Data Day Texas 2017 – A Few Thoughts

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend Data Day Texas, and thought that it would be worthwhile to jot down a few thoughts. For those that aren’t aware of Data Day Texas, think of it as a gathering of nerdy IT people and Data Scientists. It was an interesting weekend with a wide range of topics that encompassed everything from machine learning algorithms to more approachable subjects like data dashboarding.

Graphs Are Here

There’s a reason that the keynote by Emil Eifrem was named “The Year of the Graph”. Looking at the popularity trend on, you can see a large gain in the


Neo4j Popularity

popularity of Neo4j. Leading naturally to the question, so what?

I think the major winning point for graph databases, other than performance on certain types of data analytics, is that graph databases are defined with relationships between data. This is in opposition to the approach of the traditional RDBMS which requires explicitly defining the tables in the schema, with relationships as a non-required afterthought in most cases. This means that while constructing the database, what you are doing is explicitly defining the node (core piece of data) and the edge (relationship between nodes). This means that you are enforcing the relationships between data, as opposed to the structure of the data itself. This creates another level of abstraction between the end user and the data, which should make the data in the database more approachable. Oh, and if you haven’t guessed, graph databases are schema-less which is a plus in many cases.

Issues Are Similiar Across Companies/Technology

In particular, there were two talks that hit this point home. The first was given by Chris LaCava from Expero Inc. in which he discussed visualization techniques with graph databases. The second was the discussion of how Stitch Fix sets up their environment for data scientists to work by Stefan Krawczyk.

What’s the root of this? People want to use the tools that work and that they like. Chris LaCava discussed how to do visualization on graph databases. While graph databases can


Look familiar? From Chris’ presentation on graph database dashboarding

meet some cool use cases as far as data sets and real time analytics go, what was discussed was a  straight forward and common sense approach to dashboarding. Anyone familiar with Business Intelligence and dashboarding should roughly be following the above, or near to it.

Stefan‘s talk was all about using Docker to enable data scientists to use the tools that they want to use. The solution to the complaint that many of us in the industry have when we are locked in with a specific tool-set. The differentiation here was that Stitch Fix has done containerization at scale. This solves that problem by allowing each of their data scientists to run and operate on their own environment, with whatever tool-set they favor to deliver business value.

The Story is What Makes Things Interesting

The final point, which I’ve written about before, is that the story is what makes things interesting. The specific story presented at Data Day? The Panama Papers and how Neo4j was used to discover the unlikely connection that led to the downfall of a Prime Minister. That this was the best marketing tool that I have ever seen in regards to a database.
Having a database GUI that allows for easy exploration of the data natively? That’s a game changer.

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Looking at the above, you can see a traditional RDBMS GUI (SQL Server Management Studio) versus Neo4j’s GUI. There’s a reason why people don’t pull up SQL Server Management Studio tools to tell a story. Having a database platform that can automatically tell a story about the data is an awesome approach.


Inspiration vs Manipulation

A few weeks ago I was lent a copy of the book Start with Why. The ideas around the use of manipulation vs inspiration to change human behavior is one of the ideas that struck a chord with me thus far. Looking at companies today, there is a clear differentiation in the way that organizations position themselves based upon where they fall with when using manipulation vs inspiration.


These are the companies that get the best employees, deliver innovative solutions, and much of the time have higher margins and growth compared to competitors. How is this achieved? You guessed it. They have a great and inspiring vision of why they do what they do.

spacex mission.PNG

This vision and end goal above is lofty, and certainly something the people (especially rocket designers) can aspire to. Having such a vision for where the company is headed has apparently worked to Spacex’s advantage. Spacex has managed to steal significant market share from the much older Arianespace. There there must be something behind Spacex’s success.


The focus on a lofty vision of “why” an organization does what is does not only drives profits, but also clear and concise decision making and motivations for all who are involved with the company. Driving behavior towards a goal that is inspiring and internally motivated is much more effective in the long-term  compared to manipulations.


