Big Data Through the Lens of the Obama for America Tech Team

  • August 29, 2013 · 6:00 PM

Check your politics at the door and come listen to how big data and analytics changed the face of campaigning forever! Gabriel Burt, Dan Wagner, and Chris Coté worked on the tech teams behind Obama for America during the 2012 campaign. They’re going to talk a little bit about the application/platform they built for the campaign, why they decided to build it, and how it changed the way volunteers campaigned for Obama. We always hear about big data and analytics being so important, but why are they important? These guys will also talk about what they’re up to now that the election is over. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this event!

Gabriel Burt is the VP of Engineering at Civis Analytics, an analytics technology startup founded by the Chief Analytics Officer of the Obama 2012 campaign where they built the technology and analytics tools necessary to run the first individual-level campaign in history, guiding decision-making and resource optimization across the campaign. Civis Analytics is solving the world's biggest problems with big data for non-profits, political organizations, and companies.

Gabriel co-led the Analytics Technology team on the campaign that created its 50 TB integrated database and created tools that empowered hundreds of analysts and organizers, and oversaw some of the campaign’s most creative and impactful projects, including media optimization, mapping and analysis tools, record matching, and targeted sharing. He blogged more about his campaign experience.

Christopher Coté is the Director of Engineering at Discovery Communications. Christopher leads the technology and software engineering efforts for the Emerging Business and Strategy Team which is a part of the research & development team at Discovery.

His previous endeavors include Lead Engineer at Obama for America (OFA), VP of Technology at SpotOn, a local Chicago technology startup, as well as running his own technology consulting company.

While at OFA, he was lead engineer for the DigiTech group, responsible for making the massive technology backend (Narwhal) accessible to the digital team, who handled majority of the front-end work. With his prior experience in social media integration he was tasked with creating "Blaster", software that "blasted" twitter and facebook messages to the President’s millions of followers.

Christopher’s position at Discovery Communications keeps him at the bleeding edge of digital and media technology. He keeps himself busy with extensive research of emerging technologies and continuing to write A LOT of code. In addition, he is responsible for building and fostering a technology team to dream up and implement new ideas.

Dan Wagner is Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Civis Analytics, ambassador for the firm’s external partnerships, representing the company’s vital, core interests as it engages client business opportunities.

Dan served as the Chief Analytics Officer on the 2012 Obama campaign, overseeing a 54-person team of analysts, engineers and organizers that provided analytics and technologies for voter contact, digital, paid media, fundraising and communication. His department’s work was credited with “reinventing how national campaigns are done” and has been highlighted in Time Magazine, MIT Technology Review, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s.

Dan began his work in politics as the Deputy Voter File Manager for Barack Obama during the 2008 Iowa caucuses, which defined the relevance of data, and client comprehension of data, in his career. That led to roles as the Great Lakes Targeting Desk and National Get Out the Vote (GOTV) Targeting Director, followed by the National Targeting Director at the Democratic National Committee for the 2010 election cycle. Dan previously worked with the FTI Consulting Economics Practice. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Economics and Public Policy.

Dan is originally from Birmingham, Michigan, where he grew up imitating Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” performance. He remains the first one on any dance floor. He is fluent in Spanish and, according to two sources with knowledge of the incident, cried during “Like Water for Chocolate.” He used to play congas - not to be confused with the bongos - in a DC funk band.

Scott VanDenPlas was the Director of DevOps for the Obama campaign, and the primary architect of the the platform behind the Obama Technology Team. Scott is working with local Chicago startup MarkITx and also leads the consulting firm EL EL SEE LLC with other Obama campaign alumni. EL EL SEE is currently working with organizations from startups to publicly traded Fortune 100 companies, as well as developing a growing line of their own products. Follow Scott or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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  • Dion R.

    We're the video on this event?

    April 7, 2014

  • Jennifer D.

    Here's a recap from the event last week! Stay tuned and we'll be posting the video recap too

    2 · September 6, 2013

    • Susan W.

      Is there a video of this event now? did not see it using this link.

      April 7, 2014

  • Mehul P.

    i could have listened to dan wagner & scott vandenplas for hours on end to learn more about the conceptual dynamic & timed circumstance of this big data undertaking. who were the morons in the back talking loud enough during the presentation where it affected the audiences ability to hear clearly what was being conveyed? i was about to snap & make a scene.

