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Quants vs “accidental analysts,” up close

In just two meetups of data analysts, Dave Wells has seen the quant-versus-accidental analyst rivalry surface.

He is the former TDWI education director and now a consultant and based in Seattle. He’s taken an interest in the last few years in data analysts.

The quants are by far the smaller group, but they’re loud. At the meetups of his group Business Analysts Collaborative, they amount to less than 10 percent of the 150 who’ve attended either event. These are the ones with training, the ones who squeeze all the meaning anyone could possibly find out of data. Their findings are solid.

But they seem to be defending territory. “They’re adamant,” says Dave, about the need for training as an analytic professional. They insist that anyone analyzing data needs to understand the algorithms, the steps to prepare data, and so on. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they seem to say, stand away from the data.

That the Business Analyst Collaborative attracts so few quants is fine with him. “The quants are already somewhat of a community, with the velvet rope and bouncer and all that crap,” he says. “I want the neighborhood bar.”

That “neighborhood bar” amounts to about 90 percent of all meetup attendees, he says. They analyze data just because they have to. Among this group, what Stephen and Eileen McDaniel call the “accidental analysts,” skills vary widely. Mostly, their analysis is good enough.

“I understand that there’s complexity,” he says. “But I’m on the side of pushing it to the business users.”

“There’s just a handful of stuff we do,” he says. It’s possible to build wizards to let the business user say what needs to be done and then let the tool run the algorithm behind the scenes. “They never need to know whether it’s nearest neighbor, naive bayes, time series, or whatever.”

The quants’ resistance reminds him of back when personal computers came in. “They made all kinds of arguments about how the world was going to come to an end if you put this in untrained hands. Again and again, history proven that’s bullshit.” In fact, IT’s importance actually grew. “The same thing will happen with desktop analytics.”

Some problems do require the heavy lifting and justify weeks of work. Others need the best answers by Friday.

He’s looking for venues around Seattle that let the meetup group break up into small groups. Tableau Software provided the first meeting room, but that was too classroom-like. He’s hoping there’s a better one either at Tableau or somewhere else.

He’s also aiming for sponsorships. He believes that startups in the analytic space will find value in the Business Analytics Collaborative. Call him at 425-503-4352 or contact him at info@bacollaborative.com.

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