As the third annual Big Data Week rages on, more than 20,000 data scientists, business professionals and researchers in more than 25 cities worldwide are learning from their peers and making new connections.

But the event isn’t just about learning and networking, said Harlan Harris, the local contact for the Washington, D.C., event; it’s also about promoting big data and bringing meetups and the community the attention of more people.

“For us, this was an opportunity to both have our groups work together a little more closely on common projects and also to integrate some external groups,” he said.

In addition to his involvement with Big Data Week, Harris is also the president of Data Community D.C., an umbrella group responsible for coordinating several regional meetup groups. And Big Data Week and Data Community D.C. share a common goal, he said – bringing data professionals together to improve the community.

“Even though in many ways it’s like what goes on every month in terms of all these different groups having a series of independent events," he said, "what happened this month is we made sure they were all aligned, that they’re not overlapping in terms of space or time, and that they’re all themed around Big Data Week."

Although Washington, D.C., isn’t a big participant in some of this year’s wider-reaching activities, such as live streaming events, a lot is happening worldwide this week when it comes to big data, including more than 175 events from Barcelona to Kuala Lumpur. And raising awareness around big data and bringing disparate groups together is a great opportunity, Harris said.

“From my point of view, working together with a bunch of other organizations is an opportunity to stretch our legs and build the group, and build bigger and better events,” he said. “I think there are a lot of organizations that are really excited to get more value out of big data, but there are a number of different steps required to get that data out. In many organizations, there's not just a lack of people in a position to get the value out of that data, but also a lack of understanding about the different types of steps.”

There’s a need to spend a fair amount of time looking at organizing and cleaning data, making sure it’s reliable and structured, Harris added, and it's a big part of the effort that many people don't anticipate.

On the whole, big data offers promise to organizations looking to improve their processes and become more effective and efficient at what they do. A big part of the events being held this week -- and every other week, Harris said -- is educating people about some of the obstacles they will likely face in their organizations. For instance, there’s a common misconception, he said, that there’s such a thing as a “big data expert,” a person who can do it all when it comes to managing data.

“To effectively produce a data analysis or data product of any substantial scale requires a team of people with overlapping skills,” he said, adding that that’s what Big Data Week is about – bringing people with different skill sets together to learn and share. “I would definitely urge people in the government sector, wherever they are, to look at their professional community for opportunities to learn more about what’s going on in the government sector as well as the nongovernment sector that may be applicable."

Events like the ones being held during Big Data Week can help professionals stay current, learn about what others are working on, what others think is important, discover new technologies and ideas, and ultimately be better at their jobs.

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.