Price, promotions, fear, aspirations. These are the tactics that are potential changers of human behavior. When making use of these strategies, a company has most likely lost sense of why it exists. The reason for this? When a company is offering to cut price, or market to customer aspirations, there is no longer an internal motivating factor that drives the company. The company compass for decision making has been lost.

The great (or terrible depending on your perspective) example of this is General Motor’s use of promotions to drive sales. In the 1990’s General Motors, along with other US auto manufacturers relied on offering of sales incentives to retain market share when faced by an onslaught of foreign automakers. By taking this route, the US automakers effectively weakened their brands. This may have allowed the automakers to retain higher market share short-term, but it obviously didn’t help the long-term growth and profitability of the company.

Manipulations create addictions for companies that may create some short-term value, but it is at the expense of harming the organization in the long-term. The more fear, promotions, prices cuts, and aspirations a company uses to sell products the cheaper the brand perception will be.

Bottom line, knowing why a company exists provides in internal locus of control which has been proven to be a motivating force compared to the use of manipulations. There’s a reason that Apple customer’s pay more than a 20% premium compared to competitor products, and it’s due to knowing why.

Social Media from the Seasoned

history-of-social-mediaHuman history began 4,000 BCE. Social media in its modern form? Started in 1997 with the site Six Degrees. Putting these two timelines together may seem ridiculous, and admittedly is a bit, but there is a point. With social media being such a recent innovation compared to many skills still heavily used and valued by society today, such as accounting, what can social media media professionals teach us about this roughly 20 year old skill set?

I’ve had the opportunity to hear from industry experts from McGarrah Jessee, Splash Media Group LLC, and other both large and small social media marketing firms. These individuals have covered everything from creating useful branded content to establishing client relationships (and more). Although a new field, there is definitely a large group of driven individuals working towards continuously evolving and growing the usefulness of social media for business. I’m going to attempt to encapsulate a few of the important points at an extremely high level.

Biggest Applicable Advice

When interacting with people on a day to day basis, what do you prefer? A person who talks about themselves and what they have accomplished, or people who provide valuable advice and interesting conversation? Well, social media experts have realized that businesses can create a relationships with people that represent the latter through content marketing.

Content marketing seems to be a phrase that all of these social media professionals, across multiple industry and business sizes, have been repeating or hinting at. “Make it interesting” or “Make your content something people want to read”. With the deluge of ads that people see everyday, and the myriad of ways to avoid seeing these adds, advertisers now have to convince people that they want to spend time looking at ads. This same concept can be applied everywhere.

Whenever communicating with others, be genuine, interesting and most importantly create value so that people want to listen. Sticking with these pillars can go a long way.

The days of useless and noisy banner advertising are over.

Attributes of Social Media Professionals

There seem to be two types of primary skills that are needed to be successful at social media marketing. The first, an analytical ability to extrapolate data into stories and actionable items for advertising. What do I mean?

Building profiles of the target customer, measuring what works and what doesn’t, basically collecting every piece of data that is available and having the ability to develop strategies around these data points. Looking at Hops and Grain, a local brewery, the social media strategist has been able to learn from data and create a social media profile and brand that people find interesting and go out of their way to view.

Looking at the below pictures can you see a common theme? Outdoorsy, lifestyle type photos that sneak in the beer and branding into the picture in somewhat subtle ways.

Hops and Grain insta.PNG

The second major attribute I noticed was that all of the individuals, no matter how data driven they are, seem to be creatives. What I mean is that these professionals love coming up with new and clever ideas.

This seems to be needed due to social media being a medium that can produce widely varied results. Content must be instantaneous, in the moment, and clever, or risk becoming a Red Lobster. If a professional can’t come up with new ideas that capture people’s attention, success in social media is unlikely.

Quick Takeaways

  1. At the end of the day, using social media as a microphone doesn’t work.
  2. Be consistent online (and in life)…but really, nothing disappears once it’s online.
  3. Don’t feed the trolls. There are toxic followers, just like their are toxic customers. Be aware of who with and how you’re spending time on social media.

