Turku Data Science Meetups Takeoff!

During the last couple of years data science has become one of the most interesting fields in science. So, what is it actually? One definition is, that it is a cross-disciplinary field combing natural scientific and statistical methods to find meaning – or knowledge – out of data. Many methods have basically been known for quite some time, but until recently, they have not been feasible or cost-efficient. But whether you feel like it or not, the space age is here. We might not have the flying taxis, but our computers are more powerful than science fiction imagined. To take an example, it is possible to profile a person based on social media behavior and do better than a friend ever could. Whether this is good bad, it is the reality we live in. And it creates a demand for a big bunch data scientists.

As the field is still young and popping up in different places, many of us, the data scientists, don’t know each other and what kind of methods the others are using. To meet this demand rose the idea of Turku Data Science Meetups. Meetups gather people in Turku, Berlin, San Francisco and all over the world to discuss their field – to learn, to network and to simply have a good time. There are all different kinds of ways to host meetups and in some ways each meetup is different.

The first Turku Data Science Meetup was held on 26.4.2017 in a pub called Panimoravintola Koulu, where also the IGDA meetings in Turku were started some 5 years ago. For the first time we had two speakers, me and Antti Karlsson. Since we did not know about the audience and the level yet, we decided to have a two-pronged tactic. I would talk about a specific method, the then brand new Caffe2 deep learning framework and Antti would talk about the kind of data, restrictions and methods at Auria Biopankki.

The meetup was a merry – I got back home just before midnight – and we decided to definitely continue the meetups every month. It was immediately clear, that the people were working on very different subjects but with many problems where common. Therefore, it will prove useful to change ideas and methods with people from different backgrounds. For example the take on machine learning from a physicist’s and a statistician’s point of view might be quite different.

The Turku Data Science Meetup is part of a booming meetup scene in Turku. Especially technology oriented meetups are on the rise. Actually, so much so that we had a meeting with other meetup organizers. The idea was to split months some, so that there wouldn’t be 6 meetups on the same week – like we had last week. Juha-Matti Santala, who has been active in the meetup scene in San Francisco, saw this possibility to cooperate: ”An active meetup scene is a sign of a city where developers, companies and academics want to grow and improve professionally. It has been wonderful to see new meetups starting in the past year making Turku much more interesting place to live and work in.”

Digital Futures program was kind enough to sponsor us and give us good start. Hopefully in the future our meetups will gather even larger audiences and learn a lot. And of course, by taking that learning to practice, we will do our part in making Turku the next Silicon Valley!

The author, Jaakko Vainio, is a data scientist, game developer and researcher at the University of Turku