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The Future Of Work: It's Data, Baby

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Last week, Sam explored trends in the technology jobs market, suggesting that significant opportunities only reveal themselves when examining both the available jobs and the underlying trends in demand for skills. Coincidentally, on the same day that Sam’s piece was published, The New York Times suggested that “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians.”

As the post-Web 2.0 notion of Web Squared” (a smarter web extending into the real world through sensor applications) becomes reality, we will see a proliferation of data. Figures such as Google (s goog) Chief Economist Hal Varian are predicting that statisticians will be the hot profession as their skills are increasingly in demand.

As suggested by Daniel Pink‘s assertions on the rise of a right-brained working elite, the ability to extract stories from a world of increasing and abundant data will be increasingly critical to many industries. Indeed, the opening of U.S. federal government data at (and the appointment of Sir Tim Berners-Lee to similarly open the UK’s data archives) implies a new societal and cultural importance for data wranglers.

Consider this: IBM (s ibm) is preparing to expand its data analysis employee base from 200 to 4,000 — a staggering twenty-fold increase. You can be certain that a significant portion of this new work force will be untethered, distributed widely across the globe, implying that one of the core skills for a new generation of web workers will be analysis.

So, if you’re looking to sharpen up your data analysis skills, where do you start?

  1. The recently published book “Beautiful Data” brings together essays some of the world’s most cutting-edge data practitioners — such as Stamen Design — on subjects as diverse as DNA analysis, crime maps and crowdsourcing.
  2. Ben Fry’s PhD thesis “Computational Information Design,” which outlines the need for a new field based on multiple disciplines.
  3. The post “Three Sexy Skills Of Data Geeks,” which explains statistics, data munging and visualization — or studying, suffering and storytelling, as the author jokingly suggests.
  4. Blogs such as Dataspora and Flowing Data.

For all of us working in and around digital media, computing, or data of any form, it looks like there will be a whole new vocabulary and skillset that we’ll need to be prepared for. The resources above should help get us all started.

How’re your data analysis skills?

13 Responses to “The Future Of Work: It's Data, Baby”

  1. By data I think one should also consider ‘metadata’. Think about the huge amounts of marketing collateral created every day. The articles that are being published? If you know your way around and can also advise your clients to be aware of the long tail of information availability, there is work to be done. And my guess is that this is going to become more important as the growth of information keeps going and the ability to find the right information is related more closely to finding and keeping customers.


    This is a great post. I agree that making sense of the increasing amount of data would be a worthwhile task. The problem that I see is that “data analysis” sounds so boring. Though I have not read all the blogs/books etc. referenced in this post, I feel that making complex analysis fun would be a great way to attract talent, sell analysis to customers etc. Thanks for focusing on this field of data – I am glad I found this blog.

  3. One of the big uses of data analysis emerging on the net that comes up for me with this post is the use currently by guys like Tim Ferriss or Internet Marketers. Using the data mining capabilities, you’re able to figure out whether or not a product will be successful even before creating it in some cases.

  4. Imran: Yes, I know. But if you want to make sense of large datasets you will probably need stronger data visualization skills. And you’ll need good data analysis skills to support your visualization skills (just kidding…).

    We are much better at managing row data than at creating good visual or non-visual reporting tools.

    (And if you use 3D pie charts in a report it may mean that your data analysis skills are poor…). Everything is interconnected.

  5. Imran Ali

    Thanks for your comment Jorges, but this post isn’t really about visualisation, but data more generally and how those with analytics skills will be increasingly in demand.

    The NYT piece around which I’ve written, is essentially about stats and data in the broadest sense; visuslisation is just one related area, albeit one that gains a lot of attention.

  6. Data analysis/visualization is getting more glamorous these days, but I’d like to point out that probably 90% all charts created each day are created in Excel and PowerPoint by users with very low graphic literacy.

    Yes, the web is full of beautiful charts, many of them of the dumb blonde variety. Yes, the more, the merrier. We need them to raise awareness. But it seems that if you are not a graphic designer, just a simple data analyst using Excel or Tableau, you are not invited to the party.

    And yet, I’ll choose efficiency over beauty, if I can’t have both. I prefer an Excel chart that applies Edward Tufte’s principles, because I will learn more about the data.

    Data analysis and visualization skills are almost non-existent and people copy what they see in the magazines and the web, with catastrophic results. And organizations lose money every day because they don’t offer the right training.

    But hey, I love beautiful data.