CIO Influence
CIO Influence Interviews Data Management

CIO Influence Interview with Russell McMahon, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati and Aaron Kalb, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Alation

CIO Influence Interview with Russell McMahon, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati and Aaron Kalb, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Alation

“As an industry-leading data intelligence platform, it’s our responsibility to empower institutions as they prepare the next generation of data leaders to challenge the status quo and drive future innovation.”

Hi, Russell. Welcome to our Interview Series. Please tell us a little bit about your journey in data science.

Data science is a part of my DNA as an information technology educator. Prior to coming to the University of Cincinnati, I spent 19 years teaching IT-related subjects at two different high schools and two different companies. I taught a variety of languages from BASIC to SQL and databases from Cincom’s Total to IBM’s DB2 using a variety of tools including SAS. In 1999, I joined  the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Math, Physics, and Computing Technology in the College of Applied Science where I helped create one of the first BS in IT-degree programs in the country in 2004. In 2006, the BSIT degree became the 9th program to be ABET accredited in the country. Eventually our group was able to form a new department which today is called the School of Information Technology. Throughout my journey, I immersed myself in numerous technologies and programming languages, such as COBOL, JCL, TSO/ISPF, Visual BASIC, C#, SQL Server, MongoDB, DAX, M, Power BI, KNIME, Python, and more.

Over the course of my tenure, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and share my passion for data science and technology with others. In 2014, I spent six months developing IT curriculum at universities in Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa. I’ve also spoken at many conferences around the world, including eLearning Africa in Kigali and the 2019 Congreso Internacional de Ingeneria de Systems (CIIS) in Lima, Peru. I recently worked as a Fulbright Specialist at Miras University in Kazakhstan in 2019 and this past year, I traveled to Uzbekistan to work at Tashkent University Information Technologies as a Fulbright Scholar.

Today, I teach four courses from our Data Technologies track which consists of six courses and am active in various IT-related user group communities which is where I discovered the opportunity to incorporate Alation into my curriculum.

Besides my teaching, I currently serve as a commissioner with ABET’s Computer Accreditation Commission which is responsible with reviewing and accrediting computer science, information systems, and information technology bachelor degree program worldwide. I also serve as the treasure/secretary for the ACM’s Special Interest Group on IT Education (SIGITE). Besides my technical expertise, I am also an improviser and have given workshops on improvisation for IT technical people at various computing conferences as a way to help them become better communicators and innovators.

Read More: CIO Influence Interview with Tyler Farrar, Chief Information Security Officer at Exabeam

Aaron, tell us about the recent announcement about the Data Intelligence Project. How would this initiative accelerate innovations and research in data analytics, data science and other overarching domains in IT?

The Data Intelligence Project teaches students how to overcome real-world challenges with data before beginning their careers. With Alation integrated into the curriculum, students can put the skills and methodologies learned in class into practice and become comfortable using software that hundreds of enterprises across the world rely on. This invaluable hands-on experience sparks passion and curiosity for the data space that transcends industry and organization and will enable these students to innovate, conduct groundbreaking research, or have fulfilling careers in the industry.

Alation is excited to champion the importance of data literacy for the younger generation, in partnership with the world-class educators at The University of Cincinnati in Ohio, The University of Stirling in Scotland, The University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Arkansas, and The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The reality is that data is woven into the fabric of society. Like our partner institutions, we recognize the importance of engaging students early on and making data exciting and relevant to a new generation of professionals who can change our world for the better through data. – Aaron Kalb, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Alation

What is Alation’s role in this initiative? How do you incorporate various advanced technologies to create your presentations?

As an industry-leading data intelligence platform, it’s our responsibility to empower institutions as they prepare the next generation of data leaders to challenge the status quo and drive future innovation. Through the program, Alation provides students and faculty with access to our platform pro bono to help educators blend real-world experience with an understanding of why data matters. Our software augments the fundamental concepts taught in undergraduate and graduate students’ courses, providing the opportunity to apply these learnings to real-life datasets. Through the program, participants gain access to Alation guest speakers and presentations and professional-quality training through Alation University. What’s also special about the program is it supports students in their career search, making them more marketable for almost any 21st-century job, especially at the more than 450 enterprises that use Alation today. – Aaron Kalb, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Alation

Alation’s data intelligence platform is a new foundational pillar of my class: Data Technology Administration. Data governance is a relatively new field and understanding how to manage data is extremely important. By inserting Alation into the curriculum, I’m able to provide a hands-on learning experience using a collaborative data catalog and teach students more about data governance. Access to this technology brings excitement to the classroom – giving my students real-life skills that can be used when marketing their skillsets and eventually entering the workforce. – Russell McMahon, Associate Professor at The University of Cincinnati.

