Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Why study economics? Tech firm jobs edition...

I've been pretty quiet over the last month, due to a family holiday in the U.S., then being quite sick on my return. Back into it now though.

On Saturday, Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl) had an interesting piece in the NZ Herald about big data. She concluded:
With so many big issues being helped using complex analysing software, it's no surprise that one of the top future jobs is predicted to be in IT as a big data analyst developer.
Now, big data analysis might sound like a statistics job. However, I would argue that these are jobs for big data analysts are really jobs for economics graduates (at least, those with some quantitative skills). This is because economics graduates understand and can work with observational data, and hopefully understand some of the limitations of these data (including understanding the difference between causation and correlation).

Susan Athey (Stanford) has also recently written about jobs for economics graduates in tech firms, in answer to the question "Why do technology companies hire economists, and what is their contribution? What kinds of problems do they work on?". I recommend reading the whole thing, but of relevance to new graduates, she writes:
More junior economists have a wide variety of roles in tech firms. They can take traditional data science roles, be product managers, work in corporate strategy, or on policy teams.  They would typically do a lot of empirical work.
In terms of complementing existing non-economist workers, I have found that economists bring some unique skills to the table.  First of all, machine learning or traditional data scientists often don’t have a lot of expertise in using observational data or designing experiments to answer business questions.  Did an advertising campaign work?  What would have happened if we hadn’t released the low end version of a product?  Should we change the auction design?  Machine learning is better at prediction, but less at analyzing “counter-factuals,” or what-if questions.
These tech-firm jobs for big data analytics, designing and evaluating experiments, and other similar roles are tailor-made for economics graduates. Just one more reason why studying economics is a good idea.

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