After hearing these different speakers, I don’t have plans to apply these learnings directly on pursuing a career in social media. Luckily these lessons can be applied outside of conducting advertising for a business client. I plan to apply the concepts to my career and developing a personal professional brand.

Curating With Hootsuite

Hootsuite is one of the titans of social media management software. Hootsuite has clearly had a successful run thus far, receiving $246.9 million of funding from 11 investors in total. You don’t get the backing of major investment firms and over 10 million users of a product purely by luck. The reason I have a sudden interest? Basically it comes down to one thing…curation, which is currently a time consuming process. What do I need?

  1. Simplify the inbound and outbound data feeds I am plugged into. All I want is to spend less time monitoring and looking at social media, while still getting all the information…easy, right?
  2. Have one source for analytics related to my online presence(s).


Currently I’m using Twitter, Medium, WordPress, and LinkedIn. After clicking around the website and looking at a few of the training courses, the first criteria can be easily satisfied.

Within Hoosuite’s web-app there is an interface that can be easily used to consolidate some of the sources I identified above. WordPress, Twitter, and LinkedIn can all be consolidated through the use of this tool. Unfortunately Medium is not supported. Three out of four isn’t too bad…

Hootsuite picture.PNGOnce the Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress accounts have been added to Hootsuite, all the standard streams that would be available on the separate sites are available within Hoosuite, in one page. There is also an extremely useful feature where pre-selected search terms and hashtag streams from Twitter can be added, which saves me time on typing out “data” and “BI” repeatedly. That’s a check on the first use case.


Hootsuite comes with a few pre-built reports for Twitter, WordPress, and LinkedIn, but custom reports appear to be were the real power is. Using a custom template, a single page that combines different measures, charts and graphs from multiple webpages into one report can be made.

As a side note, it appears that there is a severe limit when using the free tier. Building one report used up all the resources I was allocated for the month…So unless all the analytics needs fit into a single report, I will have to start paying. Definitely not a plus…

Hootsuite Report

Beautiful Reports

Hootsuite had many of the capabilities I expected. Combining different social media streams, aggregating information, building visualizations, etc. seemed to be present in this tool. What I was surprised at was the complexity of the tool and getting it set up with all my accounts. Honestly, I was expecting a more user friendly use product. This may not be entirely Hootsuite’s fault…

Going forward, I’m curious what competitor products are available. Would these other products meet my use case better? A quick search reveals that the social media management space is packed full of products, many of them free. For now, Hootsuite has met one of my use cases I was originally looking to solve. Going forward I full plan to examine different tools, and choose a tool that is…freer? Also being compatible with more websites would be a plus.

Why Storytelling is Required

Storytelling and marketing is something that seems to be undervalued by technical individuals in the information technology field. The reason why I’m talking about this? Recently at SXSW in Austin, Contently hosted a talk where Shane Snow discussed the power of storytelling. While the audience attendance was a definitely skewed towards the marketing industry, the concepts that were presented can be applied to any idea or presentation that technical people are trying to sell to customers, managers, or co-workers.

Story Continuation

Shane, in his talk, brought up some interesting statistics that prove a powerful point. People tend to gravitate towards stories that build on existing lore and story lines. The area that was pointed to as proving his point? Movies. Shane mentioned a metric that can be used to demonstrate this. Movie revenue. The question is, does Shane’s theory prove true?Spiderman Movie Layout

If you look at the above, grabbed from The Numbers, it clearly shows a relative trend of decreasing sales revenue for Spider-Man movies. On close examination though, the biggest drop in revenue (~15%) when comparing a movie to its predecessor occurred between Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man…When the continuous story line from the first  three Spider-Man movies was broken.

Jurrassic park - Revenue

But…doing some spot checking, also reveals the opposite to be true. Looking at Jurassic Park’s history of revenues, it appears that sequels where the story line is broken can make just as much (or much more). In order to prove out this theory, it appears that more analysis would be needed to prove this point objectively…Maybe this is an oddity with re-boots of classic series?

