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Building data engineering teams from scratch & transitioning to a full-scale data function

with Colleen Tartow

December 19, 2023
Building data engineering teams from scratch & transitioning to a full-scale data function
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Colleen Tartow, Ph.D. is Field CTO and Head of Strategy at VAST Data and has 20+ years of experience in data, analytics, engineering, and consulting. Adept at assisting organizations in deriving value from a data-driven culture, she has successfully led diverse data, engineering, and analytics teams through the development of complex global data management solutions and architecting enterprise data systems. Her demonstrated excellence in data, engineering, analytics, and diversity leadership makes her a trusted senior advisor among executives. An experienced speaker, author, valued mentor and startup advisor, Colleen holds degrees in astrophysics and lives in Massachusetts.

"Everyone wants to be data driven, right? Like no one's going to say, 'No, we don't want data. We just want to function with opinions.' Like nobody's actually going to say that. But that said, getting started on that can be really challenging...

With anything, you have to go back to what does the business really need. Going back to the revenue drivers and the business pain points that you're going to help solve, whether it's monetizing your data directly or using data as an enablement function to actually help in other areas and so I think getting the organization to understand that data is a product of the business and then sort of working back from there into what does that specifically mean.”

<cite>- Colleen Tartow    </cite>

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  • Colleen’s experience building a data program from scratch (2:25)
  • What it used to be like building a data engineering team (4:43)
  • Narrowing to first principles when hiring for / building a data eng team (6:44)
  • Frameworks to advocate for more resources to build your org’s data function (7:53)
  • Knowing when you need to transition your data side project to a full data program (10:11)
  • Building data teams from a zero to one perspective (13:05)
  • What “onboarding as discovery” conversations look like (14:38)
  • Joining an existing team to implement a defined data-focused function (16:14)
  • How to have effective conversations & collaborate with other eng functions (19:19)
  • Prioritization strategies when refocusing / creating the data eng org roadmap (21:20)
  • How to integrate cross-functional partners into the data eng planning process (22:51)
  • The implication of AI on data teams & its intersection with eng teams (24:09)
  • Colleen’s decision-making framework (27:54)
  • Recommendations for tackling complex data pipelines in different ways (29:27)
  • Navigating the paradigm of AI & data eng’s impact on other eng orgs (31:31)
  • What the ideal collaboration between data & eng looks like (34:01)
  • Recommendations for dealing with points of friction (35:21)
  • Steps for aligning data & eng under the same goals (37:16)
  • Rapid fire questions (39:04)


  • The Lioness of Boston - Emily Franklin’s deeply evocative novel of the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a daring visionary who created an inimitable legacy in American art and transformed the city of Boston itself.

This episode wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our incredible production team:

Patrick Gallagher - Producer & Co-Host

Jerry Li - Co-Host

Noah Olberding - Associate Producer, Audio & Video Editor https://www.linkedin.com/in/noah-olberding/

Dan Overheim - Audio Engineer, Dan’s also an avid 3D printer - https://www.bnd3d.com/

Ellie Coggins Angus - Copywriter, Check out her other work at https://elliecoggins.com/about/

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