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Dec 22, 2020

Stephanie Bruno and Shannon Lindsay join Rob for a special holiday giving edition of the podcast. This duo makes up the colorful online world of The Data Witches. Both of these ladies in tech are Power BI User Group Leaders in their respective regions of Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. The witches continue to use their Powers (of BI) for good across many philanthropic efforts:

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:00 - The Origin of the "Witches" name and how they discovered the magic of the Power Platform
  • 6:40 - The Vampiric manner that the Witches are converting others to Power BI
  • 12:25 - Power BI is vital in data optimization in the Non-profit space
  • 17:20 - The Data Community is an amazing community-those that have the Data Itch are a different and helpful type of human
  • 30:00 - Gender and the data world, Rob and Stephanie debate the usefulness of Calculus, and the elation of besting one's academic rivals
  • 39:50 - Data quality is important, especially so when lives are at's evident in the analytics
  • 47:10 - How the Witches are using Power Apps and Power Automate
  • 55:00 - Upstream and Downstream flows to Power BI- The concept of the Action Loop
  • 1:01:30 - Stephanie's recent graduate degree and the highs and lows of going back to grad school
  • 1:07:30 - The resistance to change and new technology-predictive modeling and machine learning are a tough sell
  • 1:11:25 - Shannon's new gig at the not quite so non-profit Microsoft
  • 1:16:15 - How COVID has impacted operations, and how non-profits view Microsoft and other large corporations

Episode Transcript:

Rob Collie (00:00:00):
Welcome, everyone. We all know that Power BI is good. We all know that the Power platform is good. But it's not often, that we get to talk about it actually directly helping to save lives. But in a very real sense, our guest this week, the Data Witches, that's what they've been doing. They've been using the Power platform to help save lives. The data witches, Stephanie and Shannon met while working at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. So clearly, they're good witches, but they're data witches. And after seeing the promise of the Power platform and Power BI specifically, they've successfully advocated for the adoption of these tools within that organization, to great impact. Years ago, on separate occasions, I actually had the pleasure of having each of them in one of my classes. And so I played a small part in their introduction to this world. But that's just the beginning of the story. Because these two have really spread the religion far and wide, both within the nonprofit sphere and elsewhere. This was a really great conversation with two great people. And I hope you enjoy it. So let's get after it.

Announcer (00:01:20):
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please.

Announcer (00:01:24):
This is the Raw Data by P3 podcast with your host, Rob Collie. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to Raw Data by P3 is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:01:39):
Welcome to the show, Data witches, Shannon and Stephanie. Alright, so let's start there. You started a blog. You call yourselves the Data Witches. Did you have any particular witches from fiction in mind that you sort of identify with? I'm assuming it's not the evil witches. I know both of you, you're pretty nice. So was there any particular inspiration? Is this a reference to the TV show, Charmed or anything like that?

Stephanie Bruno (00:02:12):
It was not. No. First of all, thanks for having us here, Rob. Data Witches is new, like you said. The name came because Shannon and I were doing a presentation together at the... What was it Shannon?

Shannon Lindsay (00:02:27):
The Power Platform World Tour, DC.

Stephanie Bruno (00:02:31):
That's right. Right before everything shut down. It was in March. And we were doing a presentation on optimizing your data models in Power BI and showing some tools and someone in the, one of the participants said, "What is this witchcraft you're showing us?" So we decided to just go with that. So, no. No specific witch.

Rob Collie (00:02:51):
Okay. Witchcraft, though. That's good. I like that.

Stephanie Bruno (00:02:53):
It's witchcraft. Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:02:55):
A talk on optimizing your data models.

Stephanie Bruno (00:02:58):

Rob Collie (00:02:59):
I went to School of Computer Science, and all of that. And I still wouldn't have predicted that my future self might be on stage giving a talk about optimizing data models. Did either of you sort of see that in your career future 10 years ago. We're going to be on stage talking about optimizing data models.

Stephanie Bruno (00:03:15):
No, never, not at all. I don't even like getting on stage. I never thought I would want to do that ever. Which is one of the reasons I like to present with Shannon a lot. Presenting with a buddy, I think is a, makes it a lot more fun. And Shannon's a great presenter. So I started presenting at user groups. But once I got to present with Shannon, it just became a lot more fun.

Shannon Lindsay (00:03:36):
I never in a million years, saw myself talking about data models, or even knowing what they are. I like to be on stage to sing and dance. But the tech came later.

Rob Collie (00:03:48):
Do you sing or dance during the tech presentations?

Shannon Lindsay (00:03:51):

Rob Collie (00:03:52):

Shannon Lindsay (00:03:53):
Interpretive dance works really well, for data model optimization.

Rob Collie (00:03:57):
This is a many to many relationship. Let me show you what it looks like. That's awesome. Yeah, being able to blend that sort of personal touch into talk, to me, even though people just really don't expect it. I love that sort of thing when you can, when it's done right. So what are your backgrounds? How did you discover Power BI and the road from singing and dancing right on stage, right? The road from that to optimizing data models on stage. It's an interesting road. I find this kind of stuff to be the absolute best stuff. If we didn't set out to be techies to begin with. But we discover something that helps us. That's the best thing. If you're doing it for tech sake, you're almost certainly not even doing it well. People might think of this, "Oh, the accidental path to getting somewhere." No, it's the right path. It's really the only one that matters. And so, I know bits and pieces of your stories, but I don't know all of it. And I'm sure people listening would love to hear it. So let's talk about you.

Shannon Lindsay (00:04:58):
I'll start with this one. I'm Mrs. Shannon. I had a non traditional path into this, which I think a lot of people in this field did. Which I find so fascinating. My background is really, as an analyst, if you put it in data speak. Many moons ago, after college, I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to experience other parts of the world. And I thought it was kind of my duty being so fortunate to be able to work with people that were less fortunate and understand what the rest of the world lives like. And it was actually during that experience that I got to work with a health facility. I was doing health education, and I got to work at a health facility and help them implement their first ever electronic medical records.

Shannon Lindsay (00:05:45):
And then it was from there that I decided to go on and get a degree in public health. And from there, I specialized in something called monitoring and evaluation, which is like a little niche part of development and public health organizations. But essentially, all it is, it's an analyst. And I was using a lot of Excel, that was basically everything I was doing. And once I met Stephanie, after years at different organizations, we landed at the same organization. And once I met her, she introduced me to the literal magic, that was Power Query. And it was honestly from there that my whole journey with Power Query, Power BI really started. So it was probably about I don't know, a year after Stephanie and I met that I came to my first Power Pivot Pro training. And then there my journey just continued.

Rob Collie (00:06:41):
Awesome. Okay, so that means Stephanie was like patient zero in your life, right? She was the one that was infected first. Let's, so Stephanie how many fellow... We can use the witch metaphor, we start using the vampire metaphor, right? Because vampires make other vampires. Stephanie you just going around in the world minting other Power BI people or, how's this working?

Stephanie Bruno (00:07:05):
I'm doing my best. Definitely trying to, but I would say that Shannon is the most infected of anybody that I've had the opportunity to infect. Yeah, she's really taken it on. And once I saw that in her, that she liked it. I didn't let up. It's like, "Oh, Shannon, you like Power Query? Look at DAX, let's go there next." Yes. So my opportunities to teach more people they are generally more within our organization, is where I started with them. But then also the community, I would say, that's the thing that really was the big changer for me, in my path getting here. I do have a IT background and a left brain background, I guess. My degree is in math and physics. And I started off in IT as a software developer. But I always liked that I could just hide in the corner and do everything by myself. And I thought that was just fine. Until I had an opportunity to go to a past summit in 2013.

Stephanie Bruno (00:08:06):
And I do remember thinking, "Okay, this is awesome." I have two little kids at home. I'm busy all the time. I don't get any sleep. I'm just going to go to these sessions and learn a bunch of stuff. And then sleep. Just get a lot of sleep and watch movies and stuff in my hotel room. You're chuckling because you know that's not what happens at past Summit, I think. So-

Rob Collie (00:08:23):
I've been a couple times.

Stephanie Bruno (00:08:25):
... Yeah. So that it turned out, no, I was completely wrong. And a bunch of nice people took me under their wing. And they said, "Oh, you do this great work for HIV in Africa. And we want to help you with that. This is amazing." So needless to say, I got very little sleep. But I met a lot of people and my eyes were open to, "Wow, this thing called community, I think that this is actually probably way better than just hiding in a corner and doing my IT work by myself." So everything just exploded from there. And I realized that there's a lot to learn and a lot of people who are really nice and want to help and share with each other. So that changed everything for me.

Rob Collie (00:09:06):
Yeah. That's really cool. I didn't know that you had that math and physics background. I didn't know. Or maybe I did, just don't remember which is also-

Stephanie Bruno (00:09:14):
What? You don't remember everything about everybody who attends your classes, Rob?

