National Learn to Code Day

On Saturday, I took part as a mentor in National Learn to Code Day with Ladies Learning Code. There were about 50 learners of all ages. The topic was “Using Data to Solve Problems: An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Beginners”, led by Solmaz Shahalizadeh, the data team directory at Shopify in Ottawa.

The topic seemed like an oxymoron at first – how can beginners possibly cover in one day what could easily span multiple graduate courses? But actually, it worked great, and I think everyone learned a lot.

Although the topic was incredibly broad, the goal was just to get students familiar with the concepts, language, and purpose of what data analysts do, and why it matters. There were frequent activities where the students practiced generating, working with, and visualizing data on their own laptops using the Dataiku platform (which makes it possible to point-and-click your way to some very fancy machine-learning analyses, including decision trees, boosted trees, and random forests). One snag: having 1000+ students across Canada edit the same Google sheet at the same time did not work.

The best part? At the end of the day, Monica, one of the students and a lawyer, volunteered to show her work to the rest of the group. She had downloaded a data set of border control fines from the Open Government portal. Plotting the data in Dataiku revealed that, contrary to the way the fines are supposed to work, the most frequent repeat offenders actually tend to pay lower fines on average. So the next question is, why?

Overall it was a great day and I hope I can take part in more LLC events like these. It also made me wonder how long it will be before statistical machine learning is accessible to anyone who has a device and a dataset.