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Nerds vs. Geeks

As we look to the future of analytics, I believe there will be several forms or types of analytic professionals that are evolving. As the age of Big Data evolves and analytics becomes more and more sexy in the enterprise, analytics too will evolve. Ultimately, I think there are four competencies we will need in tomorrow’s analytic enterprise:

  • the statistician
  • the programmer
  • the analyst
  • the scientist

Having been part of Merkle’s analytic practice for almost 10 years now and being part of an analytic group of nearing 200 professionals, my view is that the analytic industry in the past 20 years was primarily made up of the first two competencies, with specifically strong SAS programmers and statisticians. The third, the analyst, is, has always been, and will always be, in high demand. This is really the person who knows statistics but is not a statistician, knows how to write code and manipulate data, but whose core strength is, to us, the most important piece of information – the “so what” of the analysis. 

The last one however, is a new breed of analytic professional that I’ve seen come up in the last few years – the “scientist.”  This person, who I’ve also referred to as analytical engineers, really mixes the first two concepts – programming and statistics – but specifically within today’s Big Data technology field. The biggest gap in the Big Data era (right now) is not technology or data. It’s the expertise and ability to extract that data out and make use of it. It’s what I’m calling the lack of the scientist.    

However, this idea of the data scientist is really a new role that I don’t think has really existed before.  It’s really a combination of a mathematician / statistician with a technical computer programmer. Or, it’s the person that is both the nerd and the geek. According to this infographic, which I find hilarious, nerds are described as more academic and introverted whereas geeks like sci-fi and technology.  Well, based on this graphic – I think what I’m calling the scientist is really both!!  It’s the unique person that’s both nerd and geek! Meaning, it's the mathematician that has a deep appreciation and understanding of technology. Right now, I believe there is a significant shortage of this type of individual. Just think about recruiting this person from college – where would you look? In the math department? Well, not really. In the computer science area? Perhaps, but do they have the analytical chops or are the just programmers? As the business of analytics continues to grow, we will need to address this shortage immediately with training and focus to build tomorrow’s data scientist – or really the Big Data analyst. 

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