Journey of Analytics

Deep dive into data analysis tools, theory and projects

Category: artificial intelligence

KubeCon – Preparation Checklist for Attendees

Just 5 days left to KubeConΒ + CloudNativeCon North America! πŸ™‚ I am quite excited to finally attend this awesome conference and the chance to visit sunny San Diego! πŸ™‚ Whether you are a first time attendee as well, or just looking to get your money’s worth from the conference here is a list of to-dos to make the most of this experience.

If you have not heard about KubeCon, then this is a conference aimed at Kubernetes and related container technologies, a way to get software applications running with cloud services. This is an entire ecosystem, and in the next few years will change software infrastructure concepts for all companies. Myriad companies including Uber, Google, Shopify, JPMorgan are already on board and deploying using these new methods.

These technologies are also a huge part of how machine learning models and AI applications are implemented successfully and at scale, which is why I (as owner of this datascience blog) got interested in Kubernetes. If you’ve run machine learning models using cloud services, you might have also used some of these tools without ever being aware of it.

This is (obviously) my first time attending this conference and visiting the city, so I had tons of Qs and thoughts. The amazing list of speakers and conference tracks also make it hard to choose which sessions to attend. Thankfully, I was able to get some excellent advice from the dedicated Slack channels for the conference and past attendees.

Since the countdown clock has started, I’ve summarized the tips for others, so you can make the most of this experience.

1. Get on Slack

  • I am so thankful to Wendi West, Paris Pittman and other moderators in the Slack channels for patiently answering questions, hotel recommendations, sending event reminders and building some great vibes for the conference! the organizers for this conference .
  • I found a lot of useful information on the channel specific to the Diversity scholarship recipients, followed by the events channel. If you still have last minute Qs, then post on this channel or DM the organizers.
  • The Slack channels are great to connect with folks before the event, so you have some familiar faces to meet at the conference.
  • If you have not checked the Slack channel – look it up via cloud-native.slack.com

2. Which Sessions to Attend

  • By now everyone should have created an itinery for themselves. If not please use the “sched” app with the following workspace url https://kccncna19.sched.com/
  • Note that you should have one broad agenda for the conference – either info for attempting a certification, networking for a job, discuss case studies so you can apply concepts at your job, or something else. This will allow you to make better selections without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of (fantastic) choices!
  • For me, the main goals is understand how Kubernetes is deployed for machine learning & AI projects. Since I work for a bank, security issues and migration of legacy/mainframe software into cloud services are also relevant topics, as are case studies. Having this theme allowed me to quickly decide and create a meaningful list of sessions to attend. I also hope to network with 25+ new people, a goal that should be quite easy in a conference with 8000+ attendees and spanning 5 days.
  • PRO TIP: Couple of past attendees advised not to over-schedule and to look at room locations. Although the conference is mainly happening at the San Diego convention center, there are some sessions that are being held at the Marriot and other hotels. So look them up and make sure you have enough time to walk to different venues.
    • Plus, if a session is quite interesting, you might want to hang back and chat with the speaker or ask additional clarifications. This might cause you to miss the next session, so design your schedule carefully.

3. Networking

Networking
Networking
  • Being part of a distince Diversity scholarship Slack channel means that I’ve already connected with 5-10 other recipients. After all these online discussions, it will great to meet these talented and ambitious folks in person!
  • Most past attendees have emphatically stated that folks attending this conference are very generous with their time, so please make the most of their expertise and knowledge.
  • Dont be shy! Speak up.
  • Speakers are amazing, and human too! So feel free to say hello after the session, and ask follow up Qs or just thank them for an interesting discussion.
  • For those who are extremely nervous about networking, here is a unique tip that someone told me years ago. Pick a color and talk to at least 5 people wearing clothes in that color. This might seem crazy, but it is a very practical way of overcoming self-bias and prejudices and talking to people we would not normally approach (feeling shy, out of place or other reasons) I’ve used it at other events and conferences and made some fabulous connections!
  • Use LinkedIn app and connect immediately. If you met someone interesting, then send them an invite during the conversation itself. No one ever says no, and if you wait you will forget to followup, either because you forgot their name, used the wrong spelling or misplaced their business card. Plus, at such large conferences it is terribly hard to keep track of all the people you meet. I used this at the Philly AI conference very successfully, and can’t wait to connect with folks at KubeCon too!

