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.

Leave a reply

Other recent posts

End of one-size-fits-all data stories

This appeared originally on the TDWI site in September behind a paywall. It’s still there, but today they’ve had the 90 days of exclusive use that I agreed to. Survey after survey reveals that about 80 percent of business users don’t use data analysis—despite all the marketing and “easy to use” tools. As if in… Continue Reading

Qlik finally set to leapfrog Tableau?

Who’s your rival? I carelessly asked a Qlik person at the company’s annual analyst reception Monday night in Miami if she hadn’t once worked for Tableau. Her revulsion was immediate. “No! Never!,” she said. We smiled. There was so much more to talk about. For one thing, how will private equity change things? Qlik wasn’t… Continue Reading

Five Tips for Better Data Stories

Originally published on September 22, 2015 in BI This Week, a TDWI publication. A “data story” sounds like such a great idea. You just mix data with storytelling and you’re done — except that most data storytellers get one thing wrong: they drown out the story with data. Such storytellers, I believe, assume that audiences… Continue Reading

Bohemian Grove a la BI

The Bohemian Grove of the BI industry convenes for the fifteenth time in just three weeks. Naturally, you ask the obvious question: Are you serious? The Grove? A summit? The answer begins with a fond recollection of the Grove. If you’ve never attended the Bohemian Grove yourself — I haven’t, though I live in the… Continue Reading