Rob Collie (00:09:17):
No, I don't remember a lot. I wouldn't have guessed from knowing you that you came from an IT background. That's really just because of the IT stereotype of, IT isn't necessarily known for their communication skills, or their warmth. One of the things we're always talking about on this show, is the notion that the hybrid is where it's at. Whatever the sort of the day to day, subject matter or business domain is. You have to be firmly rooted in that subject out in the trenches, so to speak, while at the same time able to execute technically. And if you have both of those sort of in one brain that's infinitely more valuable than having it in two separate brains.

Rob Collie (00:10:08):
It's kind of unfair to IT in a way, if I go, "Oh, you're just way too personable to have come from IT." But that's something else I want to talk about, which is that so many people who find themselves to be really drawn to this stuff, whatever this stuff is data, right? And using it, to help using it for an advantage. So many of us, this group, this community, so many of us did not grow up as the STEM people. The math and science people. Stephanie it sounds like you did. You didn't go from a liberal arts and humanities focus in high school directly to math and physics in college, I don't think.

Stephanie Bruno (00:10:50):
That true.

Rob Collie (00:10:50):
You probably are already on that path a little bit. Did you go to math competitions in high school?

Stephanie Bruno (00:10:55):
I did not do that.

Rob Collie (00:10:55):
Oh, see?

Stephanie Bruno (00:10:58):

Rob Collie (00:10:59):

Stephanie Bruno (00:10:59):
Yeah. Not full on. I'm sorry to disappoint you here.

Rob Collie (00:11:04):
They were debating giving us math nerds a letter, like a varsity letter to put on our jackets for math team. And I was like, "Oh."

Stephanie Bruno (00:11:12):
So you did? You did go to math competitions?

Rob Collie (00:11:15):
Oh, yeah. I was a [mathlete 00:11:20] and physics competitions, and all that kind of stuff. But I had the sense even then to know that putting a letter on my jacket for math team was just going to make me a magnet for ridicule and bullying. So I just said, "No, we don't need to do that." But Shannon, did you grow up as a Math Science nerd?

Shannon Lindsay (00:11:38):
No, not at all. My undergraduate degrees in biology, but I think I picked it because it was the easiest science. I was never good at Math, I would still say that I'm not great at Math. But through Stephanie's coaching, and the work that I've done, I realized that I am now capable of doing Math at least. But no, I was not a huge academic. I really started getting serious about caring about the data once I saw it, and I was working in the field. And I think that your reference to having both brains is really interesting. Because when I first started working with Stephanie, I had the field experience, and she had all of the technical knowledge. And I think over the last five or so years, we've both learned so much from each other. In both arenas, it's been really cool.

Rob Collie (00:12:27):
You met working for a nonprofit, in the nonprofit space. And P3, we've done a reasonable amount of work for nonprofits. My belief is that really the kinds of problems that with data that you tend to be solving aren't really structurally much different at all, working in the nonprofit space versus the for profit space. The biggest difference would be if we were going to advertise our services to the nonprofit sector, we wouldn't say things like, bring the impact to the bottom line. We probably just wouldn't talk a certain way. That the work would probably be similar. For example, we did some work for FEMA. FEMA is a government agency, not a nonprofit, but it basically is. And one of the metrics that they had that I thought was really cool, was essentially, how much does it cost us to spend $1.

Rob Collie (00:13:23):
We've got all this money that we need to deploy in response to a disaster. A hurricane wipes out Florida for the 10th time in the decade and gets declared a disaster zone. And so FEMA deploys and tries to put a bunch of money in the field in various forms, insurance and things like that. But there's also an overhead cost of doing that. So it's an efficiency metric. What are the sorts of metrics and things that you've find yourselves optimizing for? I know that you can't speak for the entire nonprofit space. What's the name of the organization again, where you met?

Stephanie Bruno (00:13:58):
It's the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Rob Collie (00:14:02):
See, I was pretty sure that's what I was going to say. I didn't want to mess up a word here. There's a lot of words in that-

Stephanie Bruno (00:14:09):
It's very long, if you want to say it again, you can say EGPAF.

Rob Collie (00:14:14):
EGPAF. All right. I figured that there's got to be a cool abbreviation for it. What are the sorts of things that you find yourselves optimizing for at that organization? It's not profitability, right?

Stephanie Bruno (00:14:25):
Right. Well, I actually jumped over from our IT department a few years ago to the department, Shannon was mentioning, monitoring and evaluation. Because I wanted to work closer to the data about the people, and less the operational data. So since I did that, then I am focused on that. We call it program data. So that's the data about all the facilities in Africa that we support. How many people are retesting for HIV, and of those people, how many people are we getting on treatment? And how many people stay on treatment? So it's really about it impact, it's less about profitability. So we try to show not how much profit we make, but how many people we're serving, basically.

Stephanie Bruno (00:15:09):
But in addition to that, you mentioned that how much does it cost to spend $1? For us a really hard number to get accurate is, how much does it cost to test a person? And you can imagine that's because data silos, right? So because we've got our finance system, we've got a whole bunch of systems, and then we've got the program data system, and they just aren't at the same level. And so it's just years and years and years. And it's kind of the holy grail that we're trying to get to is blinking all this up. So we can just answer a question easily like that.

Rob Collie (00:15:43):
And that really is one of Power BI's top two strengths, as a data tool, relative to its other BI tool competition. Is its ability to splice across those silos, and start to allocate fixed costs that you're measuring in one place. You still have an HR system, right? You're still cutting paychecks. So that cost needs to be allocated. Somehow, across the per test. It's just so many inputs. If you're just saying, "Hey, look, the cost of the test kit... What percentage of the cost of testing is just the test kit." It's probably really tiny, right? There's the facility, all that kind of stuff, right? Silos are everything, aren't they?

Stephanie Bruno (00:16:33):
Yeah. They're painful.

Shannon Lindsay (00:16:34):
And having worked in nonprofits, and also with governments for the last 10 or so years, I think that it's pretty obvious that their progress in new technology is a little bit behind other industries. So what was really neat about implementing Power BI and working with Stephanie was that we were one of the first nonprofits to start to use this technology. We really got our leadership on board, it really grew very fast within the organization. And then we were able to preach the gospel, or I don't know how to say it. But encourage other nonprofits to use this technology as well. So there is a whole little nonprofit community that is interested in using this technology too. And I think that Stephanie had a big hand in that.

Rob Collie (00:17:22):
Is there a water cooler where all the nonprofit people get together and hang out? And how do you connect like that?

Shannon Lindsay (00:17:27):
You know there isn't, really. Part of what's interesting about the nonprofit industry, the part that I've been involved in, is that we're all trying to accomplish the same thing. But at the same time, we're all fighting for the same tiny pot of money. So there's a lot less collaboration than you would imagine. And I didn't really understand the benefit and the value of community until I became a part of this data community and the sequel community and the Power BI community. I didn't realize that people just helped each other and just shared information, I did not know that was a thing. So now I understand. And, I think that's another part of why we do Data Witches and why we run user groups. We want to make sure that other people know these tools are out there, and that they will save you hundreds of hours of time and simplify your life. And just from the analyst perspective, it completely changed my day to day work.

Rob Collie (00:18:26):
You've probably both heard me say this, at least one time, somewhere in some venue, the desire, the compelling, overwhelming need to tell other people about a piece of software. That is very strange. That doesn't happen. Software just sucks, it just wall to wall. So much software, it's just so much of a source of pain. And it's like, a lot of software's only slightly better than not having it. I'm just really cynical about most software, even though that's my industry of origin. It's probably because it's my industry of origin. But this stuff is different. There is almost a compelling, almost moral duty to tell other people about it and to get them introduced to it. It's weird, isn't it? Even just in the way that the two of you describe what you do? I can hear it. I can hear that. This is a moral imperative. We have to share. We can't keep this to ourselves.

Shannon Lindsay (00:19:22):
If I can save one other person from copying and pasting... I mean, the reality is we were supporting 5000 health facilities when I first started. And what we were doing was manually compiling data into Excel sheets. It just sounds like madness, even saying it out loud. Now that I know what's possible. I also used to joke that I used to enter a lot of zeros into spreadsheets. That was my job. Data entry, copying, pasting, entering zeros and none of that is necessary, but I did not know that at the time. And so if I can save someone else that pain, by all means.

Rob Collie (00:19:58):
Yeah. I think that in the course of any career, any sort of office career, and I know that you're not always in the office, right? Sometimes you're out in the field. But in any sort of knowledge worker role, sooner or later, everyone is going to cross paths with Excel. And the majority of people, when they cross paths with Excel, they just bounce right off of it. It's like, "Ooh, gross, I'm out." And that's at least 14 out of 15 people. But there's like one in 15, one in 16, that you get this itch like, "Oh, I just typed all those formula, that those numbers in, I was able to get this plus this, plus this. And I was able to change the input without rewriting the formula on the calculator plus this, plus that. And I get the answer out again." This twitch starts to happen behind your eyes and I go, "I was kind of cool."

