Among other efforts, the collaboratory will host conferences and speaker events that encourage data scientists and businesspeople to meet and trade ideas, with a goal of nurturing a symbiotic relationship between academia and industry. “We want the fruits of research being put into practice, and then questions of practice feeding back into research,” Tassone explained.
The collaboratory builds on an already strong bond between the two schools, which offer a combined Master of Data Science and Master of Business Administration degree. With classes in cloud-based computing already underway, Tassone said the collaboratory team is designing an array of educational materials and opportunities that will better prepare students for their future careers.
“Darden students are showing up for their internships and finding it’s all about questions like ‘How do you use big data?’ and ‘How do you work on a platform that’s shared with analysts and data scientists and engineers?’” he said. “The idea with the collaboratory is to put them in an environment closer to the one they’ll be working in.”
UVA’s School of Data Science is the first of its kind in the country, and Tassone said he is excited not only to help steer the collaboratory, but also to shape the definition of a new discipline. At Google, Tassone frequently served on hiring teams, which means he spent a lot of time pondering what skills and attitudes make a person a successful data scientist.
“I don’t at all claim to have the answer to that,” he said. “But I’ve thought a lot about the importance of experiential learning and injecting some of that practitioner perspective into the classroom. That’s a value I think I, personally, can add.”
In conversations with his colleagues at Google, Tassone also often discussed the role that varying viewpoints have played in shaping data science as a practice – and how that intellectual diversity might be replicated in an academic environment.
“Data science can answer so many questions in so many fields. That’s why we call ourselves ‘The School Without Walls,’” he said. “I think the conditions are right for data science to be [a discipline] that is really open to a lot of different kinds of people.”
After all, Bill James wasn’t a mathematician or even a baseball player when he started publishing his equations, Tassone pointed out.
“That just goes to show that data science can both accommodate and really be expanded by the diversity of perspectives that are brought to it,” he said.