Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave

Bill Franks offers an excellent guide to understanding and utilizing Big Data in his informative and fun book, Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave. It's a well written account of the "Big Data" craze that does a good job of emphasizing the longevity of this movement. With how often the phrase Big Data gets thrown around today, it's easy to write it off as merely a fad. Bill gives his audience a great understanding of why this is not true and why all organizations should be taking the appropriate steps to enhance their analytics.

In a sense, the book is a how-to for both organizations that need to initiate a Big Data movement and those that simply need to enhance their current system. I found this particularly interesting because although I am a member of the analytic community, I am something of an outside observer as a recruiter. Big Data is going to blow us all over, and Bill Franks is letting us know what we should expect.

From my perspective as a recruiter, I do wish that the author gave some short term solutions to the ever expanding shortage of advanced analytics professionals who can manipulate this data, but I suppose that's because there is no short term answer! This is a great read for both a technical and non-technical audience. I learned a lot and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

American Math Education: Worse Than We Think?

As a recruiter of quantitative talent I’m always interested to hear how math education in the United States compares to other countries. As a mother of three high school kids, I’m personally invested in the state of public school education and how our children can compete internationally. This is why I found Arthur Levine’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal particularly troubling.

Mr. Levine points out the obvious truth that most Americans are aware of: the United States is mediocre at best in math education. Every year recent grads are competing with the best in the world and they are unfortunately ill-prepared. If we don’t focus on fixing this problem now, it will only get worse. Math education has fallen to the wayside and apart from a new statistic coming out every few months to support what we already know, it doesn’t look like the government is making any effort to make a substantial change.

What Mr. Levine points out though is that there’s another form of competition within the US as students in urban and inner city schools compete with their counterparts in the suburbs. Shockingly, he specifically points to Evanston, IL and Scarsdale, NY as exceptions to general low performance in American schools. Mr. Levine writes that students in Evanston outperform students in Finland and Singapore, the top school systems in the world.

My children are currently enrolled in Evanston Township High School, and while I’d love to believe they are part of a competitive, high performing system, I was skeptical. Based on experience this did not ring true, and sure enough the facts prove otherwise. According to the Prairie State Achievement Exam, only 42% of student at ETHS met federal education standards in math. This is clearly substantially lower than the 75% proficiency rate in Shanghai and even 50% in Canada.

My children are fortunately able to partake in ETHS’s high level math program. As frustrating as the national statistics are, the students in this program are outstanding, motivated, and sure to succeed. I can’t speak highly enough of the fantastic teachers who devote so much to math education and inspire their students.

I wish there were more programs like this available to more students nationwide. I’m sorry to say that the overall picture, though is bleaker than Mr. Levine paints it. If even these so-called “affluent suburbs” are not up to par with the international community, something has to change.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The New Golden Child of Statistics

Happy Election Day everyone! I went out and voted this morning and hope you all will too. The past few weeks for many of us have been a veritable bombardment of political ads and polls. It seems like every day there are several new polls out, sometimes with conflicting results. It has made me think about how presidential elections have evolved into an incredibly calculated guessing game and even more about the statisticians behind this evolution.

I am continually amazed by the changing face of statistics. I can easily look back 30 years ago when I started recruiting for this industry and remember the stigma that these professionals carried. Statisticians were back room number crunchers whose brilliance was rarely recognized. You would be a god in the statistical community if you had a textbook taught at a university, let alone had a New York Times Bestseller on the bookshelves.

Needless to say, the script is very different today. Moneyball has reached pop culture status, Facebook and Twitter are providing scientists with information about public safety, and Nate Silver is now a household name.

If you haven’t heard of Silver yet, you’re in the minority. Author of the widely popular New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight, Silver is showing the world that statistics is sexy. He rose to fame with his PECOTA system used to predict the performance of major league baseball players and over the years has turned to politics. (I’m sure you’ve all read about his much debated 2012 presidential picks!)

I for one could not be happier to have Silver in the spotlight. His new book The Signal and the Noise is on my holiday reading list and his refreshing insights are always a nice break from the same old commentary. Silver’s unique approach to statistics will be highlighted this week as part of the Karla Scherer Endowed Lecture Series for the University of Chicago. With the election winding down this week, he is sure to speak about a wide array of topics, including his first love: baseball.

Tickets are (not surprisingly) sold out, but I can only hope to see more of Silver and the new face of statistics in the coming months.