Rob Collie (00:20:49):
And next thing you know, it's like, wall to wall VLOOKUP in your life. So it's weird. I think that the reason why certain people, and again, you don't have to have been someone who liked math in high school. And I love this. Because frankly, most of the math we learned in high school isn't useful. It's just most of it isn't all that useful. The thing that draws you to it is the desire to not repeat work. That's the thing that feels good about Excel the first time to say, "Oh, I could really get into this." But then, of course, Excel turns around and betrays you, five minutes later. And it's just nothing but manual work.

Rob Collie (00:21:28):
Even though you're writing formulas and whatever, it's still awful. And so it's really ironic that the crowd that is least able to tolerate tedium, is the crowd that's drawn here. And then Excel turns around, and it just tortures you. And I do think that has a lot to do with the feeling of moral imperative to help others because you know what it feels like. It's not just saving time, it's people are literally suffering.

Shannon Lindsay (00:21:58):
Yeah, if we're spending all those hours compiling data, when we could be analyzing is this having an impact? Is this saving lives? It's a no brainer.

Rob Collie (00:22:08):
Yeah, when you start to think of the end result in particular, right? When you're working in the for profit space, you don't typically think that way. It's a little harder to get sort of emotionally ramped up about some huge corporation saving more money. But still, the people that you're working with at that company, is more than enough to keep you charged up. It's their success. It's their life getting better.

Stephanie Bruno (00:22:32):
So one of the things that Shannon and I did together at EGPAF with our colleague, [Elisa Lei Laurie 00:22:39], because we wanted to share more. Actually, I should back up and mentioned, when we say we work at this nonprofit, people get the impression that, oh, it's small, just a few do gooders trying to do their best. But we're actually pretty big. I think we have a staff of close to 4000 throughout the world, honestly. Most of whom are in Africa. Our HQ staff in DC is maybe around 150. But so mostly everybody that we work with, is in Africa. Getting all of these people that we work with to start using a new tool, Power BI instead of Excel, it was a lot harder than I expected. But like you said, we knew that we would save people so much time, if we did.

Stephanie Bruno (00:23:21):
I remember one time Shannon and I were on a trip together in Tanzania. And I was in the office trying to see how their data systems work together. And I looked up, and I just looked at this sea of people on computers out in a room. And my jaw dropped because I realized, "Oh my gosh, they're all just doing copy and paste." That's what I'm seeing here. It's like 50 people doing copy and paste. We have to do better with this. So we really wanted to not be the only few people building Power BI data models and reports for people. We knew that if this is going to work, we have to get a lot of people doing it. So we started an internal user group at EGPAF. We started it three years ago. And we have quarterly meetings, we use Teams and people are sharing resources. And it's people from our different country offices helping each other, which is amazing.

Stephanie Bruno (00:24:14):
We've had some celebrity guests, I think, come on for us. We had Patrick LeBlanc come on, probably [Comassani 00:24:21] came on and presented. And so it's just been this great thing. It's really been successful. You know, we can check out the metrics in Power BI to see who's building reports and who's getting the most usage. And it turns out, it's actually not our DC office anymore. It's our Malawi office has the most reports being used and built. So this is kind of been the best thing for us. Is this sharing with other people and getting other people to do the work and build reports and get excited about it. Yeah, so that's the sharing that's really been the most impactful. I think has been this internal group and just knowing all of our colleagues in 12 countries in Africa are now Power BI experts.

Rob Collie (00:25:03):
That's great. Do you see the same sort of like ratio of author and consumer that I'm talking about. That 1 out of 16? Not everyone is going to, of those 4000 employees, for instance. Let's say if all of them were using it, most of them would be using it, consuming reports and dashboards that have been built for them. Maybe interacting with them filtering, drilling down, whatever, but I wouldn't expect that everyone is data modeling. It's not really even a question about the nonprofit space. It's just more like, it's your experience with the other offices. Because my experience with all this is overwhelmingly, USA based. I would say that this discovery of 1 in 16. And there's actually a couple of different ways that we've come to that number that both agree actually that's about 1 in 16.

Rob Collie (00:25:51):
I just wonder if in a different country, it's the same. Are you minting authors at a greater or-

Stephanie Bruno (00:26:00):

Rob Collie (00:26:00):
... faster pace?

Stephanie Bruno (00:26:01):
I think it's the same. We've done a few trainings in Africa. Shannon did a couple. I did a couple. We partnered with Microsoft, actually, some of the people from the CAT team came and did trainings for our office. Casper, I know you guys are-

Rob Collie (00:26:15):
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Bruno (00:26:16):
... good friends. Casper and Patrick, and then Maggie Sparkman from the documentation team. They all came and they did these trainings. And it was fantastic. And I would say I think probably the countries, maybe had more people sign up for the trainings and people who were actually ready to do it.

Rob Collie (00:26:33):
It's exciting.

Stephanie Bruno (00:26:34):
Yeah, it's exciting. But I do think that's just how it goes. And then people come to these trainings. And not everybody that comes to it is going to become a data modeler. But you're going to find some people that maybe you didn't expect, that really grab on and just love it.

Rob Collie (00:26:49):
Yeah, I think that suffering that we're talking about, is sort of a crucial ingredient in deciding whether or not it's going to take with you. The same person, the same brain is a lot less interested or even understand the value of adopting these tools until they've worked in the spreadsheets sweatshop, for a couple months minimum. Even people who came to those classes that you're talking about, some of them it didn't take with them. But some of them, those people that didn't take with, will now go off and not use them. For some reason, their job takes a turn, and now they're using Excel all the time.

Rob Collie (00:27:33):
And they're getting ground down. And then the next time you run that class, someone that you remember being checked out will be like, "Oh, my God." You'll see the spark, you'll see the light bulb go on. I've actually had that happen.

Stephanie Bruno (00:27:48):
You've had someone come more than once?

Rob Collie (00:27:51):
I did a training one time for a group, it was a company. Here, there's sort of two parts of story. One part is, I did go back one year later and train the same people on the same things, which is really silly, right? And this is where I learned a very important principle, that when you first learn this stuff, you have to put it into use almost immediately. Not almost immediately, you better put it into use immediately. And by the time, either of you showed up in any of my classes, I'm sure I was already saying this. You spend a couple days learning this stuff with us. You can't go back to work and do it the old way. Until you get caught up. That's a very seductive trap that you can fall into. And that's what this crew did.

Rob Collie (00:28:36):
They spent like three or four days with me. And then of course, their job piled up during those three or four days. They weren't doing their job, they were already way behind. And so they got further behind. And so the next week of work, they just threw themselves back into the old way. Just try to dig out. Mistake, it was over. Just get becomes less and less fresh. And there's never a good time. And so a year later now they were really in trouble. And they brought me back. And that's how I learned the lesson to tell everybody like no, on Monday, you're not allowed to do it the old way. But there have been someone assigned to this class. We call them hostages. We teach a class for a company. A manager will tell everyone that they have to be there. Some people are excited about it, most people aren't.

Rob Collie (00:29:22):
There was a woman in the room who could not have been more disinterested. I just had to tell. A year later the thing is she was new in that job. She'd never had to do the the Excel analyst job like she did the equivalent of sitting in the back filing her nails. It was so hard to take as the teacher. But the next time I came back she was on the front row asking the absolute best questions. She parlayed that into a, she's a full time BI developer professional now. And if I had based my impression on her on what she showed me on that first time, I would have thought she was zero.

Rob Collie (00:30:04):
It's so cool. I love that. So yeah. Sooner or later, you'll have a similar experience, I think. You'll find someone that you wouldn't have bet on but suddenly they light up.

Shannon Lindsay (00:30:14):
I think that's been part of the real, I don't know, joy of being a part of building something from the ground up at EGPAF, we saw the most unexpected people become the champions of the new technology. And I can't say this for the whole world. But in the countries that we worked in, I'm saying worked past tense, I do not work there anymore. But in the countries that we worked in, a lot of the monitoring and evaluation teams and the finance teams were predominantly men. And a lot of our shining stars and people who became the power users or the people who spoke up and presented at our user group, were women, who were often overlooked. And they took this technology, and they ran with it. And now they run those departments. I mean, so not only is it making their day to day life easier, but it's really giving them some visibility in the organization. It's changed a lot of people's careers, myself included.

Rob Collie (00:31:12):
Yeah, I'm really glad you brought that up. Because this is one of my favorite things. And when I bring it up, I run the risk of somehow looking like the bad guy, even though everything in my heart is 100% good about this, I know what you're talking about. I went to computer science school, I grew up in the Math Science World. And I know what the finance world looks like. Oh, my gosh, these things couldn't be more male dominated in terms of numbers of people. I had one or two women in my computer science classes with me. Stephanie was there. I see the same thing. We even talked about this with Wayne Winston, when he was on the show. We're sort of coming around to this idea that the analytical half of our brain. This is a broad oversimplification, but the analytical curious parts of our brain is probably the more female part of our brain.

