Monday, August 17, 2009

You've got a Sexy Job!

I just got back from vacationing in Morocco with my family. Morocco is a beautiful country with fabulous people and wonderful food – but I have to say, it wasn’t cool. A heat wave hit Marrakesh just as we did, and temperatures ranged from 110 –120°F every day — definitely not cool. And though my kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience, they let us know that traveling for 24 days with only limited access to their various electronic devices was somewhat less than cool.

Fortunately, I was also traveling with their father, a statistician who I knew was cool 16 years ago when I married him. And that was long before the New York Times announced that the image of statisticians is changing from “dronish number nerds” to professionals who are “finding themselves increasingly in demand — and even cool.” It’s good to be ahead of the curve.

If you were on vacation, too, you may have missed it when the NYT article pronounced that the statistics profession is the place to be — a fact that we’ve known all along. It was no surprise to us when Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, stated flat out that “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”

Data-driven decision making is the engine that runs businesses today, from multi-national corporations to regional restaurant chains to nonprofits and educational institutions. Data is the new capital of the business world, and it is proliferating at a rate faster than we can interpret it, with estimates of five-fold increases by 2012.

But, as the Times article makes clear, gathering data is the easy part. According to Erik Brynjolfsson, director of MIT’s Center for Digital Business, “the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.” Highly educated quantitative professionals are the answer to that problem, and even in these challenging economic times, statisticians are still in demand in many sectors.

Qualified applicants who have hands-on experience with data and, more importantly, who can translate this raw information into actionable insights for company decision makers are still scarce. While there certainly have been layoffs in a number of areas (namely finance, retail and advertising), statisticians have experienced relatively more job security than their less quantitative colleagues. Candidates who can be a bit flexible on location are usually able to regain their career footing quickly. For now and into the foreseeable future, the field of statistics is still where you want to be.

I hope you’ve had some cool experiences this summer. Looking forward to catching up with you. As always, I welcome your updates and thoughts. Thanks for staying in touch.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
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