Harper Reed on the Power of Data, at Hadoop: the Foundation for Change

February 12, 2013 Paul M. Davis

Photo by Joi Ito via Fotopedia. (CC BY 2.0)

Big Data’s impact is wide-ranging, from business to media, the sciences to politics. These massive shifts are largely powered by Hadoop, a flexible, scalable, and inexpensive platform that boasts considerable enterprise investment and a rich developer ecosystem. Hadoop: The Foundation for Change, on Monday, February 25th in San Francisco, will reveal Greenplum’s new technology to extend the platform’s impact and reach, and look to the data-driven future with a keynote speech by Harper Reed, Former CTO for the Obama 2012 Campaign.

Political campaigns have relied on all manner of voter data for many an election season, but Obama’s reelection campaign was the most sophisticated effort to date. The campaign’s agile technology team deployed an arsenal of data science techniques to track voter sentiment in real-time and microtarget fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Based out of Chicago, Reed managed a team of over 40 developers and data scientists, who developed and interated on the campaign’s custom sophisticated voter analytics software, code-named Narwhal.

While get-out-the-vote efforts often veer wildly between the ingenious and the incompetent, microtargeting allowed the Obama reelection campaign to tailor voter outreach at an unprecedented level of detail and accuracy. “We know that a veteran talking to a veteran is good; there’s a lot of success there,” Reed explained in an interview with the Denver Post. “A young person talking to an older person, that’s good; there’s a lot of success there.” The result was an operation so sophisticated, an anonymous Romney aide lamented, “We weren’t even running in the same race,” according to Buzzfeed reporter Zeke Miller.

Reed’s punk rock mien and straight-speaking style is matched by his varied background and iconoclastic vision. From 2005 to 2009 Reed served as the CTO of Threadless, a t-shirt company that crowdsources successful designs from artists and users. The experience offered Reed considerable insight into using data to listen to users and drive business decsisions. Following his stint at Threadless, Reed consulted for companies such as Rackspace and innovative VC firm Sandbox Industries, and became active in Chicago’s burgeoning civic hacker community.

Reed brought his considerable technical knowledge to bear on the Obama reelection campaign, as well as keen insights on how to build an agile, tight-knit team obsessively focused on achieving a common goal. He revealed some of approaches to building and managing a winning team during a talk at the 2011 Startup Mixology Conference, where he stated, “Interesting problem solvers like to solve interesting problems, outside of work problem solving.”

During his keynote speech at Hadoop: The Foundation for Change, Reed will share insights and strategies learned during the campaign, and look to the future, exploring how data is transforming the way organizations engage users and communities. The event will stream live from San Francisco on Monday, February 25, 2013, from 10:00–11:30 am PST / 1:00–2:30 pm EST. Register for the live streaming event on the Greenplum webcast page.

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