Rob Collie (00:32:06):
The stuff that, I don't know, calculus. There's something that's super duper abstract about calculus that I often wonder. As an older person now, I often wonder, why is it we're sitting around trying to encourage more girls to study calculus? Because I think calculus sucks. Girls might have it right staying away from calculus. I mean, it's like, why is calculus considered such a an objectively good thing that everyone should be doing? We're putting it on a pedestal.

Stephanie Bruno (00:32:39):
Because it's awesome.

Rob Collie (00:32:40):
Oh, really? You still think calculus is awesome?

Stephanie Bruno (00:32:43):
I do. I do think calculus is awesome.

Rob Collie (00:32:47):
All right, give us your bullet point defense of why calculus is awesome. Keep it in mind, I went to the Final Four in Florida state competition for calculus. I mean, I was on a team that went to the Final Four. I was the weak link on that team. We would have placed first without me. So I've definitely been up to my eyeballs in calculus before. And I'm still on the calculus side.

Stephanie Bruno (00:33:10):
So I mean, why do you think it's, that useful or unfun?

Rob Collie (00:33:17):
Well, it definitely gets to the point where it's unfun. By the time I got to differential equations in college, I was like, "Oh, cool." I want out of this.

Stephanie Bruno (00:33:29):
Rob, that was my favorite class in college.

Rob Collie (00:33:31):
Was it? Ah, God.

Stephanie Bruno (00:33:33):
But you know what I do remember, there was a guy in my math classes, and he was just so smug all the time about how he was the best one in our math group. And there was something about that year that I took differential equations, I think I broke up with some boyfriend and I was down. And I was like, "You know what, this year, I'm going to beat that guy and differential equations." And I did, and it was one of the most satisfying feelings. And it was funny, it actually became known in our class. And I even had people rooting for me, "Come on Steph, you could beat him."

Stephanie Bruno (00:34:12):
So I've really warm feelings compared to [crosstalk 00:34:15] not based on anything altruistic in any way.

Rob Collie (00:34:19):
Just vanquishing-

Stephanie Bruno (00:34:21):
Just vanquishing.

Rob Collie (00:34:22):
... of someone who had it coming.

Stephanie Bruno (00:34:23):
That smug guy.

Rob Collie (00:34:25):
Good come upings.

Stephanie Bruno (00:34:26):
That's right. So as a result, I got to an A in differential equations. It turns out, I actually learned something with my competitive motivation there. So maybe I just have positive feelings about calculus or differential equations.

Rob Collie (00:34:41):
So I have something similar with me, and that the scouting report on me going into high school amongst my family was, "Yeah, bright kid, but no ambition. Not interested in anything. Never applies himself." I was still getting decent grades. I wasn't the troublemaker. I was a really good boy. I just was not into things. I got to a C in history one year in middle school. It was just like, then I ran into a guy that was sort of, my twin, my mirror image essentially. And a lot of ways, we grew into the same things. It really mess with my sense of identity.

Rob Collie (00:35:18):
And in ninth grade, it became, I think it was both of our missions for a while. Just nothing short of total character assassination of the kid, was going to be acceptable. And we were friends, and we were trying to end each other academically. That powered me. Suddenly, I was really driven, really ambitious. And it was just like, destroy. I carried that for four years. And for me, it's almost a spirit of atoning. I threw myself for so long into something so relatively arbitrary and meaningless in terms of human life, and made it a defining trait. I think I probably took it a lot farther in terms of, my own self identity, than what you were in that diff EQ class, right? That was a maybe like a one semester one class thing for you. That was a lifestyle for me. I think I need to live three lifetimes to sort of atone for the bad things I did to people close to me.

Stephanie Bruno (00:36:16):
I think its time to forgive yourself, Rob.

Rob Collie (00:36:20):

Stephanie Bruno (00:36:23):
Yeah. I think it's been long enough, you can probably let it go. And who knows, think of all the good things that came from that. That's another way to look at it.

Rob Collie (00:36:31):
Yeah. Got me to Microsoft, where I proceeded to not use a single thing that I ever learned in college, or in high school, none of it was relevant.

Stephanie Bruno (00:36:42):
I get it. I wanted, I was thinking about what you were just saying about this competition feeling. And the same thing with that smug guy in my class. But it did remind me that I think part of the reason that I did go into math and physics and all of that stuff was it was kind of just to prove something. To prove that I could do it. I even had a physics professor in college suggest, "I don't know, if you want to go to grad school in physics, you you might want to just find a nice guy and get married. That might be easier." Like really? You're my physics professor.

Rob Collie (00:37:19):
You said that out loud.

Stephanie Bruno (00:37:19):
Yeah. He said that out loud to me. I mean, I wasn't exactly a stellar physics student. Not like diff eq. But that's the kind of thing that pushed me I think, huge into going in this direction. It was just feeling like underestimated. And wanting to prove that I could do it. Which isn't, again, great motivation. But it got me here. So I'm happy to be where I am.

Rob Collie (00:37:43):
When was the last time you use the differential equation?

Stephanie Bruno (00:37:45):
Okay, I haven't in a long time. But calculus, I did, because I went back to school, Rob.

Rob Collie (00:37:52):
Oh, so you used calculus again?

Stephanie Bruno (00:37:55):
I did.

Rob Collie (00:37:56):
At school?

Stephanie Bruno (00:37:58):
At school.

Rob Collie (00:37:59):
You used it at school? Yes. You take calculus so that you can take more calculus? Okay.

Stephanie Bruno (00:38:06):
Okay. So you are mean, still, I guess.

Rob Collie (00:38:07):
I am a little bit mean. I just remember the kids that were sitting there, while I was the person you're describing in your Diff Eq class, that was me in high school. Except no one ever vanquished me. I mean, I did lose in certain classes, but then I had beat that same person in another class. And that was all I needed to tell myself, "I'm still better." But like those kids that were sitting next to me going, "When are we ever going to use this?" And I would make just viciously make fun of them. It says, "You're just saying that because you can't do it." They were right. I'm never going to use this stuff. I mean, some people do, if you're building bridges, you're gonna be doing some calculus. Even there, I sneak in and go, now you're probably going to be using modeling software that will just take care of the calculus for you. But, I don't know.

Rob Collie (00:39:02):
It'd be like if they kept teaching slide rulers in a way. Tech moves on, calculus is a little bit commoditize now, unless you are a physics researcher. There are will huntings running around doing that kind of stuff on a chalkboard. Today, it's just that most of us aren't doing that.

Stephanie Bruno (00:39:19):
Well and machine learning.

Rob Collie (00:39:20):
Yeah. So statistics, linear algebra and all this, I had no idea which of those things were actually going to be relevant. There were some things that I was taking back then that I kind of wish I'd either paid more attention or, more importantly retained longer. Because I couldn't look someone in the eye today and say I was a data scientist. That's not a title that would hold up to scrutiny. And if I were to go back to school, it would be to do stuff like that. If either of you considered that route, have you pursued it?

Shannon Lindsay (00:39:52):
Well, speaking of statistics, jumping back, just a little bit, EGPAF as an organization, is a research organization as well. And so they have statisticians and bio statisticians on staff, something that I think was really neat for me to see and be a part of was while Stephanie was doing her graduate work. We got to take some of the manual, redo the stats, every single time new data comes in, we got to take some of those processes, and put them into Power BI. And it was really cool to see. So Steph, do you want to talk about any of the stats stuff that you did in Power BI?

Stephanie Bruno (00:40:29):
The one I was thinking of that you were talking about with grad school was when we tried to work on a machine learning project together for one of my classes. I dragged Shannon in because, A, she's brilliant, and B, she's really the expert on the data that I was working on. The project was, I was trying to develop an algorithm to help us predict which patients were going to be likely to be lost to follow up. What that means is, HIV positive people need to take medication regularly, it's critical. If they don't, then they can infect other people, they get really sick, it's really important. They can also, I think start to be resistant to their drugs if they don't take them regularly. So making sure people come in every month and get their drugs every month is just critical. So what we needed to do was try to find... We were looking at a patient level database, which is actually hard to find in the work that we do. But we're looking at that and we were trying to find predictors of people who maybe we're going to be likely than not come back.

Stephanie Bruno (00:41:33):
And so we used our for it, we use power query for it, we found that most of the data was just in bad shape. So the biggest part of that project, which was for a machine learning class, didn't turn out to be the algorithm, it turned out to be the data cleaning. And I would actually say that was my biggest complaint with grad school and analytics was that, all of the datasets that they had us work on were clean. They were just perfect. And so I remember feeling like I was the oldest person there, first of all. And feeling like the young people there were just not really getting to see what real world data was like. And that they weren't getting to see that what, okay, when they go out and they get their job. They're gonna have to spend 90% of their time dealing with this garbage data. That's ultimately what we had to do. So it was it was really cool. It was exciting.

