Girls in Tech hosted a panel of four “Big Data” enthusiasts Thursday evening in Kaprielian Hall to teach students more about the subject of Big Data and its application in modern technology.
The one-year-old club consists of female students from a variety of majors, who hope to learn more about technology by talking about issues surrounding the role of technology in current events.
“We have members that have backgrounds in gaming and programming, just all sorts of different majors,” said Megan Doyle, secretary of Girls in Tech and a freshman majoring in communication. “We have field trips to go see tech startups, and we’re trying to get a mentorship program going.”
The panel focused on the wide range of fields that Big Data pertains to. It featured prominent engineers Eric Garcia, chief data scientist at Preact, and Robert Leon, vice president of sales and business development at tech company Gravity.com. In addition, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism adjunct professor Peggy Bustamante and business strategist Barbara Bickham were also on the panel.
Bustamante stressed that though her field may be behind on the Big Data curve, journalism uses Big Data in a different way than most industries.
“We don’t actually use the data for business purposes, it’s for content, journalism and news purposes,” Bustamante said. “The heaviest Big Data that we do is census data.”
USC alumna Reem Mouazzen, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in communication, agreed with Bustamante that her job, though not directly related to Big Data, uses technology to understand customers on a higher level.
“Working in news and media, I started to see how the online news information from consumers relates to the news content we are going to create. The digital media landscape is so important, given that Big Data helps us determine what news stories are relevant to our consumers,” Mouazzen said. “It’s really changing the way consumers are receiving the news and information, and companies are honing their messages to be specific to their customers.”
Students, who ranged from engineering majors to cinema majors, echoed the words of the panel, saying that they saw many ties between Big Data and their individual fields of study.
“I’m really interested in working for a Big Data company. I like business, and I feel like I would be good at organizing data,” said Noble Lau, a senior majoring in business administration. “I feel like the world is going in the direction of technology, that seems to be where all the high-paying jobs are.”
The conversation became heated as the panel and the contributing audience members debated if the use of Big Data can do more harm than good to users.
“Big Data gives insight into existing things that we have lying around. So as long as you have a data log of things people are doing on your website, it’s pretty powerful,” Garcia said. “The NSA wiretapping shocked many people, but as a consumer you should be aware that everything you’re doing is being tracked by someone, somewhere. That’s just the age we live in.”
The panel generally agreed with Garcia’s comment, citing different cases where Big Data had both helped users and caused them to question their privacy.
“Scientifically, Big Data can be used to change lives, but it can also be used incorrectly in harmful ways,” Leon said. “Security is really important, and what you do with the data is really important.”
Bickham said that because of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, people are unconsciously releasing more information than they think. Websites, companies and the government use “cookies” to track and make certain assumptions about consumers from their online presence.
The panel emphasized how Big Data can be used in not only a variety of professions, but also in many different ways.
“The most interesting part of the whole concept of Big Data is the different ways that people are able to use this technology,” Doyle said. “We are basically giving companies access into everything about us.”
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