Q&A: Can developers be data analysts?

This is the first post in the q&a series.

During a recent presentation at SAP Research, one the researchers from the audience threw a friendly challenge that sounded like this:

I like the argumentation around humane assessment. But, it relies on developers having to create their own tools and to use them for decisions, and I believe most developers are not able to do proper data analysis.

My answer has two parts.

First, it is not true that developers cannot be data analysts. Most of them already are, even if unknowingly. Let's take SAP. Most of what SAP developers do is to build software systems that store data, transform it, and then present it in a form suitable for decision making. It's true that the data is not about software, but it's analysis nevertheless. It's also true that these developers are not the ones making the decisions based on this data either, but they do know how to support it. The capability is there. What is missing is the know-how for how to apply the very same techniques to software problems.

In the end, we deal with an educational issue, and of course, in practice, it does take a while to switch the state of mind. This brings me to the second part of the answer. Not every developer needs to be a data digger from the beginning. It is precisely for this reason that humane assessment introduces the role of the assessment facilitator. In most contexts I saw, one facilitator can support some 8 developers. It is similar to how a system administrator can support multiple developers.

Let's look at the system administrator case more closely. Even if developers are not specialists in system administration they are still able both to formulate requirements and to utilize the feedback they receive from the specialists. Similar dynamics are at play in between developers and facilitators. Even if a developer does not understand all the details of how certain parts of software analysis are realized, he will still be able to interpret and act on the results of the analysis.

All in all:

  1. We should give developers more credit.
  2. Not everyone needs to know everything. Facilitators are the data specialists in the team. Everyone else just ask questions and transform the results into actions. This is achievable with a small initial investment.

Ask more questions via @humaneA, or @girba, or by email.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 19 April 2012, 6:22 pm with tags assessment, q&a link