Stephanie Bruno (00:42:26):
But at the end of the day, it didn't turn out to actually be a very beneficial project. Because the data was so bad, there wasn't really anything that we can rely on. So as much as I wanted to do all the stats, and machine learning and exciting stuff, 90% of that project was janitorial.

Shannon Lindsay (00:42:43):
Well. And speaking of janitorial, I'm going back now to Power BI. But I think one of the bigger impacts that we've seen with Power BI and correct me if I'm wrong here Steph, just simply getting more eyes on the data made a world of difference for the data quality. In the donor environment, they require more data than you could ever imagine at such granular levels. And the data is required in a really rapid turnaround period. And it's oftentimes collected in less than ideal systems. Most of the time, it starts on paper. So that's where we're coming from. But just getting people to look at the data and put their eyes on it and then say, oh, no, that couldn't possibly be true. There's no way we only saw men at this clinic or, whatever. But I think that the trajectory of Power BI at the organization was really amplified by the fact that people saw the problems with the data.

Rob Collie (00:43:40):
This is a universal, almost principle, the saying the buck stops here, it stops at analytics. That's when all of the sins of the organization, all of the misexecution, all of the sloppiness, all of that stuff just comes home to roost, on your analytics. In the for profit world, and I'm sure this is really probably the same thing in the nonprofit world. But in the for profit world, if there's some sort of failure or organizational failure, or shortcoming that interrupts the flow of money that will get noticed and taken care of. For sure. Now, it can interrupt a small percentage of the money, and no one will notice. That's weird. There's a lot of things like that going on. But if 100% of the money in a particular segment stops flowing somewhere, someone's going to complain because that's someone's income. Someone is going to speak up in their own self interest. They're going to notice when their money doesn't come in. Every other problem that the organization experiences, the vast majority of them never get addressed.

Rob Collie (00:44:50):
And then you get to analytics. And that's when all of that becomes apparent. And it's oftentimes difficult to get people to care about the data quality, even. In some cases, it's like, people just are just so flabbergasted like, "Oh my God, I can't believe that that's wrong." And they just want to go make it right. And you're lucky in those cases. But in other cases, they're just like, "Nah, we really can't be bothered to do a better job of maintaining the product catalog are. Make sure things are categorized properly. I'm not paid to do that." Yes, you are. But that's not what they're actually thinking. It's hard to push data quality back upstream to where it came from. But you absolutely notice it, it does. It just jumps off the page, especially with Power BI, for better and worse.

Shannon Lindsay (00:45:37):
I think where we were really lucky. And where a lot of people that work with data about people is, those numbers represent human lives. And if we miss a person that we know, is positive, and they need to be on treatment, but we miss them because of a transcription error, or because of the piece of paper didn't make it from the facility all the way to the head office. I mean, that's almost unforgivable. I know, it's not because we're human, and we all make mistakes, but it raises the stakes for sure.

Rob Collie (00:46:05):
Well, that does it. We're gonna completely refocus all of our client work on the nonprofit space. Especially where people's lives are at risk, because they'll be the only time we can get proper traction on data quality.

Stephanie Bruno (00:46:18):
Maybe you'd like to come help us with those silo problems we have, Rob?

Rob Collie (00:46:22):
Yeah. I don't think you want me doing it. Turns out that one of the things I like to say, because it's the truth, and it's awesome is that, everyone that works at our company is better at this stuff than I ever was. I'm quite a bit off peak, even with my own capabilities. I like to think that I did my part sort of getting some of this going, not just the company, but the awareness of these tools. And as I started to discover all these people coming at me that were saying, "Hey, I got into this because of your book or whatever." And then I start looking at what they're doing. I'm like, "Well, you're so much better than I am." That was actually really gratifying, whereas high school me would have been mortified. I don't want to let this linger. Earlier, you said maybe you are still a little bit mean, come on. I'm so nice. I just like having fun, though. So what about the broader power platform? You getting into that at all, not just Power BI?

Shannon Lindsay (00:47:16):
I can speak to this. A couple years ago, maybe three years ago, when Power Apps was brand new, I was working on a global project at EGPAF. And I had just been hired on to Stephanie's team. So I came from this analyst role I had been brought into the informatics team, I was responsible for collecting data in nine different countries, on when every single patient comes into the clinic, they have to be screened for tuberculosis. Particularly kids are left behind in TB screening and so we needed to make sure that every single kid was screened. So when I came onto the project, I was told, okay, we're going to put these little wooden boxes in every single facility, and every kid's going to have a form. And we're going to drop those forms into the boxes. And then once a week, somebody is going to come pick them up, and then someone's going to enter them in aggregate into Excel. So they're going to count up how many girls, how many boys, whatever. Put it in Excel, and then we're going to do this, whole Excel based reporting.

Shannon Lindsay (00:48:16):
And I knew enough by then that Power Apps existed. I knew enough by them that that was what we were going to use. And I think the main thing I learned from working with Stephanie, and just from learning about data in general, is that Excel is not a data collection tool. It should never be used that way. It is trash. Even when you're doing it for good things, obviously. But so I like to say that I took away their toys, and I made them use a Power App. And rather than letting them enter the data, in aggregate, I required that the data was entered at the patient level for just to make sure that we had the right data. And as far as I know, that Power App is still being used globally. And it was a huge success. So it was a Power App that was feeding into a, don't cringe when I say this, but it was feeding into a SharePoint list. And then that SharePoint list was populated in Power BI. I know it's like, undergone some iterations since then. But I really, by doing that project I got on board with the Power platform.

Shannon Lindsay (00:49:15):
I can say that at the time, Power Apps was really incredibly difficult for me to learn. I don't have any sort of a background as a developer, I had no clue what I was doing. It took me six months to build the simplest app, but I did it and it's being used and it's in the rearview now. I believe that there is a lot of room for Power Apps and Power Automate. But I haven't had any experience with it since then. Steph, are you guys doing any new projects with Power Apps and Power Automate?

Stephanie Bruno (00:49:49):
Yes, we are. And I can confirm that your Power App is still in use indeed. But I struggle with it. I love the rest of the Power platform but, A, I guess I struggle with how Power BI fits into it? I guess from a community perspective, it's interesting because it's still very much the Power BI community and the Power Apps and Flow communities. They don't have a lot of overlap, which I think is interesting. I don't think like, there's a lot of people that are really in both. We went to one of those hackathons at the, let's not call it the Data Insight Summit anymore-

Shannon Lindsay (00:50:25):
Business Applications Summit.

Stephanie Bruno (00:50:27):
That's right. And we were so excited. We're like, "Oh, good, we're going to work with all the Power BI, Power Apps and Flow people. And we were like, the only Power BI people there, and everybody else was Power Apps. I think there's some work to do to kind of bridge those communities together better, first of all. And then second of all, I want to love Power Apps, but I struggle with the licensing with it a lot. I think how things went with Power BI how they made it free for a long time. I think a lot of people still do complain about Power BI pricing, especially with premium. But now that there's per user premium, blah, blah, blah. But because we're nonprofit, we get a really good discount. So we actually jumped on board with premium immediately. And everything just was seamless and it went along really well. But the Power Apps licensing, I still can't wrap my head around. So I did push Power Apps pretty hard at first. But now I'm pulling back a little bit because I'm worried about how much it's going to cost us.

Rob Collie (00:51:24):
Do you not get the same nonprofit awesome discount?

Stephanie Bruno (00:51:28):
Well we do, but I haven't seen an equivalent of the Power BI premium. Because, for instance, we have a lot of data collectors. So if we want to build a Power App and have 1000 data collectors using it, no way.

Rob Collie (00:51:43):

Stephanie Bruno (00:51:43):
We have to do something way cheaper than that.

Rob Collie (00:51:46):
Yeah, that makes sense for a 1000 person organization. Without an all you can eat premium version for something, that could be really difficult. Hey, Microsoft, you're, we'll making it like a dramatic joke, why are you killing people? We need to change this licensing model pronto. We're talking about human lives here. It's not just profitability anymore.

Stephanie Bruno (00:52:13):
Yeah, I know, I feel like a traitor saying this about it, because I do want to love it. And I want us to use it. But I'm finding that bit difficult.

Rob Collie (00:52:22):
Well, I often say that Microsoft makes like the best software, they're really good at it. But they're mediocre at best at every other thing. Pricing, marketing, documentation, everything. Everything is... But they make the best software, they really do. So the Power Apps experience. It's build as no code or low code. But we get into it, and it's like, oh, this is code. This is development. I can imagine Power Automate, having a lot of overlap, potential overlap with the Power BI crowd. Because hey, part of it is M part of it is Power Query. It's, "Hey, great. That's half of our story." Power Apps is a different animal. And so it doesn't surprise me, Shannon. I was going to ask you, before you volunteer. I was going to ask you, okay, so you're talking about it. And from the we point of view. We had a Power App, and we did this and I was like, "Okay, so who... " I was going to ask you who built this thing? So we get to this next question, right? And you said it was you and it took you six months to get far, it gets hard.

