Talking ‘big data’ – Boston College Chronicle

“It is one thing to have the technical tools, but to give people a sense of meaning and a sense of where they belong in the world—that is the great benefit of a place like Boston College,” said Google Senior Marketing Director Marvin Chow ’95, who addressed the University’s second annual Advancing Research and Scholarship Day, which focused on ‘big data,’ and received an alumni award. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

His career has taken him around the world and put him at the forefront of data-driven Google Inc.’s global marketing strategy. But Marvin Chow had his first data analysis experience as a Carroll School of Management undergraduate.

Working with retired Professor of Information Systems Peter Olivieri—who provided countless hours of technical support to BC Athletics—the two devised a system to help football coaches analyze game video based on data points attached to 12 essential components of each play.

“I could not have asked for a better introduction to ‘big data’,” said Chow, who graduated in 1995. He gave the keynote speech at BC’s second annual Advancing Research and Scholarship Day on March 16, which this year focused on the topic of big data.

Sponsored by the Provost’s Office and the Vice Provost for Research, the daylong program featured panel discussions with Boston College faculty and guest speakers working with big data, a surging field of data analysis defined by high-speed processing of massive data sets from an ever-expanding list of sources.

To close the day, Chow was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by University President William P. Leahy, S.J., who praised the Google executive for his work to help span the divide between data-driven industry and the individuals at the source of so much of that information.

“There is a lot of data, but we need people to analyze it, interpret it and to use it to do good in the world,” said Fr. Leahy, who marveled at Chow’s break-neck schedule in pursuit of “big data, big ideas and opportunity.”

Chow, who joined Google in 2010, has also launched start-up companies and serves as an investor and advisor to a number of tech firms. He’s also taken a leadership role mentoring underrepresented minorities in the tech sector, including early-career colleagues at Google.

Echoing the comments of other speakers, Chow said data analysis should be grounded in sound values and practices. BC’s liberal arts core and Jesuit, Catholic mission prepared him ask fundamentally human questions that are essential if data analytics are going to improve people’s lives, he said.

“It is one thing to have the technical tools, but to give people a sense of meaning and a sense of where they belong in the world—that is the great benefit of a place like Boston College,” said Chow.

Ed Hayward | News & Public Affairs

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