It seems like state-of-the-art analysis tools would be a priority in the data-rich field of finance. That’s why it is startling to learn that the technology being used by economic analysts and consultants seems to be stuck in the era of Windows 95. About Data shares a data-loving former economist’s lament in, “Bridging Economics and Data Science.”
Blogger Sam Bhagwat majored in economics because he was intrigued by innovative uses of data in that field; for example, a professor of his had gleaned conclusions about European patent law from a set of 19th century industrial-fair records. As he progressed, though, Bhagwat came to the disappointing realization that his field still relies on technology for which “outdated” is putting it mildly. He writes:
“When I graduated, the questions had changed, but the fundamental tools of analysis remained constant. Half of my classmates, including me, were headed to consulting or investment banking. These are ‘spreadsheet monkey’ positions analyzing client financial and operational data.
“In terms of relationship-building, this is great. Joining high strategy or high finance, you walk through the halls of power and learn to feel comfortable there. But in terms of technical skill-set, not so great. You begin to specialize in spreadsheets, a tool which hasn’t significantly improved since 1995.
“For someone like me, who wants to solve the most interesting problems out there, dealing with gigabytes and terabytes of data, realizing this was bitter medicine. Computational data analysis has changed a lot in the last twenty years, but my career track — economics, consulting, finance — hadn’t.”
So that is how one inquiring mind decided to make the leap from economics to data science. Bhagwat says he taught himself programming so he could pursue work he actually found challenging. I wonder, though—will he use his dual expertise to help bridge the gap between the two disciplines, or has he moved on, never to look back?
Cynthia Murrell, September 18, 2013