    August 29, 2013

    • Mehul P.

      anyway, since no one replied, event organizers, for future reference, please do courteously announce & be cognizant of noise, "if i could please have your attention, would the people in the back keep your voices down," as many times as required et cetera///

      September 9, 2013

    • Ryan B.

      Hey Mehul. I didn't know you were waiting for a response, it seemed like more of an observation. I noticed the same thing and asked them during the event to keep it down. Moving forward, we are going to politely ask people that are not focused on the presentation to quiet down or possibly even to leave if it persists.

      September 9, 2013

  • Dion R.

    I'm confuse, where's the video of the event?

    September 6, 2013

    • Jennifer D.

      We are currently editing the video - it will be posted in the upcoming weeks.

      September 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Started of good with well explained objectives of the campaign but then lost traction. Presenters talked about technology but did not explain very well how the technology was used to attain objectives. One of the presenters kept saying "I hate republicans"....thats not what we came to hear.

    1 · August 30, 2013

    • Hammond H.

      Couldn't agree more on the hate republicans line. And the presentation is almost like a bio of how they started their company instead of focusing on how big data technically change the game

      1 · August 30, 2013

    • Bob W.

      I thought we were to leave our politics at the door. Other than that I really enjoyed hearing the presentation.

      August 31, 2013

  • Curtis H.

    Did anyone happen to video record this for people who were unable to attend?

    August 30, 2013

    • Jennifer D.

      Spantree did film the event but we will need to do some editing/formatting prior to posting.

      August 30, 2013

  • Beverly S.

    I enjoyed it but did realize that I was somewhat in over my head when they were explaining some of the terms. Fascinating stuff, though.

    August 30, 2013

  • Dion R.

    Great presentation, useful information. But where can we download the slides, thanks.

    August 30, 2013

  • Ryan B.

    I thought overall the presentation was great.

    2 · August 30, 2013

  • Don D.

    Good balance of technical and big picture. The speakers were passionate and enjoy each other and their topic. Very very interesting application of analytics and modeling and personalized marketing. Very worthwhile.

    2 · August 30, 2013

  • Hammond H.

    it is not technical and the speakers didn't really have much technical information to share. It's not as useful as expected.

    1 · August 29, 2013

    • Mehul P.

      the audience probably wasn't technical enough, there just wasn't enough time, & i'm sure there were several aspects left out on purpose due this talk's political nature.

      August 29, 2013

    • Mark H.

      Mehul - agreed. Wide mix of an audience and the late start + time constraint killed a deeper dive. A couple of panelists were very outspoken given the short time - comments about tweeting millions of messages from a laptop as the president was awesome. Panelists were all amazing and brilliant peeps - just wish there was more time for a deeper dive on the tech.

      2 · August 30, 2013

  • mike a.

    Nice, insightful overview of the team, and how data was utilized. I was pretty blown away by the AWS graphic. Will these things be available online for a deeper dive? Thanks all!

    1 · August 29, 2013

  • Ieva V.


    August 29, 2013

  • John S.

    John Schmotzer

    August 29, 2013

  • Logan S.

    Would love to goto this!

    August 28, 2013

  • Brad P.

    Brad Puder

    August 28, 2013

  • Suzanne S.

    Suzanne Schlemmer

    August 27, 2013

  • Michael S.

    I am looking forward to the meetup!

    2 · August 19, 2013

  • Joel B.

    Entrepreneur and investor

    August 18, 2013

  • mark s.

    hi, glad to see everyone here at meetup,hope to share something with you !

    August 16, 2013

  • TJ t.

    August 12, 2013

  • Curtis H.

    Is there any chance of this presentation being recorded and made available online? I'm in the Los Angeles area but would really like to view this event.

    1 · August 2, 2013

    • Curtis H.

      This could be one of the more important events of the year related to Big Data marketing & analytics.

      3 · August 6, 2013

    • Jennifer D.

      Agreed! I'm really excited to hear this one

      1 · August 6, 2013

  • Kashif M.

    Founder at

    August 2, 2013

  • Chelsea C.

    Marketing manager with analytics focus, political volunteer, in love with excel, and always interested in how other people are playing with numbers

    July 30, 2013

  • Lola A.

    Can't wait to be inspired.

    1 · July 12, 2013

  • Ciaran O.

    Looking forward to it.

    2 · July 12, 2013

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