Panel of Industry Leaders: Matthew Bryan, Claudia Perlich, Gilad Lotan, Drew Conway, Jake Hofman

It is truly inspiring how a simple idea can evolve over the course of a few months into a full-fledged event, bringing hundreds of people together. This is exactly what happened on March 6th of 2015 at the Data Science Hackathon.

After attending several hackathons in NYC with a wonderful friend Tushar, the idea started to float around to host our own Data Science Hackathon. We couldn’t really find any event going on like this on the University level. With all the hype in the field, it seemed like the perfect opportunity! Tushar was also talking to Chetan, an awesome Cornell undergrad. And together, we asked the amazing Ami Stuart, a tech events manager for Cornell/Cornell Tech, to help us out. She agreed and I can safely say the scale of the event would have been difficult to achieve without her!

This all happened around November of 2014. Ami got Cornell Tech to sponsor the venue, and we quickly started contacting companies for more sponsorship. We may have been overambitious, as Ami can attest! Funding over such a short time-span was much harder than expected since companies usually need more advanced timing. However, even with little to market on besides Ami’s past hackathons, we got Accenture to match Cornell Tech’s sponsorship, as well as Cap1 Labs, MOAT, and Sailthru. We also got the Data Science Institute at Columbia to sponsor, exemplifying the collaborative spirit in the data science community, even among universities.

During the winter break, I was traveling to San Francisco with Tushar, and we incessently emailed and Linkedin messaged CEOs, recruiters, and potential speakers for the event. With the help of Aaron, a friend we met at a BMW Hackathon, we were able to get Uber to sponsor with their Lead Data Scientist, Kevin Novak, to help with the judging.

As a continued push with Ami/Chetan/Tushar, and way beyond our expectations, we got Hilary Mason, Michael Li, Claudia Perlich, Drew Conway, Gilad Lotan, and many many other amazing data scientists to mentor, judge, and give key-note speeches. :D

Going into the Spring 2015 semester, we finalized the schedule and started accepting applicants. To our amazement, we reached around 400 applicants and 16k page views. We created an info page, and Tushar created a list of data problems. An over-arching theme we tried to achieve was “data science for good,” which came through in the winning projects. This is something we hope to expand on next year at the Data Science Hackathon 2016!

The event was truly inspiring and it was a pleasure to see Cornell and Columbia students work together in this friendly competition; everyone worked to create something new and most importantly, to learn.

I encourage you to check out the key-note speakers. A Columbia team posted a blog post about their winning project and Cornell also posted about the event here.

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Baruch Tabanpour