Rob Collie (00:53:22):
It's not the same as Power BI. It's not just a third technology. It's like a separate universe next door. So you said you took it about six months to learn enough to build this app. That's still in progress, right? So that's not, we wouldn't call that rapid app development, right? Six months sounds like a normal app development timeline. But if you had to go back and build a very similar app today, how much faster do you think it would be?

Shannon Lindsay (00:53:49):
Significantly. I think the main reason for that is the amount of time that has passed and the community that has formed around Power Apps, the community is pretty robust now. I think at the time, I did have help from the community. So I did not build that thing all by myself. So it took six months with help. But I think that they have made a lot more of the connectors native now. And there's a lot more stuff that Power Apps can do that it could not do before. I remember I had the hardest time with the right back and getting things to be properly stored in the collections and then right back to the SharePoint list. And it was probably just because I was doing it wrong. But there wasn't enough information out there about, step by step tutorials on how to do things.

Shannon Lindsay (00:54:38):
At the time, there was the Power App in a day training. I don't want to call it that. The day long thing that existed and it was cool. You built this whole app where you could pick things you wanted to buy in a day and it was really awesome. But then, just like working with clean data versus dirty data. You go into the wild and you try to put it in your own environment. And it was really hard.

Rob Collie (00:54:59):
There's a one of our episodes of this podcast is with a guy named Kevin Overstreet. Sooner or later, if you're going to be doing Power App stuff, you need to meet this guy. He got into Power BI came to one of our classes, one of my classes many years ago. But then with Power Apps, boys he found his calling. He's almost disposed of Power BI. Like, I'm so over that. I was a Power App person all along, I just didn't know it. And I think it has a lot, I'm not going to say potential. I'm going to say it's got a lot of value. It's in two places. Number one, you were giving an example of upstream from Power BI. It's part of the collection process. Yes, I don't have any problem at all with SharePoint being the place where the data was stored. I'm really the opposite of snobbish with this stuff.

Rob Collie (00:55:53):
In fact, even if you were like putting it into Excel Online, I wouldn't have a problem with that either. Because really, the problem with Excel is data collection is validation and things like that, that the Power App will enforce for you. And I know that the query speed against an Excel spreadsheet isn't so great, but surely not super great against SharePoint either. So it's like six or one half dozen or another. But there's also downstream from Power BI.

Rob Collie (00:56:20):
And I think there's every bit as much value in potential there as there is upstream. And this is going to be sort of almost one of our companies messaging and marketing focuses next year, is that BI doesn't make a bit of difference until someone takes an action, that's a better action than they did the day before. I can inform you to death, and actually not make a difference. If you've been in one of my classes, I even talked about this a little bit, depending on how much time we had. It's all about the action. So when you think about it that way, this has been dawning on me over the last six months. It's like, why does the dashboard, the report, why does it get to take a total pass? It just gets to give up, when it's time to actually make an improvement. You can just look at the report and go the reports just looking at you smugly saying, "It's not my problem. It's your problem."

Rob Collie (00:57:16):
Really simple example, trivial. And I use the words dashboard and report interchangeably. I don't mean Power BI, capital D, dashboard. Like to me a dashboard is a report, is a dashboard, the same thing. If I'm looking at a dashboard, and I see some, I don't know, a customer, or a prospect, someone who's thinking about hiring us. And I want to change their status, I want to say we have this person marked as, probably not going to do business with us. But then I look at it and I go, "That's wrong." This is a valuable person that we need to be spending more time with. Well, the dashboard could say, "Okay, well, that person's name Jimmy Smith, go get them. Have fun." But it doesn't take much effort to, in that table visual or whatever, to put together a URL field, that is a link to Salesforce or CRM or whatever that links to that person's record.

Rob Collie (00:58:13):
Maybe it doesn't like change that person's record. But it takes you there. It knows who this person is, right? The other example I'm always using, and it's just doesn't really apply, maybe it does to EGPAF. If you notice on a report that warehouse six is low on product or low on test kits or something and they're going to run out before you expect it. Imagine having buttons or something in that report that allows you to go transfer some inventory from warehouse five, or order more of that particular product from your supplier with a rush order on it or something like that. There could be a Power App, could be, it's just not a universal thing. It can't be everywhere, because you can't anticipate what every action is going to be. But why not embed a Power App in your dashboard or elements like that, for directly taking action?

Shannon Lindsay (00:59:05):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). We actually did some of that with a Power App inside of a report.

Rob Collie (00:59:10):

Shannon Lindsay (00:59:10):
And this was the health facilities change their names all the time, even though it's the same facility. And people get upset if things aren't exactly correct. And then of course, we need a master list to be able to understand what's what. So at the start of that previous project that I was talking about where we're collecting data with Power Apps, we also put a Power App right inside of a report where people could confirm that things were correct. If they weren't correct, they could make changes and then that all wrote back to the database. So we have done a little bit of that, but probably not as much as we should have.

Rob Collie (00:59:44):
Well, no one does. We always judge our own efforts more harshly than we would if we could sort of see the whole universe. At the beginning of this conversation, I forget, someone said the nonprofit space was slower to take this stuff up than others. I'm like, no. I mean, I am shocked. It's been more than 10 years now, literally, more than 10 years since I realized that this platform... Which didn't even really exist under the current name. Power BI wasn't a thing. All we had was Power Pivot. We didn't even have Power Query yet. More than 10 years ago, I was like, "Oh, my God, this is going to change everything."

Rob Collie (01:00:25):
And it's going to happen overnight. It's just so obvious. Everyone's just going to be like hoovering it up. It's like two years from now, everything's going to be different. No, still pretty early. 10 years later, you say like, "No, we probably didn't do enough of that." Oh, that's a good mentality. That's a good mindset, we can always do better. I think that Microsoft sort of organizing these technologies together in the same division, and renaming the Insight Summit to be Business Applications. It's like they were a few years early on it, or maybe I'm just really saying I'm just a few years slow on realizing what we're really doing. But like, it's the action loop. It's the improvement loop. And so there's upstream collecting, like we talked about the data collectors. The tuberculosis screens, whatever. And then there's the downstream, actually taking action. So we've got these sort of two frontiers upstream and downstream from Power BI. With Power BI still in the middle.

Rob Collie (01:01:24):
I think it's a very promising time. We're not even dead ending or pigeonholing, as professionals in this space. Stephanie, you mentioned that you went back to grad school for a while. What was it that you studied? And when was that?

Stephanie Bruno (01:01:39):
I went back in 2016. And I just graduated last year. So that was a relief. It was a lot more work than I expected. I went back and I got an MSIT with a focus on business intelligence and data analytics.

Rob Collie (01:01:55):
Awesome. Okay, so you got a master's? Right. That's what the M means.

Stephanie Bruno (01:01:59):

Rob Collie (01:02:00):
Okay. So what are sort of the highs and lows of the things you took out? Because and I'm asking this, even from a personal perspective. I'm not doing this to set you up for the, and how much have you used it? I'll probably do that, too. But every now and then, I guess, it's funny, that'd be like driving around somewhere. And I'll see a billboard for like a Master's of Data Science. And I'm like, I could try that. Maybe that would be a good thing for me to do, even just for awareness sake. What is it that I'm missing? But I'm also at the same time, skeptical of it, because I'm sure that two thirds of what some academic would be trying to tell me would be like, "Oh, come on the world doesn't work that way." You mentioned at least a little bit of that.

Stephanie Bruno (01:02:40):
Yeah. You mean with the clean data?

Rob Collie (01:02:43):
Yeah. There's just something funny about listening to someone. And maybe this isn't the way the professors are. But some of them I'm sure are this way they live their whole lives in an ivory tower. Then telling a citizen of the world what the world is like, when they've never been there. I would have a real problem with that mismatch of mindset, I think, but what were the most valuable things that you've taken out of that program?

Stephanie Bruno (01:03:07):
It was valuable. And I'm really glad I did it. It was hard. I didn't plan on doing it, honestly. I just, I applied, because the application was free. And I thought, I'll never get in. Because it was Carnegie Mellon University. But it was free. And I think I was having a bad day. So I was like, "I need a little boost, if I get in, that'll be great". But it's also going to be way too expensive. So this is never going to be a thing I actually do. And I was with Shannon, when I actually submitted the application. It was on that same trip to Tanzania. But then I got in. And not only did I get in, but they gave me a huge scholarship. It was a combo women in tech and nonprofit scholarship.

Stephanie Bruno (01:03:51):
So it turned out I hardly had to pay anything for it, which was a real shocker. So when I saw that, I was like, "Oh, boy, I guess this means I am actually going to grad school now." So this was not my plan, but I'm doing it. I guess you know, that's life, right? It's a roundabout way of the way things happen.

Rob Collie (01:04:09):
Well, it does sound like having a bad day is a really important driving force in your life, right [crosstalk 01:04:14]?

