Andrés Plazas, the winner of the KPMG Hackathon 2020: “Events like this awaken our curiosity and encourage us to grow”
01 de October de 2020
01 de October de 2020
Hackathons are events in which IT specialists get together to generate solutions to certain problems set by the organizers. A few months ago, the KPMG Hackathon 2020 was held and, after a tough battle, Andrés Plazas’s team was named as the winner for their project, a digital solution that, with the help of big data, managed Covid-19 patients in hospitals.
We talked to Andrés to find out more about the project, as well as their experience on EAE’s Master in Big Data & Analytics and this is what he told us:
Andrés, if we asked you “Who is Andrés Plazas?”, what would your answer be?
I am an extremely curious person. I like to know how everything works. I am passionate about technology and robotics. I am very analytical and I question everything. I enjoy silence and moments of reflection. I play the guitar. I love reading and playing tennis. Most importantly, I enjoy nothing more than spending good times with my family.
I am an automation engineer and I have always been involved with software, electronic and mechanics. I have a Postgraduate Degree in Project Management and, as of recently, a Master in Big Data I have had the opportunity to work on and lead various technology projects over the course of my career.
We know that you work in the world of big data and computer programming. Since when? How did you become a Data Analyst?
The idea of studying Big Data came to me around 4 years ago. I was responsible for integrating the collection software of various toll stations with the electrical and electronic components (sensors) required to detect and classify vehicles. I was amazed by the amount of information stored by the stations that was not analysed. It is only stored for consultation purposes.
From that point onwards, I started to investigate. It had been a long time since I had felt so curious about something. I found out that I enjoy analysing data sets on any topic with the tools that I knew about at the time. Eventually, quite a while later, I made the decision with my partner to come to Madrid. She would take a Master in Human Resources Management and I would take a Master in Big Data and Analytics. That is how I first came to Madrid.
It has not been an easy experience. Covid-19 has been a tough challenge for us in all respects. However, thanks to hard work, a clear goal and a lot of drive, we are still in Madrid.
Tell us about your triumph in the Hackathon organized by KPMG. What was the experience of competing and winning like?
It was a great experience full of new things. It was the first time I have ever taken part in an event like this, so I was slightly nervous about the logistics of the activity and about meeting the colleagues that I would be working with for the day. I was lucky enough to have an excellent team: 4 people in total, all from different disciplines.
Once you know the challenge to resolve, you work together throughout the day, generating ideas and using different approaches to find a solution to the challenge you have been set. Right from the start, team members from different areas of KPMG visit you all the time to see the progress you are making on the challenge and put your ideas to the test, giving you different scenarios with the aim of ensuring that your solution is comprehensive.
The whole time, you can feel the pressure of seeing the other groups working and developing their solution. This makes you question whether you are doing the right thing or whether you have what it takes. To a certain extent, it puts you on the wrong foot but, once you have a good idea, everything flows better.
At the end of the day, when the time to present your solution is approaching, which you have to do in around 5 minutes, you have to plan how to sum the project up in a few sheets and get ready to convince an interdisciplinary jury. In our case, as far as possible, we decided to avoid dedicating too much time in the presentation to technical issue. We focused on explaining how our solution resolved the problem. Then, we could deal with any of the jury’s questions on technical matters in the question and answer session. This approach worked really well.
Later, after listening to the other teams’ proposals, the jury deliberated to reach a decision. It is only at that point that you overcome your uncertainty about the other teams’ ideas. When we saw the jury’s attitude compared to their response to the other presentations, we started thinking that our idea was really good and that it had grabbed their attention. In the end, the jury came back with the good news. We were the winners of the 2020 edition of the KPMG Talent Hackathon!
Tell us about the winning project. What did it consist of?
At the time that the event was held, Covid-19 had already become a global problem. The challenges set in the hackathon were designed to find technological solutions to problems that were already a reality in the cities affected by the virus, such as the traceability of infected people, saturation in hospitals, patient transfers, among other issues. As a team, after weighing up the various options, we decided to focus on a solution for managing patients in hospitals.
Around that time, the hospitals in Wuhan, China, were already in crisis and the number of patients overwhelmed their capacity. Due to the misinformation and generalized fear, hospitals were mixing infected patients with unaffected people, which certainly worsened the problem.
Our proposal was to shift the hospitals’ triage service to an app, with the backing of the government. After a series of questions (symptoms), the app could estimate the probability of the person being infected or not. At the moment, triage enables us to determine the priority of treatment of patients who are already in the hospital, which clearly represents a problem because it physically becomes a point at which people gather.
Through the app, the patients can make their first contact with a “doctor” (a machine-learning algorithm) from home, which not only helps reduce congestion in hospitals, but also boosts people’s peace of mind in a time of crisis. As a result, not only is it possible to reduce the number of false positives in hospitals, but also, if the probability of infection passes a certain threshold, the app recommends the best hospitals closest to you, which you could go to depending on the number of beds available. Moreover, it gives you recommendations to keep in mind on your way there to prevent infecting other people.
