Jose Quesada, Founder of Data Science Retreat

Jose Quesada, founder of Berlin-based startup and GTEC partner Data Science Retreat is convinced by two things – that Thai Window Asia on Torstrasse is the best Thai in Mitte and that European companies need more data scientists.

This is the age of data, Jose continues, as we browse the menu; credit cards, mobile phones, computers, websites all constantly generating unimaginable amounts of data, which when properly understood has huge value for companies and advertisers.

In the US, the likes of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn get it: data is their main product and they employ mass teams of data scientists to maximise its value. In Germany, companies are more conservative. Some are just starting to understand what a treasure trove of data they’re sitting on, but they still have no idea how to to get the most out of it. They think that the washing machines they produce are their most valuable product, Jose explains, but really it’s the data on who buys what washing machine, when they buy it, and how they use it.

And that’s the problem Data Science Retreat is out to solve. Founded in April 2014, Data Science Retreat is a 3-month bootcamp for becoming a first-rate data scientist. The programme is highly selective (the admission rate is 10-20%) and participants so far have included a rocket scientist, two dozen PhDs and a few Google and eBay veterans.

Thai FoodIt’s not all about technical skills, Jose stresses as our steaming plates of rice and fragrantly fresh curry arrive. Skilled data scientists need to be able to master statistics, maths and programming to mine data on an unprecedented scale, but also – and crucially – communicate the insights they glean at C-level in a clear and compelling way. So while you might find some clichéd, buttoned-up techies in a data science team, the ones who are really going to add value to the company are those who can present their ideas.

Beyond dealing with data and communicating the findings, a major part of a data scientist’s role is instinctively knowing what questions to ask in the first place – especially in Europe where companies hiring them have no idea themselves. Data Science Retreat’s unique mentor-based learning approach is geared around this. Participants take on their own projects and learn on the job as guided by Data Science Retreat’s mentors – some of the best data scientists around. The name “Retreat” is a deliberate reference to writers retreats, where writers develop their craft by practising it and getting feedback from their peers.

I want to know how the business model works. Who pays? Participants, whose job prospects and professional network will improve vastly through taking part, pay EUR 8,000. Recruiters, who are contemplating how to mine their data and get some value out of it, attend the Hiring Day at the end of the programme. Each participant gives a presentation of their project followed by speed-interviewing and networking; companies pay if they hire one of them. 

We clear our plates and set down our oddly small forks. Jose, who began his career in research but moved into tech start ups in 2007, has to rush off. Business development – going out to companies and getting them to see that hiring a good data scientist would be great for business – is a big part of what he does. Data Science Retreat’s sponsor for this batch of participants is Zalando, who employ 40 data scientists. Right now, they’re the exception in Germany. But wait for a few more Data Science Retreat batches to graduate and things may look very different.

Data Science Retreat

Founded: April 2014

Founded by: Jose Quesada

Website: datascienceretreat.com

Sponsors: Zalando (previous sponsors were Microsoft Ventures and Zanox)

Location: Mitte, Berlin

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