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:14):

Rob Collie (01:04:16):
The diff eq guy he had no idea what was about to hit him. You just know just caught me on the wrong day. I'm going to [crosstalk 01:04:23] out-

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:22):
I really have to examine my motivations for why I do the things I do.

Rob Collie (01:04:28):
Just be careful not to have too many bad days. You'll end up taking on too much. Four years of grad school after one bad day. That's a big commitment.

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:36):
Oh, yeah. My husband keeps saying he's afraid I'm going to have a bad day and go try to get a PhD next. But no, that's not happening.

Rob Collie (01:04:44):
Four years is a long time even part time.

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:46):

Rob Collie (01:04:46):
Well, Carnegie Mellon is in Pittsburgh, right?

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:49):
That's why I did it. Yep, that's where I live.

Rob Collie (01:04:52):
It wasn't a correspondence learning.

Stephanie Bruno (01:04:55):
Yeah, they actually do have it. You can do it fully online or you can do it fully in person or you can do a combo. So I opted to do a combo because I wanted to see what it's like to be a student again, that'll be so cool. But it actually, the in person classes, it really didn't turn out to be what I expected. I thought I'll meet some more people that are also data nerds. But outside of the Microsoft ecosystem, which is one of the things I did get out of it was that I wanted to be exposed to non Microsoft tools. And just data in general, not Microsoft data tools. So that is something I got out of it.

Stephanie Bruno (01:05:34):
But it turned out, it was pretty intense. And so the kids that were there full time, they had already sort of formed their little study groups and their friendships. And so it wasn't really easy to get to know people and the occasional in person classes that I went to. So that was a bit of a disappointment. I thought there was going to be this whole new community, I'd be a part of in addition to the Power BI community, but that didn't happen so much. So that was something I didn't get out of it that I hoped to get out of it.

Rob Collie (01:06:04):
If I went back like those people would all be half my age.

Stephanie Bruno (01:06:07):
Oh, yeah, that's exactly what they were.

Rob Collie (01:06:09):
Just crazy, right?

Stephanie Bruno (01:06:10):
I'm pretty sure I could have been their mom. And that was weird. And I was definitely older than some of my teachers, too. That was also weird.

Rob Collie (01:06:18):
Yeah. I would be too, wouldn't I? Don't even think about that.

Stephanie Bruno (01:06:23):
It's true. And I took one class, the one that Shannon and I worked on that project for with the loss to follow up people. And the teacher was so young Shannon, LinkedIn stalked him for me. Because I didn't want him to see that I was LinkedIn stalking him, you know. So Shannon did it for me. And we saw that he was like, I don't know, 24, 25. So we refer to him as baby duck after that.

Rob Collie (01:06:47):
That's great.

Stephanie Bruno (01:06:51):
Man, that was weird. But he was brilliant, and it was a really hard class. But I did get a lot out of it. And that was actually the one class where he focused on dirty data. And what do you do with missing data? And what are all your options for how you can deal with it. It was really good. I think it is fair to say that I'm probably not using a lot of what I learned, which is a disappointment. But I would still do it again. And it was worth it. And I learned a lot. And I was exposed to a lot more ideas and methods that I'm not using. But it was good to learn. And I do think it, it has helped me with how I look at things, and maybe how I attack problems.

Rob Collie (01:07:33):
It's like the question, I asked Shannon, six months to build the Power App, and how long would it take you today to do something similar? It might be that the reason why you're not using so many of those techniques, or whatever that you learned is that you're just not being hit with a necessity for it.

Stephanie Bruno (01:07:50):
I think that's exactly true.

Rob Collie (01:07:53):
The model where you're talking about the machine learning project that you attempted, that is exactly the customer attrition problem that like every business in the world is like, we've got a good regular customer, when are they starting to show us the warning signs that they're about to defect?

Stephanie Bruno (01:08:13):

Rob Collie (01:08:13):
I know, it's a different real world problem. But as far as the machine learning, it's the same thing but you're feeding it different factors. I would expect that you'd run into something like that, again, pretty quickly. That would be something that you would cross paths with, again, pretty soon, if you haven't already.

Stephanie Bruno (01:08:31):
Yeah, I hope so. But my job is, it's not exactly play with all the cool new toys and try all these exciting new methods. It's really deal with this data and make some, help us make sense of it and help us make good decisions with it. So-

Rob Collie (01:08:48):
A little too much humanity in there, not enough room for machine learning.

Stephanie Bruno (01:08:52):
I think there is. It's just to get to that point, we have a lot of hurdles to overcome first.

Rob Collie (01:08:59):
That's something that you do discover pretty quickly about machine learning is that the same data sources that might be okay, for aggregate analysis. The things that Power BI is particularly really good at, what's our percentage turnover, right? Or whatever, that same data set might not power a machine learning model well, at all.

Rob Collie (01:09:19):
Shannon, that thing you were talking about with the where they were gonna tally it and lose all the individuality. Hey, maybe that would have still been fine for certain kinds of aggregate analysis. But it would have completely precluded any possibility of machine learning in the future. It's like what would you do with it? It's gone. All the variation is gone. All the richness is gone when you collaborate together like that.

Shannon Lindsay (01:09:47):
I do you think there is a lot of opportunity for machine learning and new technologies and all of that. But another thing that a lot of these nonprofits particularly the health related nonprofits are contending with is, a lot of their key staff are researchers and academics. And they're very well established and pretty resistant to change. And we had great success, pushing a new technology and rolling out a whole new way of looking at data and doing things. I don't know what the limit is for the uptake of new technology. But I think looking at your data and analyzing it is one thing, but then predictive modeling and machine learning. And all of that is a lot scarier to that group of individuals. And maybe misreading that stuff. But I think it's a harder hurdle to pass with that group.

Stephanie Bruno (01:10:41):
No, I would agree.

Rob Collie (01:10:43):
Yeah. If you're saying that human beings are resistant to change, you're going to get nothing but agreement. You got to be motivated, right? Suffering. If you're saying that academics are even more resistant to change, then again, that's the nightmare. I've been trying to wake up from for the second half of my life is that, there's such a snobbery associated with a lot of all of that. That wasn't warranted and wasn't actually helpful. Again, I had to wake up from that bad dream and go, "Oh, okay. Part of the reason why I feel compelled to beat up on calculus, right? It's truly, it's that trend in my own life, really. Shannon, you have changed jobs. What are you doing these days?

Shannon Lindsay (01:11:28):
I have changed jobs a couple of times since I was last working with Stephanie. I did a stint in consulting, where I worked solely with nonprofit and government clients. I did some teaching, which I really enjoyed. And now I just recently moved over to the worldwide learning team at Microsoft.

Rob Collie (01:11:49):
So from one nonprofit to another?

Shannon Lindsay (01:11:54):
I mean, I do carry a heavy load of guilt. Both because of how I was raised, and also because it's really my first time working in a big for profit corporation. And it's really too soon to say how I feel about the organization. But just within the first couple of weeks, the sense that I'm getting about the culture, and the team that I'm on, makes me feel like I did not, in fact, sell my soul to the devil. So...

Rob Collie (01:12:21):
People at Microsoft are generally speaking really good people. I really enjoyed my peers, my colleagues. I was there during the antitrust trial back in 2000. And at that moment, we could see like that our leaders, were the bad guys. They really did not come off looking well there. And we didn't feel great about it. But so Microsoft, as an organization, especially back then, played very rough in the marketplace. Not necessarily always with the cleanest of reputations. But inside the company was a very different story. And I think today's Microsoft is quite a bit better, sort of citizen of the world than the one I sort of grew up in. Worldwide learning, can you remind me what that is?

Shannon Lindsay (01:13:07):
Eloquently? No. But I can try.

Rob Collie (01:13:11):
We don't do eloquent here anyway, really. So it's not our business.

Shannon Lindsay (01:13:15):
Well, so I'm on the global technical learning team of worldwide learning. And so our goal is just to help people learn this technology. I mean, ultimately, it's a course, to drive sales. But I feel like, I am in a really neat position where I get to develop content to help people learn Power BI and Azure. And, specifically, I'm focused on the data analyst role, which I think suits where I've come from. I don't come from a technology background. And so I speak plain English, and I can try to put things into the mindset of, okay, coming from big flat Excel sheets. And the types of things that analysts would have to try to deal with. So our team is really just responsible for providing the content for folks to learn and then subsequently get certified on those technologies.

Rob Collie (01:14:06):
Got it. So it's external. The people doing the learning are external to Microsoft. And it's about Microsoft technologies. So what you're really doing is trying to put our training business out of work.

Shannon Lindsay (01:14:21):
Absolutely not.

Rob Collie (01:14:21):
Yeah. Oh, come on. Look, it's all fair. But training isn't, even though that's how the two of you know us. Training is now a small fraction of our business. Most of our businesses in actual project execution consulting. At breakneck pace, that's our differentiators. That we move a lot faster than really, I think anyone else. But we still do training. In a way it's good for the world, even for us. If the training becomes your sort of increasingly commoditized and increasingly easier to get. Just don't make it too good. Because we still have to compete on quality.

