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?
Spoiler alert: data is the undercurrent of pretty much everything we do online. Every time you check the weather, see a movie or show recommendations, 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. In this article, 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.
Data Creates the Perfect User Experience
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 actually 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.
But 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, running constant A/B tests 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 features him prominently 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, looking 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 is Saving the Planet
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.
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 thick canopy of the trees could not be penetrated by GPS signal, so 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 of information received would overwhelm their current systems.
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 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.
Data Helps Save Lives
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:
Medical research: data is used to help researchers in labs, leading to breakthroughs in how we understand and treat diseases.
Hospital operations: hospitals use data much like any other businesses do to monitor staffing, supplies, waiting room time, and insurance claim data.
Patient outcomes: data can be used to improve the treatment of individual patients, as well as answering big-picture questions.
One of the biggest game changers in recent years for data in medicine was the boom of wearable tech. Patients are able to have their heart rate constantly monitored in a way that doesn't feel annoying or intrusive and 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 patients who have sedentary jobs and concerning 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.
Data Runs the Business World
The old saying goes 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:
Customer demographics inform marketing and advertising decisions
Product usage data informs UI decisions and helps teams build better digital experiences
Big data helps Big Tech launch new features, improve existing products, and launch entirely new innovations
Data helps entrepreneurs identify problems to solve and needs to fill
Because the business world loves cliches, we’ve got another for you. “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion,” 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 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 fantastic campaign and convince the rest of the team that it’s the right way to go.
While data has often been attributed to the tech industry and giant corporations, there’s actually no limits to who data can help.
Data Analytics is an Exciting and Stable Career Path
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; the smallest pockets of information are capable of unleashing insights that can 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.
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. No matter where you are, 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. 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 interested in diving into the data world, we’d be happy to have you at Ironhack! Our Data Analytics Bootcamp is designed to teach you what you need to know to enter the workforce as a data professional. Check out the course information today and let us know if you have any questions–we can’t wait to see your application!