The newest class of Data Scholars bonded over brigadieros, Berkeley, and a common love for data at the Spring 2019 Data Scholars Kickoff last Friday. Joining them were numerous special guests, including Google’s VP of Engineering Luiz André Barroso, Google Earth Engine Co-founder Matt Hancher, a former Data Science Scholars leader, and members of the Division of Data Sciences leadership team.
The event at D-Lab kicked off a new semester of Data Scholars, a program designed to create a supportive community for students interested in data science, especially those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. In addition to fostering community, the program provides mentoring, career guidance, and research opportunities for participants. Students at the event ranged from freshman to PhD students with interests as diverse as earth science and public policy.
Three new data scholars, Eric Jian, Swetha Prabakaran, and Beatriz Israde, explained that they had joined the program as a way to form a community with students who share their interests and passion for learning about data science. Israde found value in the CS Scholars program she is also a part of, and she, as well as the others, decided to join Data Scholars to supplement their learning this semester in Data 8, the introductory data science course.
“I saw data science as a potential major and I’ve been eyeing data science for quite a while since I first came to the school around two and a half years ago,” Jian said. “I wanted to find some friends and a collective community that I could go to when I needed help or when I just wanted to talk.”
The featured guest at the event was Google’s Luiz André Barroso. In addition to speaking with the students about diversity and the future of Google at the Data Scholars Kickoff, he presented a lecture at the Berkeley Institute of Data Science
In his lecture, Barroso said that his goal was always to find a way to use computer science to better understand the world. He described maps as “a layer cake of data,” and went on to explain the four layers of Google maps and the goal of making an accurate model of the world right now. He noted the ways in which people rely on map information, for instance to plan and get to meetings and events, and how this makes accuracy particularly critical.
Google has successfully used crowdsourcing in recent years to improve their product, he said, noting that even if only one to two percent of the population participate, that generates a tremendous amount of information. One of the challenges of crowdsourcing is distinguishing good information from bad; he said some users have given inaccurate information that made its way into Google’s maps, like after the 2016 election when the name of Trump Tower briefly changed to “Dump Tower.”
At the Data Scholars event, Barroso and his colleague Matt Hancher talked about their career paths and their work. In response to a student question, they explained that diversity was valuable in the tech industry because if they want to be effective in their goal to design products for all, then they need to include everyone in their design process. Diversity and inclusion are major goals of the Data Scholars program, and this was clear from the wide range of individuals present at the event.
The former leader of the Data Science Scholars Pathways program and former Division of Data Sciences intern Glenn Parham also attended. He mentioned that being a part of the Data Scholars program at Berkeley is what led him to his current job launching a political startup called Pundit. He is currently taking a leave from Berkeley to work on Pundit, a political social network, and he explained the difficulty of controlling fake news and the pros and cons of anonymity.
Students at the event were encouraged to get to know the guest speakers as well as each other. WIth the rapid growth of the Data 8 class and the Data Science major, Data Scholars hopes to make a large campus like Berkeley feel a little bit smaller.
“Having taken a lot of CS classes, I’m used to being in these bigger environments where there are not a lot of people who look like me around me or are coming at these classes from the same perspective,” Prabakaran said. “So I found out that the Data Scholars program was a close knit community of people who are all just there to learn.”