Out of the Blue – September 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

This month we’re looking at data and analysis in everyday life. Can you use data to guess someone’s age just from their name, find out how likely your chosen career is to survive the robot revolution and see if you can judge a book by its cover.


The Robots are taking over. How much of a threat is automation to your job? Research has worked out the likelihood of a machine replacing you in the next 20 years.




Can you guess someone’s age by their name? You can have a pretty good guess. You can even see patterns of famous names – Khaleesi (from Game of Thrones) is exclusively for 2-3 year olds.




Can you judge a book by its cover? This simple game lets you rate the covers of different books and tells you how close you were to the actual review.




Picture perfect. This clever tool lets you pick a series of faces and see the ‘average’ of them, normally becoming more attractive as you add more faces to the mix.



Til next month,

Spencer Lucas

Breaking the data science ‘geek cycle’

Breaking the data science ‘geek cycle’

(Published in Market Leader: Quarter 4, 2014)

Lack of careers awareness in schools and universities is leading to a serious shortage of new data scientists.

There is a perception that data analysis and econometrics is a dark art – that it’s incredibly complicated and black box. This is not the case. The hardcore maths behind the scenes may be complex, but conceptually it’s just a logical process that anyone can follow.

The misconception is partly the fault of data scientists – it is up to them to explain complex models in an understandable way, or to “take the geek out of the equation”. This makes the work infinitely more valuable as it actually becomes usable: you can create the most amazing model in the world, but if you can’t communicate it, it’s worthless. This is why we need to break the geek cycle of data science.

Data science is often considered a new phenomenon, but it has been around for years. The people doing it have just been called different things: econometricians, market researchers, web analysts, programmers, database analysts – they just don’t sound as cool as ‘data scientist’.

Data science has become prominent due to the massively increasing demand for data-handling skills and the need to couple them with the mindset to interpret and deliver decisions from data. This has created a significant shift in the need for data scientists: demand has increased exponentially in the UK over the past 18 months (Figure 1).

According to McKinsey research, by 2018 the US will experience a shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists and 1.5 million managers/analysts.

After a shift in demand for something, a shortage of supply has a knock-on effect of wage inflation. Economics 101 states that a shift in the demand for something (the green demand curve – see Figure 2), then wages will increase to offset the shortage of supply. This has meant average salaries have doubled in the UK since 2010, from £30,000 to £60,000.

Why is there a shortage of good data scientists?

Shortages have become an issue due to the recent rise in demand highlighting the gap of commercially savvy data experts. The massive hype of ‘Big Data’ (it’s still just data) has triggered companies into making more intelligent decisions.

So, now the issue is known, can’t we just source people with these skills or retrain others? Retraining is difficult as you need to have a blend of familiarity with data, coupled with how to apply various techniques in a commercial environment. This is difficult even for an experienced person to learn.

In terms of sourcing new people, the main problem is a lack of knowledge that this kind of industry exists, but it is also about applicability in a commercial environment. More specific issues are:

Awareness: When I was doing A-levels in economics and maths, the perfect combination for data science disciplines such as econometrics, I didn’t have a clue that you could make a career out of interpreting and using data.

I fell into my econometrics degree entirely by accident. When faced with which economics degree to choose (straight economics or econometrics), through laziness I chose the one that didn’t need me to select any further modules: econometrics. And I am now eternally grateful for that choice.

This highlights the issue of younger people not having an idea of what choices they have going into university, which can easily end up shaping their lives. If there was a wider awareness in schools of different careers then this wouldn’t be an issue.

University careers process: The problem of awareness also creeps into universities. As an econometrician, the career options I apparently had open to me were accountancy (PWC and E&Y are great companies but were really not for me) or civil service (GES, agricultural economics and so on).

I was again very fortunate to stumble across a careers ad for a marketing econometrician, placed by one of the pioneers of the technique, Ohal. Had I not seen the ad, I would have been doomed to go down the accountancy/civil service route: not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not for me.

Course syllabus at universities: The other issue is what is taught at universities, especially British ones. It’s still the case that courses such as econometrics are taught in a non-commercial way – they tend to focus on the macro economy rather than the micro, or the individual business. This means graduates are less commercially-minded and business-focused than they should be.

