My First Professional Conference Presentation and My Journey Towards My DBA

My First Professional Conference Presentation and My Journey Towards My DBA

My First Professional Conference Presentation and My Journey Towards My DBA banner

I recently presented at the Big Data Days virtual conference, hosted by Enterprise Big Data Framework. This was my first presentation at a professional conference, and I was quite honored to do so, especially as the conference coordinators approached me and asked if I would like to speak this year. My topic was “Organizational Culture Transformation: Challenges and Benefits of Adopting a Data Culture.” The overall theme of this year’s Big Data Days conference was ‘Data Democracy,’ so my presentation fit very well with the overall program and theme of the other sessions.

In my presentation, I outlined why adopting an organizational data culture is important in today’s business environment. An organizational data culture is a shared set of beliefs, values, behaviors, practices, and attitudes around data that crosses all boundaries of the organization to enable data-driven decision-making.

I outlined the multitude of the benefits of adopting a data culture, and how doing so will enable data-driven decision-making. There are significant benefits to the organization, its employees, and the overall decision-making process by adopting a data culture. However, there are also many challenges. The most important characteristic needed to successfully adopt a data culture is also the biggest challenge. Namely, it is paramount that the top-most leadership must be committed to a data culture — without this commitment, achieving a successful transformation will be extremely challenging. You can view the full presentation, as well as all the other sessions from Big Data Days 2023, at the Big Data Days YouTube channel.

This was my first professional presentation, and I was a bit nervous going into it. I prepared and was ready to go, but at the beginning of the presentation I hit a small technical problem; my slides were not presenting as they were meant to. I was more than 5 minutes into my talk before the moderator was able to stop me and let me know the slides weren’t advancing. As a new presenter, this was not what I wanted, so there was a moment of anxiety.

I remained calm and did what I would have done if presenting to coworkers or peers. I made a joke, we fixed it, and got back on track quickly. But it caused me to pause. I think I reacted the best way and it did not seem to hinder the presentation. Nevertheless, it was not how I hoped it would go. Lesson learned; test your technology beforehand!

Since then, the organization that held that conference asked to interview me for their podcast, Big Data Talks, so my presentation must have gone ok! In the podcast, I discuss my journey to becoming a data professional, my leadership style, and other tidbits.

Suzannah Hicks Big Data Talks

My Experience in the DBA Program

The topic for my presentation is also my dissertation topic for my DBA. I began Johnson & Wales University’s Doctor of Business Administration program in August 2021. I’m currently coming to the end of my second year and am hard at work writing my dissertation proposal. I have always been a life-long learner and achieving this terminal degree has been a professional and personal goal my entire life.

I chose the Johnson & Wales DBA program because of the way the program is organized and built towards working professionals that want to further their education beyond an MBA or other graduate degree. I have gained practical business and organizational knowledge that I put into practice every day. The DBA program has expanded my skills and level of understanding of business concepts and strategies. It has developed in me a greater knowledge of the challenges and risks facing global business in our fast-changing environment.

The DBA and its extremely knowledgeable faculty have developed my skills in critical strategic thinking, decision making, leadership, organizational transformation, and business development. Overall, I have learned a tremendous amount as a student of the DBA program. Without the knowledge I have gained since beginning the program, I do not believe I would have been asked to present at the Big Data Days conference and I certainly would not have had the opportunity to further my research regarding organizational data culture.

Since presenting I have been approached by contacts in my LinkedIn network to share my presentation and to potentially speak at future conferences. I look forward to doing so. My goals once I complete the DBA program and achieve my doctorate degree are to continue working as a data professional in a leadership capacity. I hope to continue to grow my career to the executive level and help organizations achieve an organizational data culture and all the benefits that come with its adoption.

Suzannah Hicks

My Role as a Data Scientist & Strategist

My current position is with the International Association of Privacy Professionals where I am the Data Scientist & Strategist. When I started at the IAPP, almost five years ago, I was the only data employee and there was no data team. I was brought in to solve a few specific business needs, but it did not take long for me to realize that more was needed.

That was the genesis of building the data team, which now is myself with five direct reports. It was difficult; I had to work hard to get leadership to buy in that we needed a data team and that by developing a data program, the organization as a whole would benefit. I think this is where my initial ideas around data culture began.

Additionally, as an employee of a membership association for privacy professionals, I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about data privacy and how it impacts everyone, not just privacy pros or data pros. Data privacy touches all of us and it should be something everyone should at least be aware of. In my role, once I got my legs under me, it became apparent that we also needed to do our internal data privacy work. So, I work very closely with our data privacy officer. There have been several big data privacy regulations—such as the GDPR from the EU, and the CCPA out of California—that are changing how we are able to collect, process, use, and ultimately protect data. There are now ten US state data privacy laws, and they are all slightly different. This is a burden on businesses and there is a strong movement to pass a federal US data privacy law. It will come soon, but no one is sure when that may be. We need one — that is my personal opinion.

On the note of learning about data privacy. I did not learn anything about data privacy as a student in my graduate data science program. This is the norm; young and eager data professionals are being pumped out of academic programs, online courses, and other types of learning opportunities but none are teaching data professionals about data privacy and how it will impact their work. And it will impact their work. I continue to spread this message everywhere I go and will continue to do so because I’m very passionate about data privacy now that I have a greater understanding.

As I design my dissertation research, I am designing with privacy first in mind. All my research will assure that individuals and the participating organizations will be anonymous and deidentified. It is my responsibility to them to make sure that their data and their privacy are protected. I hope my peers in the program are doing the same. We receive great methodology instruction, but I think there could be more about data privacy when designing our dissertation research.

I could go on about the importance of this because I feel so strongly about it. I am no longer the data scientist that wants all the data. I now am the person always asking should we use this or that data? Are we managing and using the data with privacy first in mind? That is a significant difference in how I approach my work before I learned anything about data privacy.

Suzannah Hicks Data Culture Presentation

Balancing Work and School

Balancing my work and the DBA program is challenging. It is designed for working professionals, but it still requires time and lots of self-discipline. It took me at least the whole first semester to find my rhythm and balance. Now I think I’ve got a good balance; and as long I stick to my internal schedule, I have managed to hit all my deadlines.

But we are also now into the dissertation so it’s very good that I figured it out before the added work, and the dissertation is definitely added work. Luckily, I enjoy school and learning so working on my dissertation isn’t ‘working.’ In addition to all the incredible benefits of the program I’ve already discussed, I think I would add self-discipline as a big benefit I have really—and finally—learned. I am looking forward to my last year in the DBA program and can’t wait to finally achieve my lifelong aspiration to complete the terminal degree.

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