During the conference:

Conference attendees
  • Keep a notepad handy for broad keywords and ideas that are directly applicable to your role (and conference goal) .
  • List the session date, speaker name and time. This will help you look it up later, esp as I’ve heard many speakers post their ppt and videos after the conference.
  • Tweet! Use the tags #KubeCon #CloudNativeCon and #DiversityScholarship.
  • Connect with people on LinkedIn (reiterating from above)
  • Check out the sponsored coffee/breakfast sessions and after hour meetups; I’ve heard they are amazing, as are the “lightning talks” post 5 pm.
  • Attend the sponsor expo and booths. Apart from the cool swag (tees, pens, stickers, etc) you will get to see some interesting demos, hobnob with folks from companies both large and small. Basically everyone from startups to large enterprises like Microsoft and Palo Alto, and everything in between. Great way to learn what’s happening in this space – you might even get your own unicorn startup idea! πŸ™‚

Post Conference

  • Reconnect with the folks you’ve met on LinkedIn.
  • Add a blog post summarizing info you’ve learnt and takeaways from the conference. Everyone has a unique perspective, so don’t feel as if everything has already been said! Ideally do this within a week, when you are still fresh with your ideas. Remember to use the hashtags.
  • Add pictures from the event on LinkedIn. Make sure to tag your new friends too!
  • If possible, present a brown bag or session to your team (or group) at office. This is a great way of disseminating information to others who could not attend, improve your public speaking skills and also score some brownie points for your next employee appraisal! Win-win all around.
  • Use what you’ve learnt. Even if it is just a little portion!
  • Plan ahead to attend next year’s conference!

That’s it from me, see you all at the conference!

PHLAI – Philly Artificial Conference Summary

I had the opportunity to attend the third annual PHLAI 2019 conference on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Organized by Comcast, this was an amazing full-day event (on Aug 15th) with a theme of using AI to improve customer experience.

ai-cust-service
AI for customer service

For those who are not in the Greater Philadelphia area, I have to point out that most AI/Machine learning or even tech conferences typically happen either on the West Coast or in NYC. So the cost of travel/lodging can quickly add up if you want to attend as an individual.

Always been a point of contention to me that there aren’t any interesting conferences held in the Philly area. After all, we are home to a large number of startups (RJMetrics, Blackfynn, Stitch, Seer Interactive), Fortune500 employers like Nasdaq, Comcast, Vanguard and most of the big banks (JPMorgan, Barclays, etc.)

So here is a big shoutout to Comcast (esp. Ami Ehlenberger) for making the magic happen in Philly!

PHLAI 2019 Conference tracks and schedule

Coming back to the conference, here is a summary of my takeaways of the event:
1) Keynote – morning & evening
2) Speaker & Workshop Sessions – DataRobot, H20, Humane AI, Tableau and more..
3) Networking
4) Key Takeaways
5) Overall

1. Keynote

There were 2 keynotes – morning and afternoon. Both were brilliant, and engaging and filled with useful information.

