People who love data, really love data. But if you’re someone who always hated math class as a kid, it can be really hard to understand where they’re coming from. How does a bunch of numbers get anyone’s blood pumping?
In actual fact, data is the undercurrent of pretty much everything we do online. Every time you check the weather, have a movie recommended to you, track a run on your smartwatch, or book a hotel for your next vacation, data is behind it all.
If you’re here, you’re probably curious about data and its various uses. Here, we’re going to be looking at the biggest impacts that data has on our world, and the #1 reason why you should fall completely in love with it!
This is one data innovation that you’re probably aware of already, as it’s one that fits seamlessly into our day to day lives. But because it’s so seamless, you may be taking it for granted (that’s ironically a sign of truly great innovation…you don’t even notice that it’s happening!). So let’s take a second to really appreciate the magnitude of the impact that data has on our cultural tastes.
If you’ve used Spotify/Apple Music to find your new favorite to sing on long road trips, the album that’ll get you through your next heartbreak, and the band that you’ll someday travel halfway across the country to see live in concert…you’ve got data to thank for it.
Spotify has invested heavily in training machine learning algorithms to personalize the experience for its 406 million global users. That’s a huge impact.
This isn’t just limited to music. Streaming services use huge amounts of customer data to test, personalize experiences, and make big business decisions. Netflix is particularly famous for this, with constant A/B tests running concurrently to provide users with the best possible experience, and to keep us all binging and chilling.
Let’s say you love Ryan Reynolds, and you’ve watched a lot of his movies. Netflix knows that little nugget of data about you, and will make sure that any movie with Ryan Reynolds in the cast has him prominently featured in the preview, thus encouraging you to watch.
Companies like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and HBO don’t just use data to build their platform’s user experience. They take the usage data from their streaming services to make important production decisions. They look at things like content abandonment rates, keyword searches, and even which scenes were rewound and rewatched.
This information is then used to influence which shows get made, or canceled. With the shows created by these streaming/production companies sitting at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist, big data truly is a global tastemaker!
Data doesn’t just tell Netflix whether to bring Squid Games back for Season 2. It’s also being used in new ways in sustainability and wildlife conservation.
GPS tagging and camera traps are able to collect real-time information on the movements of some of the world’s most critically endangered animals, empowering conservation groups with the information needed to potentially save the species. Data scientists are able to track migration, population growth/decline, and identify risks that may threaten an endangered species.
For example, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior uncovered a problem in the early 2000s whilst attempting to track animal movements in Panama. The tick canopy of the trees could not be penetrated by GPS signal at the time. They set up a series of radio towers that would allow them to collect the data they needed, but soon found that the sheer amount that was coming through would soon overwhelm their current systems. And so they created Movebank, a software that could safely store and manage real-time global animal movement data.
Today, researchers around the world rely on Movebank to provide answers to big-picture questions in conservation science, with over 3.2 billion animal locations and leading to almost 7,000 research studies.
From monitoring the speed at which polar ice caps melt to the areas most at-risk from illegal poachers, data helps us to understand the state of our world and may provide the insights that help us to save it.
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Ever since the world went digital, big data has been used by the medical industry to improve research and patient outcomes. But it has historically been expensive, slow, and inaccessible for non-data experts.
Data impacts the medical field in three different ways.
One of the biggest game changers in recent years for data in medicine was the boom of wearable tech. With patients able to have their heart rate constantly monitored in a way that didn’t feel annoying or intrusive, medical providers are able to collect a huge amount of data on their day-to-day heart health.
By collecting huge amounts of data, and gaining a holistic view of a patient’s (or group of patient’s) health, medical professionals are able to give recommendations for preventive care and stop diseases. For example, a doctor who notices that many of their patients who have sedentary jobs have worrying VO2 max levels can recommend introducing more cardio into their exercise routines.
However, this kind of information is highly sensitive, and healthcare institutions are rapidly understanding the need for heightened data security. In-house data solutions must be bolstered by top-notch security protocols, including two-factor authentication and routine audits.
The ethics of how this data is stored and shared is also a hot topic that the industry constantly grapples with, leaving a need for data experts to guide this ongoing conversation.
The old saying goes that ‘money makes the world go round.’ While there’s certainly still plenty of truth to that, what really makes the world go round (namely the business world) is data.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to list all of the ways that companies in every corner of the world rely on data, and each company has their own unique data sets. But we can of course make a few sweeping generalizations.
Because the business world loves cliches, we’ve got another for you. “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” So said W. Edwards Deming in 1982, and it’s still true today.
As a professional in any industry, you need data to make the right decisions and to get people to back your ideas. It’s the closest thing to the objective truth as we can get, and you’ll need it on your side no matter which capacity you’re working in.
Let’s say you’re a UI designer, and you’re fighting with an important stakeholder over how big the logo needs to be on the first fold of your homepage. If that stakeholder is the CEO, their authority trumps yours. So you bring out the big guns…results of an A/B test which shows that your version of the homepage design works better within the overall user journey.
Alternatively, let’s say you’re in advertising. You and your team have been asked to run a summer campaign for an important client, and no one can quite agree on which direction to go in. You need a quick win to turn around a slow quarter, so you go back and look at which previous campaigns knocked it out of the park. You use the data to design a kickass campaign, and to convince the rest of the team that it’s the right way to go.
So while data has often been attributed to the tech industry and giant corporations, there’s actually no limits to who data can help, in thousands of different ways, and it’s impossible to imagine a world without it.
Exciting and stable aren’t usually two words that go together but they’re absolutely the right ones to describe a career in data.
A career in data is exciting because data is being used in new ways every day, and the smallest pockets of information are capable of unleashing insights that change the world. Companies can use data to impact the lives of millions, from saving rare species from extinction to creating breakthroughs in medical science.
But a career in data is also stable, because data isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Every single company, even those outside of the tech industry, rely on data every day, and there’s no shortage of need for professionals who know how to manage and analyze it. Data is also global, not restricted to any one corner of the world. Pretty much anywhere you go, there will be a need, a use, and a demand for data.
Even if you’re not looking to work specifically as a Data Scientist or Data Analyst, chances are data can be helpful in your day to day work. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon or an animal conservation expert to make the most out of data. And maybe the data sets you use won’t change the world on their own. But you’ll be future-proofing your skill set and opening up brand new career doors. You might not change the world, but you can change your world.
If you’re ready to learn more, consider this your invitation to Data Week. We’re hosting a series of expert-led sessions covering the most important, relevant, and interesting topics in Data Analytics from around the globe.
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