However, this is not the case in European universities. My wife’s course (she is also a data scientist and, yes, our dinner conversations are enthralling) was in operational research in Germany, which not only concentrated on the analytical techniques companies actually used, but also had an element of commercial work experience built in. In over 15 years of recruiting data scientists, I have found that universities in Germany, Italy, Spain and Lithuania tend to lead the way in commercially-focused degrees that set graduates up much better for the working life.

Communication:The final piece of the puzzle is finding people with the ability to communicate complex analysis into a digestible format that others can follow. This tends to be a rare breed, but is an essential part of the data science industry because if no one gets it, then no one will trust it, which means no one will use it.

This is the problem with just hiring ‘maths people’: building great models alone is not enough to make better-informed business decisions. What you need on top of this is the commercial application of the model, where the analyst needs to translate the model into business solutions.

If the model isn’t commercially viable, and not communicated clearly, then all that analysis and brainpower goes to waste.


So what can be done to fill this void? The most important thing is raising awareness and also the profile of data analytics. As a data analytics company, we are doing a few things to help, and we hope that others will do the same.

Universities: We are in the process of setting up programmes with universities to help promote awareness of the commercial analytical environment to undergraduates. This ranges from giving talks in seminars on what we do and how companies use our work, to helping create course modules that are more business-applicable.

Schools: I’m fortunate enough to have some very good teacher friends, so we can also go into schools and let them know what we’re doing.

Communication: We work very closely with our clients to help knock down the geeky barriers of data analysis. This includes explaining things in plain English, not trying to show them how clever we are, but showing simply and clearly how we do the modelling. This even involves building up models with them from scratch so they can see that data analysis is a very logical (and slow!) process that doesn’t involve a mythical black box. This builds awareness and knowledge with clients to make the techniques more accessible, well-known and therefore trusted.

Our overall mission is to break this geek cycle to grow the industry in terms of size and commercial maturity:

  • Get more people aware of, and interested in, careers in data.
  • Ensure these people are commercially aware and able to communicate complexity in a comprehensible way.

Our industry is very exciting and the work we do with clients is getting more and more useful with every project. We want to make sure this is continued and that data becomes the backbone of all commercial decisions.

About the author

Michael Cross is director of Brightblue Consulting michael.cross@brightblueconsulting.co.uk

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Out of the Blue – August 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

Everyone’s on holiday, but it was GZA’s birthday (from hip hop group Wu Tang) last week so our first article includes him in a data visualisation…



Rza beats Shakespeare… Its official, Rza (also from the Wu) uses more vocab than Shakespeare, according to this very nifty interactive chart




Women are nicer than men… on the subject of words, check out this wordcloud comparing most used phrases of men vs women.  Men are so one dimensional.




Who wins in social? You tube wins the most widespread usage in this graph on social media providers, Facebook has the most users per day.




War on digital spend…interesting how most digital money used to come from display, but now mobile and video are growing rapidly.



Til next month, have a great few weeks!

Michael Cross

What makes social media work?

Having measured social media across a range of clients, we have gathered together some collective thoughts on what seems to be working.  And for some of our clients, the social media ROI has been very significant and can offer great value for your marketing money.

Bunch it up
The norm in social media planning is to spread low-level spend across the year.  However this pattern of spend returns a poor ROI: our analysis shows campaigns that have short, sharp bursts of intense activity over a constrained period of time (weeks rather than months) perform much better. These intense campaigns rise above the white noise of social media chatter, drive the cost per click lower, and ultimately deliver a higher return on investment.

Don’t preach, interact
Campaigns that create an interaction with audiences, again, perform better and generate a higher ROI. The campaigns that get the user involved, such as a competition or compelling (i.e. Humourous) messages, are much more likely to move people to purchase. Those that just preach at the consumer tend to perform badly.

Social gives you a great opportunity to focus on target consumers and we have found that social is especially effective in reaching niche audiences

And that’s it for now.  We will update as and when we uncover more exciting observations.

If you would like some more reading on social media ROI, you can read our best practice article published with the MRS and IPA here.

Michael Cross

Out of the Blue – July 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

It’s holiday time, schools are out for the summer and on the 24th July Heathrow airport had it’s busiest day ever, with 129,648 passengers expected to have taken off on that day alone. So if you were one of them and reading this on a beach while sipping a cocktail, send us a #wishbrightbluewerehere tweet postcard to @BrightblueGB please…




Packing… Have you got everything? If you are anything like me, your suitcase is full to the brim, you are sitting on your case struggling to zip it up. 8 pairs of shoes are essential for a 7 day trip, aren’t they? How much is the contents of your suitcase worth?




