29 Nov 2022

HBS Community of Data Scientists: Q+A Victoria Prince and Matt Hazelton


by Shona Simkin

Members of CoDA.

In the summer of 2022, staff within Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Research Computing Services (RCS) and Marketing and Communications (M&C) created a new group for people engaged in data science and analytics: Community of Data Analysts (CoDA). We talked with two lead organizers from each group, Victoria L. Prince, senior statistician / data scientist at RCS, and Matt Hazelton, assistant director, marketing analytics in M&C, about the formation, intent, and goals of this new group.

Tell us about your individual roles at HBS.
Prince: I’m in RCS, which is a group within the Division of Research and Faculty Development (DRFD) where people in the community—researchers, faculty, RAs—can come for methodological advice and assistance with computational needs and project work. We’re like a little think tank/consulting group within HBS that handles questions related to all stages of the research process. I joined almost four years ago as a senior data scientist. My background is in statistics, so many methodological statistical questions that RCS gets come to me.

Hazelton: I’m in M&C’s digital marketing team, which is a centralized group offering services on things like email, web strategy, and marketing performance tracking and analytics. I help our partners across the School understand their marketing campaign performance and work with them on advertising campaigns, Facebook or Google, or general experiments on their website, helping to change their content and incrementally improve performance.

How did the idea for CoDA come about?
Prince: In a rapidly evolving filed of data analytics, it is important to stay up to date on the latest trends. It can be really helpful for experts to connect and share ideas with others who have similar interests. A community of practice like CoDA is a perfect structure to facilitate that.

When I came to HBS, Paul DiBello (senior director of RCS) and I talked about the Analytics Staff Consortium (ASC), which is a community that I helped establish and co-led in Harvard Central Administration. We wanted to start something like that here, but then there was the pandemic—not an ideal time to start a new community.

When Dean Srikant Datar was appointed, he launched a digital transformation initiative that focuses on this new integrated, collective way of working together. As staff and faculty started gradually returning to campus, it felt like a perfect timing for a launch, so we did a lot of prep work and had the first series of events in early summer.

Infographic from Matt Siano’s data lake presentation at a CoDA event.

What are the overall goals and objectives of CoDA?
Hazelton: Multiple. From the Marketing side we’d love to see what works for folks and share that out—are there specific tools or new developments in the tool that we need to share? What are some best practices? We had an event with HBSOnline discussing their learning analytics and what that infrastructure looked like and the process and history of putting it together. It’s interesting to see how other groups have evolved at HBS in terms of digital transformation, and hopefully others learn something from it.

How does CoDA fit in with the broader digital transformation goals at HBS?
Prince: One of the important goals of digital transformation is to revolutionize how we communicate and work together. The idea of CoDA is to enable professionals across HBS skilled in or interested in using data to connect with each other and exchange knowledge. This, in turn, will foster a dialogue across organizational boundaries and encourage cross-departmental partnerships.

Our team of organizers connects regularly with the digital transformation core team to synchronize our goals and look for opportunities for mutual support. CoDA is a natural organic audience for digital transformation—we all deal with data and are very familiar with technology and eager to stay informed, so we are going to be early adopters and beta testers of any products, results, or outcomes of the Initiative.

How did you get started and build the community?
Prince : I used the steps that we took with ASC—after forming an initial team of organizers, which included several colleagues from RCS and M&C groups, we established goals and objectives of the future community as well as identified a target member type: anyone who does data science and analytics across the organization. We then took the HBS staff directory and found 500 or so folks who could be interested based on their job description and titles and created an opt-in survey that asked about things like what data analytic tools they used every day. We got about 160 responses from folks who wanted to be part of the new community, and added more through word of mouth. We’re at about 180 people now, and usually at least 70 attend meetings and events. It’s completely voluntary.

In addition to organizing the events, we have a CoDA website, community Teams channel, and we also send out regular communications to our members. It is very easy to join the community—just email us at coda@hbs.edu!

Hazelton: At the same time as Victoria was working on ASC, Marcus Dandurand (director, Digital Marketing Strategy and Analytics) and I had established a marketing analytics community with a larger group of the partners we were working with to share what we were all working on. When the idea for CoDA came up in the fall, Paul and Marcus brought us all together and it was a natural progression from there.

Has there been a favorite moment in these early days of CoDA?
Hazelton: During one of our first meetings, which was virtual, seeing everyone’s faces on the screen I realized how many people were there and engaged and wanted to be a part of this community. I had to keep scrolling on Zoom to see all the faces, so that was cool.

Prince: I agree, the level of enthusiasm—we were completely floored by the number of colleagues who continued to come to the events and wanted to stay engaged. I know the feeling of being a lone analyst longing for some connection with like-minded folks to geek out, so I can see why people keep coming! We’ve been getting very positive feedback; people are grateful and say things like how they loved meeting different amazing colleagues from all across HBS who also deal with data.

Personally, I really enjoy turning on my creative side and brainstorm with other CoDA organizers what interesting event topics to explore next and what other initiatives to try out. We have a couple of very cool activities in the pipeline already.

Where would you like to see CoDA go in the future?
Prince: Apart from the standard things like growing the membership, community participation, and events, and introducing a variety of events and team-building exercises, perhaps my big dream is to organize a community conference—a Day of Data. One of the most important things that I’m hoping and wishing for is for the School and its leadership to continue supporting CoDA by giving members the time to participate in our activities, and acknowledging the value that such a community can bring to the organization—to continue creating the environment that supports participation learning.

Hazelton: I enjoy implementing continuous improvement strategies for what we and our partners are doing. At every event I try to learn something that I can bring back and help our partners drive performance, so for me that’s important—getting that out of it and helping everyone evolve too.

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