Shannon Lindsay (01:14:55):
Well, I'm on the team. So it's going to be good, right?

Rob Collie (01:14:59):
I know. But, maybe you could just occasionally leave something out. Just... I know you won't. I'm not really asking you to. Obviously, it's just a funny thing to say. Well, that's awesome. I think that's a great spot to be right. Take your experiences. And you know the things you're saying, when you were laughing about not being eloquent, but that's great. I'm often told, what genius it was to have written my books in the voice that I did instead of the technical book voice. And I'm like, it wasn't genius. It was just what I had to do. I couldn't get through it writing in the technical voice. I tried, it wore me out in 10 pages. I did it for me, not for the world. But it turned out that was the way it should be done. So be that thing that you're describing, right? That non eloquent, but sometimes eloquent.

Rob Collie (01:15:53):
But the human voice that walked in those shoes. That's what the world needs. The vast majority of people who need to be using this stuff are not coming from a traditional IT background. Even when they are, when they're successful at it. It's to the extent that they're also that hybrid. They are the Stephanies of the world that you wouldn't necessarily guess were The IT Crowd.

Rob Collie (01:16:18):
So how has COVID impacted your organization, Stephanie? Shannon mentioned earlier, screening for tuberculosis? Is there a Power App now that's like involved in the screening for COVID? Are you even able to screen for COVID? How is that impacting your operations?

Stephanie Bruno (01:16:34):
Yeah, pretty significantly. Number one, we have so many data collectors. So the way we work is we have office in each country that we work in. And I think there are 10 countries that we work in, in Africa. But then they do work to support 1000s of health facilities are around them. And part of the work they do, is to go out and collect data from these paper forms that Shannon mentioned. So obviously, that has changed, because they can't go to the health facilities now and collect data from the paper form. So that's a huge problem.

Stephanie Bruno (01:17:05):
It's also impacted us because a lot of our work involves so much travel. So many of our HQ people go to Africa so frequently, so nobody's doing that anymore. But on the plus side, that's created that need for being better about collaboration virtually, which I think is fantastic. So they are doing better with that. It's speeding up the need for electronic data collection tools, so that people don't have to physically go and get the data off the paper. We are not doing a lot, we haven't added a lot of COVID related work onto our plate, because we don't have funding for that. So it's the opposite of a for profit company where you do the work, and then you get paid for it. We have to get donors to give us grants, obviously, to do any work. So we don't have any grants for COVID. We don't have any grants to do that work. Our mission is pretty much HIV. I feel like I'm bouncing all around with this answer. Because it's so big, but...

Stephanie Bruno (01:18:11):
The other thing about artwork is that we're so, it's so important for us to meet donor set targets. Because the big donors give us money, but they they give us the targets. They say, "Okay, we're going to give you this money, but we expect you to test X number of people in this region. And we expect 90% of those people to get on treatment." And so we have to meet these targets, or we risk losing funding. Then potentially having to close down a whole country office and all those people lose jobs. So it's really important that we meet these targets. Sometimes the targets seem unreasonable, which is hard. But the targets didn't change because of COVID. So the targets are still there. So we are-

Rob Collie (01:18:56):
Oh, that's so hard.

Stephanie Bruno (01:18:57):
It's really hard. So then it's important for us to try to be able to explain the discrepancies. And so we've had to add COVID related Power BI reports on to our work, to help us explain the impact of how COVID is changing our results, really.

Rob Collie (01:19:16):
Is the Gates Foundation one of your founders.

Stephanie Bruno (01:19:19):

Rob Collie (01:19:20):
That's actually the best answer, because I was going to say, those sorts of targets, meet these targets or you miss them. That sounds like Bill Gates.

Stephanie Bruno (01:19:29):
Well, right now, it's actually Deborah Birx, the person on the COVID team. You may have seen her when Trump was suggesting we put bleach in our lungs. And she was shaking her head or maybe looking down at her feet.

Rob Collie (01:19:42):
That's right.

Stephanie Bruno (01:19:44):
I can't remember. No, she's the one who her team sets our targets, really.

Rob Collie (01:19:48):

Stephanie Bruno (01:19:49):

Rob Collie (01:19:50):
Interesting. Okay.

Stephanie Bruno (01:19:51):
They're very data oriented, but sometimes those targets are unrealistic. And that's been hard because if we don't meet the targets, they might say, "Okay, well, we're going to still fund you at path. But you don't get to support this facility anymore." Because they don't have enough HIV positive people that they need any money. That's what the really scary thing is. Is if we don't meet targets, we can lose funding. And that really does mean that health facilities lose funding.

Rob Collie (01:20:19):
You mentioned that a lot of data driven people in celebrity positions in this space, do you think that has anything to do with the back to the Hans Rosling TED talk? Do you know what I'm talking about? Where you talking about mortality rates-

Stephanie Bruno (01:20:34):
The one with a bubble chart-

Rob Collie (01:20:35):
The bubble charts, that's racing up and he's narrating like it's a horse race.

Stephanie Bruno (01:20:39):

Rob Collie (01:20:40):
And now his son is carrying on that effort. Years ago, I had a Twitter exchange with him. He was like, "Wow, I can't believe how much Power BI can help us." We tended to avoid the Microsoft tools in the nonprofit space, because of the specter of a big corporation. It's way cooler, and sort of considered more like egalitarian to use Linux tools or something. There's actually a stigma, especially in the academic world, that lingers about companies like Microsoft. And for a long time, companies like Google, were spared that bias. It's sort of a full cycle now, Microsoft is starting to look like a relatively benign entity compared to some of these other tech giants.

Stephanie Bruno (01:21:25):
Yeah. You did ask at one point, maybe an email I don't know about if we encountered any roadblocks. And I think that was what is that. We were pushing Microsoft tools. And in this space, traditionally, it's not so much about like the cool kids being Linux, it's more about open source. Because one of the biggest things that we have to do coming from the US and bringing solutions into Africa is we have to make sure that when we leave, the tools can still be used, it's still can be managed. And so oftentimes, it's just like, right out of the gate requirement that it's open source. Because, we don't want to have to pay for anything once you leave. So it's got to be open source.

Stephanie Bruno (01:22:08):
I mean, I remember being pretty nervous that I'm pushing this saying, and it's not open source, it's not free, it is a tool that has to be paid for. Since we started using it, so many other NGOs have also started using it, the CDC has started using it. So I mean, I breathed a huge breath of relief about this. Because I think that, I didn't take us down a path that was going to ultimately get us in trouble. But I think part of that is because I have to preface this by saying, I really have drunk the Microsoft Kool Aid. And I love Microsoft. I think partly, hugely, because of how much they've done for our organization. It's been amazing. And also how much they do for nonprofits in general, with the really big discounts they provide. And the training and the resources they offer. It's impressive, it's really good.

Stephanie Bruno (01:23:00):
I would definitely argue that even if we left tomorrow, I think that it's still sustainable. It's not something that people can't afford to use. And it's not too hard to use, it's just all going to fall apart, if we leave.

Rob Collie (01:23:13):
And most people don't realize this, but Microsoft software is relatively affordable, relative to the competition, even at full price. So then you add in the the discounts and stuff. Microsoft model is the bulk model, their goal is to have the whole world using it. And if the whole world is using it, they don't have to charge any one particular organization, necessarily all that much. Yeah, so that's cool. I hadn't really thought about that really the headwind that you might get, but thinking about that conversation with Ola Rosling brought it back.

Stephanie Bruno (01:23:43):
Yeah, it was scary. But I think we're cool now. I think we're okay.

Rob Collie (01:23:47):
No one ever got fired for going open source in the nonprofit industry, right? You had to stick your neck out and suggest something really risky like Microsoft?

Stephanie Bruno (01:23:58):
Yes. Something risky like Microsoft. Exactly.

Rob Collie (01:24:01):
That kind of came up with Austin when he was on the show, talking about the museum space, the conservation space that he works in, and the inherent distrust of private enterprise in that space, right? If you're a for profit company, you're to be watched closely, which I think is completely right. It's a good thing to keep an eye on. So it's hard running a tech startup type business that isn't predatory, in a way. Because you're still going to be viewed as suspiciously as if you are, but you're not getting the benefits of being predatory either.

Rob Collie (01:24:40):
So well, I've certainly enjoyed this. I'm really glad that we were able to do this. I'm glad that the two of you took the time. I really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us.

Stephanie Bruno (01:24:48):
Thanks so much, Rob. I'm really glad you reached out to this has been fun.

Rob Collie (01:24:51):
Maybe we'll do it again sometime. We just got to wait a little while for the, to manufacture more things to talk about.

Stephanie Bruno (01:25:00):
Oh, we got plenty of stuff to talk about.

Rob Collie (01:25:03):
Indeed. Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 podcast. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to Interested in becoming a guest on the show? Email, Luke P-L-U-K-E-P at Have a day to day!