NPR, Nov 30, by Yuki Noguchi
... more companies are trying to make sense of what the data can tell them about how to do business better. That, in turn, is fueling demand for people who can make sense of the information - mathematicians - and creating something of a recruiting war.
DJ Patil, with venture capital firm Greylock Partners, is on a perpetual manhunt, looking for a rare breed: someone with a brain for math, finesse with computers, the eyes of an artist and more.
"There's one common element across all these people that stands out above everything, and that's curiosity," Patil says. "It's an intense curiosity to understand what's behind the data."
He compares raw data to clay: shapeless until molded by a gifted mathematician. A good mathematician can write algorithms that can churn through billions or trillions of data points and show where patterns emerge.
For example, patterns indicated early on that mothers were heavy users of social networks, which in turn led to the creation of social circles. Patil says a good mathematician can figure out what matters and what doesn't in a huge trove of data.
Often, executives say it's not just about money; they have to appeal to an ideal.
David Friedberg says his company does that by touting the power of risk management to change agriculture. Friedberg, chief executive officer of The Climate Corp., says crop insurance is basically nonexistent in large parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. He says the ability to better model changing climate patterns means his company can provide insurance to small farmers who otherwise might not take on the risk of farming more land.
"We can actually encourage agricultural development and provide a sustainable living for them," Friedberg says. "And that's one of the long-term missions of our organization."
[see a KDnuggets job ad for Quantitative Researcher at ClimateCorp, formerly named WeatherBill]
The type of people drawn to this work aren't necessarily what you might expect. Greylock Partners' Patil says his successful recruits have included an oceanographer and a neurosurgeon, as well as people who barely graduated from high school but were brilliant at math. He approaches math majors the way baseball scouts look for young stars.
"I have a list that I track. There's one student who I think is phenomenal; I've been tracking him since he was 16," Patil says.