In any other case, it gives you a set of recommendations depending on your symptoms. It should be highlighted that the recommendations given to the users are in line with the guidelines issued by the government and the Department of Health. Therefore, the government’s backing is really important.
Do you feel that the Master in Big Data and Analytics that you took at EAE Business School helped you to develop the project and win the Hackathon? Why?
Clearly, my Master helped me. By the time I took part in the hackathon, I was equipped with plenty of tools to propose solutions in the field of Big Data. These tools included distributed storage, distributed computing and cloud architectures, all of which were a great help.
Why do you think that this kind of event is important for students?
Beyond the awards and acknowledgement that you get from this type of events, they are important because they give you the opportunity to meet people with skills and knowledge. As a student, it triggers your curiosity for new topics and, most importantly, it makes you more aware of the path ahead of you so that you can reach a level at which you can contribute value from your field. It encourages you to grow.
Tell us a bit more about your experience on the Master at EAE. What did you think of the program, the teaching methodology and the teachers?
When I am asked that question, I like to clarify something before answering. I firmly believe that, whatever you study, the success of a program does not exclusively depend on the school. In fact, I would go as far as to say that success is more a matter of your attitude and commitment to the program. It is true that all schools have their own different teaching methodologies (some really great, others not so much) that can facilitate the learning process, but it is also true that we do not all learn in the same way.
Having said that, I do think that this is a good Master. Is there room for improvement? Sure, but, in general, it is good for giving you a solid foundation in the world of Big Data. To give one piece of advice though, you really have to take studying on your own seriously, otherwise you might not have the best experience .
I would like to highlight the role of the lecturers. In general, there are really willing to help clear up any doubts you may have. You can really see the efforts they make (even after finishing the Master, I still ask some of them questions to clarify any doubts and get their advice).
What qualities and tools must a data analyst have nowadays? Did EAE give you or strengthen these qualities? How?
In my opinion, as a data analyst, there are two essential factors that you need: curiosity and the capacity to communicate your results. Whether it is for personal reasons or because you work for a company, your results are expected to provide the basis for making better decisions. You are always going to have to communicate your results in business terms, in a language that the other areas of the company can understand and which enables them put corrective or improvement measures into practice. Moreover, curiosity helps you uncover information that may not be visible at first sight. It helps you combine different data sources to generate new information.
So, with respect to tools, you must have the capacity to extract and consume data from various sources in different: csv and json files, text, databases (relational and non-relational), APIs and many more. Depending on the project that you are working on, this can vary significantly. In addition, you will need to perform data operations/transformations using one or various visualization tools, either for your own purposes as part of your analysis or to communicate and present your results.
Based on the above, a minimum set of tools would include:
Obviously, as you take on new projects, this set of tools starts to grow considerably. You would be amazed at the number of tools available.
On the Master, you these and many more tools. The lecturers have a really good level of proficiency. They all teach based on their professional experience and you learn what companies require nowadays, which puts you in a great. Moreover, the fact is that it is not an easy road to follow and it is impossible to cover all the topics in class in depth, so you have to be willing to spend quite a lot of time outside of class to internalize it all.
Don’t expect to be a specialist on all the topics. I would advise you to know a little bit about everything but just focus more in-depth on the area that you, as a professional, consider that generates value for you. In a constantly changing environment, you have to be very discerning when deciding what you should and shouldn’t learn. You have to have a clear idea of the direction you want your career to take.
Do you feel that participating in and winning the hackathon will help your professional development?
Absolutely! In fact, it already has helped. I now know lots of new things that I use on a daily basis, thanks to the skills that I observed from other participants in the hackathon that grabbed my attention. Moreover, in terms of professional opportunities, it gave me the opportunity to build a network of contacts and future professional prospects. la oportunidad de establecer una red de contactos y futuras oportunidades laborales.
How do you rate the support of the Professional Careers Service during the Master?
In my opinion, the Professional Careers Service is good. It runs workshops and talks on current issues in the professional world. They constantly post job opportunities at really great companies, which are sometimes exclusively for the School. You also have access to guidance to organize an internship if you reach an agreement with a company.
However, it is also important to bear in mind that you cannot leave your professional future solely in the hands of the Professional Careers Service. You cannot expect them to do everything for you. For your part, you have to be prepared. You cannot expect a good opportunity to fall into your lap when you do not meet half of the requirements. Getting a job is not an easy task and, unless you have a clear idea of your part in the process, it will be far harder.
To finish off, would you recommend taking EAE’s Master in Big Data and Analytics to people planning to specialize in the world of data? /strong>
Absolutely. I would advise them to make sure that they really understand the difference between a Data Engineer, a Data Scientist and a Data Analyst. Although they are closely related, there are important differences between them. Studying Big Data does not automatically transform you into any of these profiles in particular, but it helps you progress along the path towards becoming one of them, though obviously not all to the same extent.