karson, WIBD Chapter Director and Board Member. This was a great opportunity to understand the accomplishments of the organization and how it has evolved over the years.

This was followed by a panel discussion on “Journey into Big Data” by Sumitra Balasubramanium, Meera Mohan and Ilona Shulman, with the session facilitated by Vidyalakshmi Iyer. Hima Somisetti introduced all the speakers and the moderator with their fascinating bios and interests, and many questions on personal journeys, leadership qualities, and the evolution of analytics and mentoring were posed to the panelists.

The first question was to Regina, on her favorite moment since starting WIBD 5 years ago. She responded with examples on three of the goals of the organization:

  • Inspire: Opportunity to empower women
  • Connect: Make a huge STEM Field Connection Work
  • Grow: This existing network with St. Louis being a new growth

The second question was to the panel on their personal journeys into Big Data. Sumi, our guest speaker, answered, talking about her inspiration leaders who got her into data and applied statistics. She also mentioned that she wears many hats at the same time:

  • Data Scientist
  • Software Engineer
  • Resource Manager

In addition, Sumi talked about about how, nowadays, Data Analytics is part of the core business and not just a nice support to the business.

Next, Ilona spoke, stressing the goals that can inspire all women. She had a different start to her career, focusing on history and political science, but during her MBA degree classes she determined that IT was her favorite topic. As she put it, “Technology is more predictable than people, hence easier to manage.”

Meera started out as a computer engineer, and her career in big data and predictive analytics came about by accident. She found it rewarding that the solutions she came up with enabled business leaders to make data-driven decisions.  Plus, she felt she could influence decision-making, and she agreed with the other speakers that inspiring other women is her goal as well.

The third question was about women and strengths. Sumi started off with a bang: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Communication is crucial and is a strength of women that, along with a higher EQ, enables them to be empathic (as opposed to sympathetic).  She emphasized withholding judgmental, not getting overly excited and emotional, and giving direct and actionable feedback. Power does not motivate women as it does men, making the leadership journey more challenging for women, but women are good at multi-tasking. Her main point was “Be an advocate for other women.”

Meera continued, speaking about being assertive and aggressive as a leader. She associated empathy with strength, and pointed to the New Zealand prime minister, whom she is inspired by. She gave the example of how women leaders’ management of Covid-19 is much better, hence proving crisis management is a strength for women leaders. She also stressed “advocating yourself and team.”

Ilona stressed that collaboration is a strength for women: “Lead like a Mom,” she said. She also suggested taking the Strengths Finder test and using it for your own progress.

The next question was about new technology in big data. Sumi started this with historical examples, then turned to the current generation of social media. Data collection, and subsequently analysis using patterns in data, are now common in every industry–hence the importance of  leveraging big data to improve decision making and using advanced analytics for product development.

Taking a page out of Gartner, she cited three areas that will have a significant disruptive potential in the next 3-5 years.

  • Augmented analytics
  • Continuous intelligence
  • Artificial intelligence

Augmented data management and integration are huge, and are transforming metadata, changing it from passive to active. She also mentioned that data fabric as a very important evolution. Finally, she said graph database management will grow leaps and bounds by 2023, using smart data lakes and leveraging craft technologies.

Sumi was then asked about mentoring. She responded that everyone should have a mentor in life, perhaps a technical leader, perhaps a family member. She stressed several important points:

  • Check out the reasons for mentoring, as well as the mentee relationship.
  • Mentoring should not be solely career advancement-related.
  • Mentors should look for well-rounded leadership candidates; look for that glimpse of excellence.
  • When mentoring, acknowledge small increments of progress and point out weaknesses and strengths.
  • Mentor is learning too.
  • Mentoring is a two-way relationship.

About 27 members participated in the launch event, providing a lot of positive feedback. We are looking forward to seeing them all soon at the next WIBD event, a “Virtual Happy Hour,” to get to know them and to find out how the chapter can better service the needs of the community.

Special thanks to Maleeha Qazi, Midwest Regional Director, for being instrumental in providing support and encouragement and for helping make this chapter a reality.

View a recording of the session.

View a Powerpoint deck of the session.

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