Morning Keynote

This was given by Nij Chawla of Cognitive Scale. Snippets from his talk that resonated most with me:

  • Practical tips on how to use AI to create individual customization, especially to improve conversions on business websites.
  • For getting most ROI on AI investments, begin with smaller AI projects and deploy/iterate. Most projects fail because they aim at initiating a massive overhaul that take so long to move to production, that half the assumptions and data become invalid. Divide and conquer.
  • Don’t use AI just for the sake of it.
  • Real time data is crucial. 360 degrees view by aggregating multiple sources will help to drive maximum effectiveness, especially in banking and finance.
Morning Keynote – Cognitive Scale

He also presented some interesting examples of AI projects that are already in use today in various domains:

  • Early screening of autism & parkinson using front camera of phone. Apparently the typing/ tapping on phone is different for such patients and when combined with facial recognition technology, the false positives have been very low.
  • Drones in insurance. One company used drones to take pictures to assess damage after hurricane Harvey and proactively filed claims on behalf of their customers. This meant that the papaperwork and claim money was released for affected customers. Home repair contractors are in heavy demand after such natural disaster but the customers from this company had no trouble getting help because everything was already set up! What better example of extraordinary customer service than helping your customers re-build their life and homes? WOW!
  • Drone taxi in Dubai. Basically a driverless helicopter. Scary yet fascinating!
  • VR glasses for shopping. Allows customers to interact with different products and choose color/ design/ style. Ultimate customization without the hassles of carrying gigantic amounts of inventory.

Go back to Top of Page

Evening Keynote

This was presented by Piers Lingle & David Monnerat from Comcast. They spoke about the AI projects implemented at Comcast including projects to proactively present options to customers that increase customer experience, reduce call center volumes and complaints. I loved the idea of using automation to present 2-way dialog using multiple means of communication. The also spoke about chatbots and strategies that help chatbots learn at scale.

Using AI to augment customer service & wow them!

Some other salient points:

  • Automation is a part of the experience, not an add-on or an extra bother
  • Voice remote for Comcast TV users allows customers to fast forward for commercial breaks. Cool! πŸ™‚
  • Think beyond NLP. AI works better in troubleshooting tasks when customers are struggling with describing problems, for example troubleshooting internet connectivity issues.
  • Measure from the beginning . Measure the right thing. Easy to say, hard to do.
  • Done correctly, AI does seem like magic. However, it takes a lot of work, science and complexity. So appreciate it! πŸ™‚ Above all, trust the tech experts hired for this role instead of pigeoning them with hyper-narrow constraints but high expectations.

Go back to Top of Page

2. Speaker & Workshop sessions

The afternoon had 3 different tracks of speaker sessions with 3 talks each – Product, Customer Service & Real-World Experience. Attendees were allowed to attend talks from all 3 tracks which was what I did. The speaker lineup was so spectacular, I noticed a lot of folks being spoilt for choice and scratching their heads after every talk, on where to go! πŸ™‚

I am only writing about the ones I attended. However, I did receive positive feedback overall for all the other sessions too! (No offense to the folks who presented but are not mentioned on here! )

Workshop by Datarobot.

This is an interesting software that helps you explore data, automate data cleansing and most important test by running multiple models in parallet. So you could test with hundreds of models and algorithms. The workshop was presented by the VP of DataScience, Gourab De and was extremely appealing.

It does have features for tweaking parameters, and excellent documentation so personally I think it would greatly augment the work of an experienced data scientists. Given the shortage of talent, tools like these would allow smaller teams to become faster and more efficient.

The availability of logs is another fabulous feature for banks (since I work in one) due to the stringent regulatory requirements around compliance, ethics and model governance.

Chaos Engineering & Machine Learning

Presented by Sudhir Borra of Comcast itself. The talk was mainly about the concept of chaos engineering; used to test resiliency of systems. This is quite crucial for serverless AI and automated CI/CD pipelines when models are tested and deployed in the cloud. This was quite technical yet practical to teams and companies looking to implement robust AI systems within their organizations.

Chaos Engg – initially developed at Netflix

Data Stories Tableau Session

Presented by Vidya Setlur of Tableau, who spoke of some interesting features with Tableau. For example, did you know Tableau gives logical color palettes where it makes sense, rather than to default colors? For example for a dataviz on vegetables, brocolli is assigned color green, whereas carrots would be assigned orange. She also spoke about “stroop” effect, which I urge every data scientist or Tableau developer to look up and understand.