Read More: CIO Influence Interview with Chris Lubasch, Chief Data Officer & RVP DACH at Snowplow

Your predictions on the future of AI and Machine Learning and/or the broader data industry? 

AI has made huge leaps this past year and the impact (disruption) on education is going to be long-lasting. This will mean that new curriculums will have to be developed and new subject matter mastered. – Russell McMahon, Associate Professor at The University of Cincinnati

Where do you see the Data Intelligence Project in the next 2-3 years?

To start, we want to take the program’s early success and broaden its reach, introducing Alation to more universities and empowering more students with the ability to make data-informed decisions. In 2023, Alation will select up to four additional academic institutions globally to participate in The Data Intelligence Project. As the program matures, our vision is to introduce an off-the-shelf curriculum for professors to use independently or as plug-in modules and incorporate partnerships with adjacent technology firms to give students a deep understanding of modern data ecosystems.

Over time, we hope to expand within universities from classrooms to labs, accelerating and improving faculty research using data. And perhaps even travel “upstream” into secondary or even primary education contexts! I think in the coming years, data skills will shift from a specialty to a basic expectation — much like the ability to use a computer or the internet became a necessity over recent decades. – Aaron Kalb, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Alation

Read More: CIO Influence Interview with Andrew Hollister, Chief Information Security Officer at LogRhythm

Thank you, Russell and Aaron! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

[To participate in our interview series, please write to us at]

Russell McMahon has been teaching IT related subject matter since 1980 and has been a faculty member in the School of Information Technology at the University of Cincinnati since 1999.  In 2014, he spent 6 months working at three universities in three different countries (Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa) in Africa doing IT curriculum development and giving talks on creative problem solving. In the past 2 years, he has given workshops on improvisation for scientist and technologist to enhance their communication and teamwork skills. He spoke at the 2018 eLearning Africa conference held in Kigali and he was a keynote speaker at the 2019 Congreso Internacional de Ingeneria de Systems (CIIS) in Lima, Peru. In February-2019 served as a Fulbright Specialist at Miras University in Shymkent, Kazakhstan where he worked with the computing faculty to help with their technical English and teaching. In 2022, he traveled to Uzbekistan to work at a local university.

The University of Cincinnati Logo

The University of Cincinnati, the No. 1 public university for co-op, offers students a balance of educational excellence and real-world experience. Since its founding in 1819, UC has been the source of many discoveries creating positive change for society, including the first antihistamine, the first co-op education program, the first electronic organ, the Golden Gate Bridge designer and the oral polio vaccine. Each year, this urban, public, research university graduates nearly 10,000 students, adding to more than 300,000 living alumni around the world. UC is the largest employer in the Cincinnati region, with an economic impact of more than $4.2 billion.

Aaron is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Alation. He has spent his career working at the intersection of humans and technology to help people satisfy their curiosity and make more rational decisions. As Chief Strategy Officer, his mandate is to promote data culture and data-driven decision-making within the company and around the world. Prior to Alation, he worked on Siri at Apple in the Advanced Development Group. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in symbolic systems from Stanford University.

Alation Logo

Alation is the leader in enterprise data intelligence solutions, including data search & discovery, data governance, data stewardship, analytics, and digital transformation. Alation’s initial offering dominates the data catalog market. Thanks to its powerful Behavioral Analysis Engine, inbuilt collaboration capabilities, and open interfaces, Alation combines machine learning with human insight to successfully tackle even the most demanding challenges in data and metadata management. More than 450 enterprises drive data culture, improve decision-making, and realize business outcomes with Alation, including American Family Insurance, Autozone, Cisco, Draft Kings, Exelon, Fifth Third Bank, Finnair, Munich Re, NASDAQ, Parexel, Pfizer, Salesforce, Virgin Australia, and Vistaprint. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Alation has been named to Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces list three times, is a 2022 UK’s Best Workplaces™ for Women, and recognized as a 2022 UK’s Best Workplaces™ in Tech. The company is backed by leading venture capitalists, including Blackstone, Costanoa, Databricks Ventures, Data Collective, Dell Technologies Capital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Icon, ISAI Cap, Riverwood Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Sanabil Investments, Sapphire, Snowflake Ventures, Thoma Bravo, and Union Grove.

Related posts

Williams Data Management Places a Priority on Privacy with PRISM Privacy+ Certification

CIO Influence News Desk

Iridium Introduces its Next Generation Satellite IoT Data Service

CIO Influence News Desk

Will Hawkins Joins Lonestar As Chief Data Officer