Catching your plane… you get to the airport and there are thousands, like yourself, jetting off to destinations all over the world. It feels that everyone is on the move, and millions are…. Check out the interactive map to see how busy our skies really are…




You get to your destination… the sun is shining and everyone seems a lot happier than at home. See how happy the country you are visiting is…



If you are going away have a fantastic break, and remember to put on your sun cream. If not, and you’re local, pop along to see us and we’ll buy you an ice cream.

Amy Pritchard


Out of the Blue – June 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

Deconstructing the World population…
… and putting it all into one, two or three dimensions isn’t an easy job, you’ve got all 7.3 billion people to deal with! If you put everyone in one line how many times would it go around the equator or to the Moon and back? Find out here.

How do we move in cities?
Did you know that London is the fifth most active city? (Not)surprisingly just over the third of Amsterdamers cycle and nearly three quarters of LAers prefer driving. This website tells you more.

Sea level rise – are we in danger?
This interactive map shows how different levels of flooding might affect our lives. Never mind Londoners, at +13 m level nearly all of the Netherlands go under water, so does Bangkok and Shanghai. No more cycling dear Amsterdamers!

Spurious correlations
What has cheese consumption got to do with people killed by their bedsheets? Or the age of Miss America with murders by hot objects? Apparently these and a few more sweet couples move hand in hand over time.

Jekaterina Diniz


Out of the Blue – May 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

The Great Wall
Take a look inside China’s Great (fire)Wall. Which popular sites are blocked and why?

Let’s build our own Oscar winner!
What are the necessary ingredients for winning an Oscar? This nice interactive info-graphic will tell you all the secrets for success.

Are earthquakes bigger than we really think?
This article explains why earthquakes could be a lot bigger than what we usually perceive them to be.

Football season is over… let’s take a look at some stats!
This Interactive chart takes you through the records of all the premier league clubs, compared to their net transfer budget.

Prokopis Ellinas




Out of the Blue – April 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

Orbital Objects

This amazing visualisation uses NASA data to map all the objects floating around in the earth’s orbit. The amount of space debris (defunct spacecraft) is shocking!

A mature taste in music?

Is it true that music was better back in the good old days? This article attempts to answer that question with some interesting results. It also answers the perennial question: Does having kids change your taste in music?

AI is now taking over our favourite games

Are you a fellow game addict? An AI has been developed to complete the popular mobile game 2048. You may not be able to beat the high score but you can at least learn some optimal strategies.

The social media battle for Number 10

With the UK General Election on the horizon, political discussion on social media is exploding. See Party mentions and sentiment analysis in this beautiful real-time Twitter visualisation.

Also, we have moved into a new office! Find our new address here.

Andy Jones


Out of the Blue – March 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

What does my computer really think of me?
Simply paste text from anything you’ve written – e-mails, tweets or any other source – into Watson and it will give you a full, totally impartial, breakdown of all your personality traits.

You wait ages for a bus…
…then someone comes along, analyses TfL’s bus datafeed, and proves there’s only a 1 in 10 chance that two come along at once.

Are you your perfect partner?
A study of data from eHarmony suggests that all people are really looking for in a partner is someone quite similar to themselves.

Rumbled by statistics
Think you’ve got away with cheating on a test? Think again. A biology teacher runs a quick statistical test to identify several cheaters in his class.

Brightblue Videos!
We’ve made a video explaining how we use econometrics to do what we do in a super condensed 30 seconds, plus you can find out all about Brightblue and check out our offices here.

Happy Easter everyone!

Spencer Lucas


Out of the Blue – February 2015

Out of the blue

Interesting snippets from the world of data

The Super Bowl guide to advertising optimisation
Companies spent between $2m and $13m on Super Bowl spots, but how well did they use them? YouTube views help uncover the winning formula.

The random function on Spotify is not random at all
Spotify received lots of complaints from users that the random function on its music streaming service was not random at all. They responded by making it even less random…

Arts teachers are strange and economics is really hard
This online tool compiles over 14m teacher reviews to reveal which words students most commonly use to describe their teachers.

Ever wondered about the optimal strategy for finding Wally?
No, nor have we. This guy has and he has some top tips which can be used to impress your kids no end, as well as some statistical techniques they may find less interesting.

Happy (Chinese) new year everyone!

Terry Fribence


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