There were also some interesting Qs about expanding the natural langauge questions to be activated via voice. The answer was that it is currently not available because the folks who would truly find this useful are senior executives who would possibly only use it over phone (not desktop) and hence also require touchscreen capabilities for using drill-down features.

This was a perspective I had not thought about, so I was quite impressed at how far the company has thought about features users might want far into the future. Like Apple, Tableau’s elegant design, ease of use and intuitive features make it a class apart in terms of functionality and customer experience.

The Humane Machine: Building AI Systems with Emotional Intelligence

Extremely engaging talk by Arpit Mathur of Comcast on some interesting work that Comcast is doing.

He also spoke of LIWC library – linguistic inquiry and word count and how to apply those on natural langauge data to gauge sentiments, similar to the Plutchiks wheel of emotions. Also on how to use these for creating more “sentient” chatbots and applications, since the context matters as much as words when we (humans) communicate. For example, how some cultures use words literally, whereas others could use it to mean the exact opposite!

He also discussed ethics in AI, which naturally was a “hot” topic and sparked multiple questions and discussions.

Handson Labs – H20 – Automated AI/ML

I’d heard many rave reviews about this product, so it was wonderful to be able to attend a handson workshop on how to use the tool, available features and check effectiveness of the models it can generate. Personally I found it to have just the right mix of automated model generation (great for newbies) and model customization (for advanced users).

Go back to Top of Page

3. Networking

The conference included two rounds of networking time, once with free breakfast, and second at 5:15 pm in a formal networking reception. Both were great opportunities to meet with other attendees and speakers.

I was not attending with any aim for job hunting, but I did see a list of open roles at Comcast. Plus, I did see folks talking about roles in their org, and describing their work, so certainly the event was an excellent venue to have informational interviews and reach out for potential collaboration.

Not to mention the new contacts will be useful in the future, should I choose to look.

I met a wide variety of folks – from students to software developers to product leads and even senior engineering leaders who wanted to learn best practices on how best to get ROI on future AI investments. There were folks who were just interested in learning more about AI, some looking for their next big idea and everyone in between. It was not just tech folks who attended, and folks were attending from domains like adtech, marketing, automobiles, healthcare and of course banking.

Amazing to see the turnout and community. Overall, I think job seekers should attend such events!

Oh, and I have to mention the gorgeous Comcast building – amazing working space and the central atrium was both futuristic and functional. I definitely regretted not taking the Comcast tour! (In fairness, the workshop I attended was fabulous too! )

Of course there was also time to chitchat between sessions and I am thankful to everyone who interacted with me! Thanks for your sparkling conversations.

Networking opportunities galore

Go back to Top of Page

4. Key Takeways

  • Focus on the customer and the end goal. Technology is only a tool to enable better outcomes and efficiencies. AI tools have matured, so make full use of it.
  • For the best return and impacts from AI projects, quick action is key. Choose a specific usecase, choose a metric to evaluate success and then proceed. If the model works, BRAVO! If they do not, you get valuable feedback on your initial assumptions, so you can make better decisions in the future.
  • Clean, reliable data is paramount. Garbage in, garbage out!
  • Collaboration is important. You do need to get the blessings from multiple stakeholders like IT, business, product, customer service, etc. But do not let collaboration equate to decision paralysis.
  • Done right, AI can be magical and live up to the hype. The critical component is getting started.
  • Data and user preferences change quickly, so think about automating model deployments and/or implementing CI/CD using technologies like kubernetes or the myriad tools and software available on the market to get to production quicker.
  • There is a huge talent shortage of experienced machine learning and artificial intelligence developers, so think about “upskilling” existing employees who already know the business and customer pain points.

Go back to Top of Page

5. Overall

Overall I found the event to be incredibly useful and I plan to attend again next year. I am also looking forward to use the takeaways in my own role and evangelize AI products within my org.

Go back to Top of Page

Facebook
LinkedIn