Connected Nation - Interview: Patrick Callinan, Channel 4

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Patrick Callinan specialises in leveraging data from databases, surveys and digital and social channels to generate product insights. Patrick is Lead Data Scientist at Channel 4, leading a team in work on recommendation engines, machine learning, and other “big data” projects.

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Patrick Callinan, Channel 4

My name is Patrick Callinan and I’m the lead data scientist at Channel 4. The reason I came here today was well 1) I’m presenting, but 2) I just wanted to see what other people are doing in the data field because it's cross-pollination between us, and I think that’s important. And also to me, people who are doing research in that area there both within the government organizations and in universities

 There's a surprising amount of application of Big Data technologies in areas outside of my field; so obviously mine is media, that's a known quantity. I’m particularly impressed with the geo-location stuff, very impressed with how data’s being used in, I guess, basic science, and very impressed that there are more universities out there building data science capability, formalizing it and bringing it together, and obviously that’s helpful for us because there’s a skill shortage. Research is crucial.

There are vanilla algorithms which are reasonably easy to buy off the shelf, but everyone has those so that's not a competitive advantage. The only way that you actually get to do something useful, or innovative, or something that will make your customers happy, is if you've got something better than everyone else has and you’ve got it faster. So, basic research in the math, basic research in the algorithms, we’ve got a recommendations engine project at channel 4 right now, and we’re using what we hope is the latest UCL research for that. So I don't think the field exists without basic research and applied research.

I think the powerful message was that the amount of support for big data that's coming from government and coming from the research organs of government; EPSRC, and the Economic and Social Research Council. I guess the message is that picture taking it seriously and that made me happy because I hadn't seen, you know, I think if I hadn't come here I wouldn't have seen how many people are pushing right now, and that's helpful. Encouraging.

We have a research partnership with UCL, so we actually have two of their PhDs. We’re sponsoring their PhDs, they spend five years doing their PhDs, three days a week with us, two days with UCL. So our biggest learning in research is that you have to be respectful of the academic research process, and you have to be accommodating to the different cadence of research versus, you know, cookie-cutter production and helping, you know, your research-minded, or innovation-chasing staff to manage the dual loads of delivering for the business today vs delivering the innovations sometime over the next two, three, four years. And helping protect that space, protect that time for them, that's probably the biggest thing I would say for businesses who were taking people on like that.