Regardless, in SOME cases, when movies break from a continuous narrative there appears to be increased risk of people abandoning interest in the movie/idea.


Additionally, Shane mentioned the power of familiarity. When traveling abroad and being around unfamiliar scents, sounds, and tastes, people tend to gravitate towards the known. The perfect example that many can relate to? Beer. Heineken is sold in over 170 countries. When someone is given the choice between a familiar brand that may even be disliked and an unfamiliar brand, people generally choose the known brand that has familiarity. Thinking about the odd concoctions one might encounter when travelling abroad, what would you rather have?

Complexity of Content

The last point that was presented? The easier that content is to read and understand, the more popular it will be. Mark Twain has books that come up at around a 5th grade reading level according to Scholastic’s system. Even the more modern classics, depending on your point of view, come up at around the same reading level. The lesson? It may make us feel good communicating with big words, but it is not the most effective way to communicate.

So What?

At the end of the day, while these ideas are interesting, what can we learn? Everyone is trying to sell stories every day. In technology/knowledge work, it’s a new design or approach to solve a problem. These strategies can be used to communicate an idea effectively and gain the support of others when combined with logical arguments. Establish a narrative that creates a vision and compelling continuous story line. Do it in a way that anyone could understand, from developers to directors, technical to non-technical. Establish a brand, identifier, or name that people can familiarize themselves with. If technical people peddled ideas that have been implemented half as well as they implement them, it would be to everyone’s advantage. Playing to people’s logic works usually…playing to logic and human nature? Couldn’t hurt.

What’s Facebook Good For?

Facebook, the worlds biggest social network. Facebook’s main uses for most people include yelling at others over opinions, sharing baby pictures, and other equally important activities that include content from people and companies around the world. The big question, and one that Facebook’s currently trying to make visible, is what are the other uses of Facebook?

For Marketing

There are two main user groups of Facebook for marketing, the first being large companies and the second being individual entrepreneurs running small establishments. It is a completely free way for small businesses to establish an online presence, and for large companies it is another outlet in which they can interact with consumers. With that in mind, anyone who maintains a Facebook page for an entity other than themselves must be aware of both the positive and negative results that can occur.
Thunderbird Facebook Page.PNG
Thunderbird Coffee, a local coffee shop, has a page that is being used effectively. Thunderbird uses this to engage with customers, put a human face on their business, and promote special events which are designed to draw in customers. A small business can use Facebook as an effective and low cost way to get in direct contact with clients. For the larger companies Facebook is a risky way to generate buzz and business. Does the good word of mouth outweigh the negative word of mouth?
American Airlines

For Learning

Facebook appears to have its sights set on making Facebook a resource for professional groups and distribution of articles. While the distribution system is not yet stood up, there are a number of career orientated professional groups that are present on the site. These professional webpages are similar in look and function to LinkedIn groups, with the quality of comments and content being the differentiator between the two.
I joined the below SAP group and found many of the comments on the page were individuals plugging themselves or something that they are looking to sell. While this is just one instance of a professionally orientated group on Facebook, the intent of Facebook has traditionally not been for professional purposes. From this experience, it appears that Facebook is going to have to shift the culture of the user base if Facebook hopes to compete with LinkedIn.
Facebook Group Joined.PNG

From Publishers Point of View

Creating a page for a company or organization is extremely easy. Logging in with my personal account and creating a page for a fictitious company took no more than five minutes. This may part of the explanation as to why there are so many poor examples of pages and posts from presumably professional organizations. Unfortunately, while easy to set up, to access some of the features present in these pages, such as analytic dashboards, a page must have 30 likes/follows. Regardless, for a real company Facebook is an excellent platform for advertising and direct company to customer interaction.
Customer Interactions Facebook
Outside of the business interactions with customers and personal non-professional interactions with friends, Facebook is limited in functionality. It will be a while before Facebook is anything more than an add platform, but Facebook definitely has the ambition and the funds to evolve into an entirely different company than it is today.