#SSAC19: Pre-conference thoughts and plans

Data, Geek

Good evening world, DataGEEK here.  It’s been a while!  Thankfully, DesignGEEK has picked up the slack and has been providing some of that #content that I clearly have been slacking on for the last few … well, let’s not get into how long it’s been.

In case you’re somehow reading this but not attending #SSAC19, the 2019 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is this weekend in Boston, MA. This will be my fourth year attending. Looking around on the Attendify app tonight, I saw many people mention that it was their first time at the conference. Hopefully someone will find something helpful in this post.

One of the coolest features of Sloan is that you never know who you will run into. Obviously there are sports industry professionals throughout the conference (while it is a sports analytics conference in name, IMHO it is half sports analytics/half sports business), including some prominent sports celebrities.  It is quite amazing to have a random conversation and discover that you’re talking to Cherokee Parks (my opening line: “You’re tall”). Or run into SSAC founder Jessica Gelman in the elevator. Those are both highlights I will not forget.

Positives I’ve noticed so far this year

  1. I think this is the first year that they’ve re-used the same app for two consecutive conferences. I don’t know about you, but my phone suffers from having way too many accounts and way too many apps (though I think I do better than DesignGEEK). The last thing I want is to add yet another app just to open one e-mail (I’m looking at you, secure e-mail services) or go to one event. So I was pleasantly surprised to see #SSAC19 using the same app that I already had from last year.
  2. I think re-using an app is a good thing.  I’ve recently joined a new employer, and for the first time in my career I’m working for a company that is using best-of-breed tools rather than a lot of in-house solutions. I think it’s a good thing for an event like Sloan, which is run by MIT Sloan Business School students, to utilize other company’s expertise and applications, rather than build their own and be responsible for their own infrastructure to support it.
  3. I don’t know if attendance is up, but there seems to be a good amount of people that are attending either their first or second conference. On the face of it, that seems like a good sign.
  4. This year’s conference goodie bag is more like a zippered tote bag than the previous years. While it’s not likely that DesignGEEK will find a use for it, I think it’s significantly more likely than past years.
  5. This year’s conference is again at the wonderful Hynes Conference Center. Sloan seems to alternate between Hynes and BCEC. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of floor plans and as conference venues, but I personally look forward to the Hynes years because of its location. Not only is it smack in the middle of the Back Bay neighborhood, but it’s attached to the Prudential Center, which is full of shopping and restaurants. It’s a lot easier to grab a bite or grab something you forgot here versus BCEC, which is more disconnected from immediate shopping.

What to expect from the weekend

  1. Eataly. Italian marketplace in the Prudential Center that is owned by Chef Mario Batali. I will go there at least once this weekend.
  2. I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar and friendly faces. While I don’t know who’s attending for sure this year, I’m certain to at least run into a couple people I’ve met previous years. It will be nice to see them.
  3. My annual inspiration to #DoIsh. One underlying theme to every year’s conference is that the only way to make it in this industry is to get out there and do something.  It’s not just to catch someone’s attention or get your name out there (though more and more I think that might be the direction hiring is heading). It’s also because experience is, by far, the thing that will set you apart.  I got my new job not because I had ANY experience relevant to the actual job description, I got it because I had specific experience that they were looking to add to their team, namely that I had even the basic concepts of R (thanks Jared Lander!).

And finally, what am I looking forward to on Day 1

I haven’t thouroghly looked at the agenda this year, so there might be a diamond in the rough or two that I’m missing, but here’s what stands out to me in terms of highlights for Friday:

  • Data is the New Black, Building Data-Driven Organizations: The most relevant panel (for me) may be the first one of the day. Since I’ve recently joined a new company in a data role, I hope this will be relevant beyond sports.
  • Data Science & The Action Network’s Win Probability: A Competitive Advantage talk, Action Network has apparently modeled all of the major sports to attempt to calculate a win probability not just for a team, but for the user’s bet (which in my head could be a lot more complicated than just a team’s win probability) at any given time.  That seems like an insane undertaking, and I’m definitely interested.
  • Beautyball, Using Analytics to Build Beautiful Games: Another Competitive Advantage talk, basically as a response to Moneyball, but in a way to use analytics to improve games, not just gain competitive advantages. Interesting.
  • DeepQB, Deep Learning with Player Tracking to Quantify Quarterback Decision-Making & Performance: ESPN’s Brian Burke is going to talk about approaching using player tracking data to asses quarterback’s decision making processes. Unfortunately it looks like this is at the same time as the Data Science talk, so I’m not sure which one I’ll pick.