Data Visualization DC Workshops

DC2_workshop_cartoonData Visualization DC workshops have been a long time coming, but why did they take so long to organize? Organizing education in the DC area is a competitive enterprise, and the biggest challenge is finding good teachers. Public speaking can be frightening; public speaking and demonstrating expertise is even harder (as opposed to politicians who can dance around a subject without providing independently verifiable results). As a result, finding good teachers isn't just about a willingness to run the gauntlet--the individual must be motivated and there must be a strong motivation to teach. Existing approaches focus on teaching as a business. General Assembly and share a significant portion of profit with their teachers, but money can be a catch-22. Once teaching becomes about money there is a cascading effect on expectations starting with the teacher and ending with the students. For a three-hour workshop a teacher can spend 20 hours preparing material. Considering they make $40-$80/hr (or more!) in their day jobs, that's $800-$1600 in teacher labor costs per class. If proceeds are split 50/50 with the organizers, that's at least $1600-$3200 total per class, or $107/student for 15 to 30 students, and that's without considering anything else. Of course it's expected that teachers teach more than once, but teaching even once a week is like adding an extra day of work to your schedule, something many people can't do. In addition, students paying $100-$150/class have high expectations and are happy to be critical. So what's the alternative?

Data Community DC is a non-profit dedicated to promoting and connecting data scientists in the region, and one of our goals is to create a local resource focused on data science that people, businesses, entrepreneurs, students, etc. can draw from. Our traditional speaking events (Meetups) are a great way to introduce people to a subject, and they satisfy a majority of our members' curiosities, but after each event there have always been requests to go down the proverbial rabbit hole, to geek out, to get our hands dirty, to really learn and understand the material. These aren't just requests for workshops--many people want to collaborate with others, show the work they've done, fine-tune their own work, and most importantly meet fellow practitioners.

DVDC is providing an outlet for this demand and calling them workshops. To find teachers we are looking first to our past speakers, which we did in our first D3 workshop earlier this month, then looking to attendees of those workshops, which we're doing for the first time June 23rd. We are changing the workshop model in three key ways:

  1. Teachers have an interest in meeting other local practitioners in their field
  2. Costs are based on teacher experience
  3. Prep time < 4hrs

Working with local practitioners and business owners is what DC2 does, as evidenced by our ongoing Speaking Events, and are a great channel for meeting local practitioners. By requiring payment, workshops filter out people with only a passing interest and provide another channel for discovering local practitioners. In other words, if you're willing to pay even a little money then you're more interested than your average bear.

Conversely, payments are low enough, $35/student, for new teachers and subjects in case things don't go so well. It's hard to feel loss when you spend more on beer Friday night, or on lunch for two. DVDC proceeds are put back into speaking events, so we can buy better food and drinks, and if all goes well we'll buy new services and equipment to better run our events.

To keep prep time to a minimum, we ask teachers to focus on an existing project of theirs, and we provide a format that focuses on that project:

  • 6:00 - People shuffle in, network
  • 6:15 - Warm-up presentation
  • 6:30 - Begin playing with downloads and examples
  • 6:45 - Group introductions
  • 6:50 - Group assisted coding!
  • 7:10 - Break
  • 7:25 - Second presentation
  • 8:00 - Group advanced coding
  • 8:30 - Code cool down - summary & possibilities
  • 8:40 - Code 'til we drop

Taking a closer look we see that there's only 35 minutes for which the teacher needs new material, which is during the second presentation. The rest of the time is spent introducing the project, going through their own code snippets, answering questions, or simply getting to know the other attendees. DVDC organizers are of course there to help with answering questions, and more importantly we're there to deflect off-topic questions.

This is the idea, and so far it's working out, but only time will tell. Hopefully as we receive workshop requests for different subjects we'll build an expertise people can draw from, those new experts will in turn present their own material, and our members will know where to turn when they want to get things done.