One thing we have noticed recently is the rising number of Ph.D. economists and people with economics training that have been hired by tech firms.  In a recent post on quora.com, Stanford GSB Professor Susan Athey, answers the questions:

Why do technology companies hire economists, and what is their contribution? What kinds of problems do they work on?

Professor Athey argues that

… economists bring some unique skills to the table.  First of all, machine learning or traditional data scientists often don’t have a lot of expertise in using observational data or designing experiments to answer business questions.  Did an advertising campaign work?  What would have happened if we hadn’t released the low end version of a product?  Should we change the auction design?

But she warns that

Economists do face challenges, however.  Since they are often in the minority, they have to learn to speak the “native” language (engineering, MBA-speak, legalese), and in tech firms the fact that an idea is well-accepted or standard in economics doesn’t get you anywhere.  Economists have to make their ideas convincing from first principles, and they also need to learn how to operate in a technical environment to carry out empirical work. 

For those of you who don’t know, Professor Athey is a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal. She currently serves as a long-term consultant to Microsoft.


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