Mike Sharkey of ASU Enterprise Technology welcomes keynote speaker, Kate Valenti, co-CEO of Unicon

The right data tools for the right data jobs: Inside the 7th annual ASU Data Conference

Connecting students, faculty, and fellow technologists at Arizona State University (ASU)  with the right data tools for the right data jobs was the theme for the seventh annual ASU Data Conference, which took place from November 8-9, 2023 at Memorial Union in Tempe. 

Celebrating its seventh consecutive year, the ASU Data Conference is a highly-anticipated event series designed to gather data professionals from across ASU under one roof. The conference facilitates connections, collaboration and exploration of data-empowered strategies for success.

And while technologists play a key role in the field, the event also surfaced the idea that data use and application extends beyond tech careers. 

Regardless of industry, one of the best ways to start and grow a career is networking and according to Mike Sharkey, executive director of data and analysis at ASU Enterprise Technology, connecting was the biggest takeaway for the nearly 300 conference participants who attended both online and in person. 

“At ASU, we have data practitioners spread throughout many different departments. Most don't know each other and don't know what they do,” Sharkey said. “The Data Conference has lots of good information about tools and technologies, but for me, that's secondary. The core purpose of this conference is to network with other data professionals across ASU.” 

The two-day hybrid event featured the first-ever Data Conference Data Tool Bar where participants could mingle with industry experts from Alteryx, Amazon Web Services, Google, and Tableau. The conference offered nearly 40 sessions where data professionals and enthusiasts from across the university learned and shared best practices to help them upskill in their careers and even in the classroom. 

ChristyAnn Hanzuk is a data journalism graduate student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who is interested in learning how to better incorporate accessible data visualizations in her stories. After attending the “Creating Accessible Data Visualizations” session hosted by Victoria Polchinski, user experience (UX) lead at ASU Enterprise Technology, Hanzuk said she feels more confident working with data.

“Sure, I have a bachelor's in journalism, but now that I'm in the master's program, I am interested in a data career which I never thought was a thing I'd be interested in because I am not a math person,” she said.

As she approaches graduation in May, Hanzuk also remarked how she’s anticipating landing a job in data journalism, which is journalism based on the filtering and analysis of large data sets for the purpose of creating or elevating a news story.

“You really don't have to be good at math to understand data or look at data because the whole thing about data careers is that they’re supposed to be making data easy for people to understand. I feel empowered by reading data and that's how you're supposed to feel when you have the right teaching.” 

In addition to Hanzuk, participants in this session included industry professionals and fellow data enthusiasts across ASU that use both data and design in their roles across college, careers and industry sectors. 

Polchinski’s team, which focuses on generative and evaluative research to improve student, staff and faculty experiences online, are also working to include more accessibility into their UX research. 

“We're doing everything we can to include people who use assistive technology,” she said. 

Highlighting examples of strong accessible data visualizations for people who use assistive technology, Polchinski introduced participants to a variety of best design practices by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from text and color to using alt text and testing across devices.  

“Inclusive design is about ensuring that every individual, regardless of their abilities or use of assistive technology, has a voice in our research and experiences. It's not just a checkbox, it's a commitment. Protecting personal data in the age of AI is a critical part of that promise.” 

Aligning with widespread curiosity about artificial intelligence and automation, this year's conference placed a special emphasis on both themes. Throughout the two-day event, several sessions were dedicated to large language models, generative AI, and task automation guidance to educate attendees and ignite their interest in these cutting-edge tools. 

In addition, the conference included numerous sessions focusing on ASU-specific data, ranging from research facility space utilization to relationships between students, staff, and advisors. These sessions provided attendees with valuable, bite-sized insights into the complexities each department visualizes through its data to better understand the needs and behaviors of ASU’s communities. 

ASU Enterprise Technology is proud to host the Data Conference for the ASU data community each year. Learn more about our annual events.