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Inside the 2020 Data Science Hackathon at Johnson & Johnson Inside the 2020 Data Science Hackathon at Johnson & Johnson

700 data scientists. 35 countries. 2,000-plus solutions proposed. Our inaugural Data Science Hackathon only lasted seven days, but it was the stage for seemingly unlimited breakthroughs.

From Showcases to Hackathons: Data Science in the Spotlight

For the uninitiated, "hackathons" (the word is a portmanteau of "hack" and "marathon") bring people together, usually for a short period of time, to work on problems collaboratively. And where our inaugural Data Science Showcase aimed to cross-pollinate data science applications across our global organization, this time the participants were narrowly focused on a single, real-world challenge.

That challenge? Analyze several years’ worth of historical data around monthly shipments for vision care products. Then, develop an algorithm that accurately forecasts monthly shipments for those products right now.

Here’s how Najat Khan, Chief Data Science Officer at Johnson & Johnson and a member of the Johnson & Johnson Data Science Council, framed the high-level objective: “Solving problems that will have a meaningful impact on the medicines and products we are developing for patients and customers is at the heart of data science. To do this well, ruthless prioritization and pragmatism will be critical, because we need to be realistic about where the use of data science can truly realize this impact. Our hackathon showcased exactly this philosophy—and we should continue to live into it as we embed data science in our ways of working and thinking.”

Geet Bhanawat, Head of Supply Chain Data Strategy and Engineering and Najat’s colleague on the Data Science Council, agreed. In his words, the Data Science Hackathon was all about “solving real problems, using real data and creating real impact.”

Such an approach, it’s worth mentioning, is hardly the norm when it comes to hackathons. More commonly, participants are asked to work with "dummy," or made-up, data, in fact.

Not so at the 2020 Data Science Hackathon. As Geet explained, "This was a hackathon for true data scientists, to challenge and bring out the best in them," he said. It was also held 100% virtually—and as such, was the first event of its kind at Johnson & Johnson.

Collaboration and Innovation Take Center Stage

The 2020 Data Science Hackathon took place April 17-24 and was open to all Johnson & Johnson employees. In the weeks leading up to the event, colleagues from around the world began joining forces. Teams were formed, captains appointed. Meanwhile, individual contributors could also register as “free agents," listing their skills so they might be "drafted" by one of the teams.

Perhaps not surprisingly, drawing from a global community made for some especially diverse teams. People from every department, from finance to legal, HR to R&D, took part in the event. And they did so based on an equally wide range of motives: Some participants were dedicated data science experts looking to take on a novel challenge. Others were there for mentorship. Still others came simply to learn more about data science and grow their skill sets.

That's in keeping with Geet's view of hackathons generally, which he frames as "opportunities that anyone can participate in. If you think you can add value and you want to gain exposure to different areas of the business, you're welcome to join this great network of data scientists."

Applying Data Science to Accelerate Our Impact

We often reflect on the ways that data science is transforming healthcare—how it's helping us fast-track our progress on rare diseases, for example. But it was fascinating to actually see that acceleration play out in real time as the hackathon unfolded.

For example, the teams submitted their latest prediction models at the end of each day. And each day, the accuracy of those predictions climbed steadily. This was true across the board. In fact, by the seventh and final day of competition, the predictions from every team were more accurate than the top three had been on day one.

"I was thrilled by the level of energy and participation we saw," said Pallaw Sharma, Senior Vice President of Digital and Data Science as well as Co-Chair of our Data Science Council. "As a platform, hackathons are a great mechanism for connecting data scientists across Johnson & Johnson."

Looking ahead, Geet, Pallaw and the rest of the Data Science Council say they plan to stage additional hackathons before the end of 2020. They also recognize that building a global community of data scientists is a key part of our mission to meaningfully impact the lives of people everywhere.

In other words, this is just the beginning. Stay tuned.

Join Our Community of Data Scientists Today

When you apply your unique expertise, compassion and drive to our collective purpose, there's no limit to the impact we can make together. So be sure to check out all of the ways you can join our global community of data scientists, and while you're at it, sign up for our Global Talent Hub, too. It's a great way to stay connected, discover more about life at Johnson & Johnson and get updates about jobs that might interest you in the future.

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