Marquell Williams: Data Pro of Tomorrow
Earlier this year, SentryOne launched the Data Pros of Tomorrow Scholarship in its quest to support a student pursuing a degree in highly coveted STEM and data-related disciplines such as computer science, data analytics, and mathematics, just to name a few. After receiving and reviewing many submissions, the SentryOne team has selected the 2020 Data Pros of Tomorrow Scholarship recipient: Marquell Williams.
Marquell is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Carthage College in Wisconsin, double majoring in economics and math. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management with a Digital Transformation and Analytics Specialization from Carnegie Mellon University, allowing him to combine, as he put it in his scholarship essay, his "passion for public policy and the extensive application of data to generating value by solving complex and oftentimes ambiguous problems."
Our panel of judges were impressed with how data has shaped Marquell’s educational journey thus far and by his very detailed plans for a data-oriented career. Well done, Marquell! In fact, we were both surprised and encouraged by the number of high-quality scholarship essays and how these fine students bode well for our professions. The SentryOne team wishes Marquell and all of the entrants continued success throughout the remainder of their college careers and beyond.
Now, with Marquell’s permission, I would love to share with you his Data Pros of Tomorrow Scholarship essay submission.
Marquell Williams’ Data Pros of Tomorrow Scholarship Essay
What would life entail without data? When browsing restaurant reviews, potential careers, and the best movie in theatres, data heavily influences the decisions we make, helping to make the most of our time and money. Not surprising, after loading an article from The Economist on data’s status as the world’s most valuable commodity, a pop-up window notified me that my personal data would be used to “personalize my experience, bring me the most relevant content, and show the most useful ads.” Undoubtedly, data has improved the collective well-being of humanity in unimaginable ways. In this essay, I will elaborate on my own relationship with data, the influence of data on my college experience and career ambition, and the value that data collection will add to the next decade of human history.
Data analytics simplifies my daily life using my portable technology. I improve financial literacy with the Mint mobile application that tracks my consumption data, credit score, and spending trends. I easily find new music through individualized suggestions based on my favorite artists and playlists. I spend less time in traffic with Google Maps recommended routes, updated with live data on congestion, construction, and car accidents. I spend less time applying for jobs by reviewing average salaries, job duties, and workplace reviews from previous employees on Indeed and Glassdoor. I am grateful for the way that data has streamlined my life. I need not experience navigating life before the Internet to recognize the tremendous revolution data has catapulted on modern life. My experiences in higher education made me aware that a successful career would require proficiency in sourcing, integrating, validating, and observing data.
My time at Carthage College exposed me to the world of data used in disciplines ranging from math and economics to art and physics. As a freshman, I knew I wanted to study economics to apply to a public policy career. I did not understand that this degree program would require a heavy focus on data with mandatory courses in applied statistics and econometrics. These courses showcased the impact that data has on public policy analysis in areas of criminal justice reform, workforce development, urban planning, and so many other facets of public life. In college I realized that data had a much bigger impact on me than just in my personal technology use. I came to understand that data impacts my life on every level from leisure activities to my participation in the global economy.
I decided to double major in economics and math after my sophomore year to better understand data and its applications. Even within my math major, the degree program required computing with data, and almost every math elective focused on understanding and deriving value from data analytics. This inspired me to pursue graduate study to learn about the connection between my passion for public policy and the extensive application of data to generating value by solving complex and oftentimes ambiguous problems.
In my junior year fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University, two of my four courses focused on data science. At this point in my college study, I had become experienced with using data to generate value, and I began to see the limitless applications of data in public policy. I am now applying to Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management with a Digital Transformation and Analytics Specialization. Among other things, this program offers graduates the ability to “apply analytical techniques to assessing public policy initiatives; use the tools available to public managers for assembling and processing data; and develop evidenced-based policy options using big data sets.” This graduate program that intentionally integrates government with data analytics reflects data’s growing relevance to human existence.
Data quickly transformed our society. Its value surpassed that of even fossil fuels which dominated the global economy as the world’s most valuable commodity for several decades. Data’s growing status as indispensable stems from human irrationality—researchers cannot anticipate irrational behavior through speculation. Data, however, provides an empirical record of the human decision-making process, with its irrationalities ready for discovery by those capable of translating the numbers into value. I believe this truth will necessarily require the next generation of academics, visionaries, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers to harness the power of data.
The most powerful tool to grow the value of data is data collection. The most representative datasets have the highest value, as more complete datasets have stronger predictive power. A relevant anecdotal example lies in China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Health Organization’s report, “New technologies were applied such as the use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen contact tracing and the management of priority populations.” Even in Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip for superhuman cognition, data collection generates its value. The accomplishment to “decode the information represented by those cells” but would be impossible without the sophisticated systems of data collection by the Neuralink chip. All over the world, the way we work, shop, and even date has been influenced by the Internet’s ability to synthesize data. With online traffic measuring over one thousand petabytes of data, the ease of data collection has grown to new levels. Data science techniques will always improve, but I believe it is the accumulation of data that adds value to the world, making it the oil of the digital era.
My parents recollect aloud at their youth when they chose where to give their business based on personal experiences and word of mouth references. “Before the Internet,” they never fail to remind me, “business referrals came from a conversation, not an assortment of online reviews.” Today’s consumers get personalized product advertisements sent directly to them, sometimes before they even recognize their need for it. My uncle jokingly remarks that future generations will be part cyborg; I know he doesn’t mean it, but I believe him.
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Kevin (@kekline) serves as Principal Program Manager at SentryOne. He is a founder and former president of PASS and the author of popular IT books like SQL in a Nutshell. Kevin is a renowned database expert, software industry veteran, Microsoft SQL Server MVP, and long-time blogger at SentryOne. As a noted leader in the SQL Server community, Kevin blogs about Microsoft Data Platform features and best practices, SQL Server trends, and professional development for data professionals.