A valuable but often overlooked skill: analytics

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In many ways, the standard high school curriculum is largely unchanged from decades past. Math and science courses in particular have remained the same, although it’s easy to understand why: calculus remains calculus, physics remains physics, and algebra, well, algebra can be dated back to Babylon. But to get ahead in our digital world requires knowledge on a great many subjects that are rarely taught in school, so mastering them can provide a young person with major advantages -- among them the hugely important but oft-misunderstood subject of analytics.

The advent of computers and networks has created vast amounts of data. Just using technology leads to data being collected. Ever buy anything online or with your phone? Ever send an email? How about post a photo, or simply join a social network like Facebook or Twitter? Or maybe just put a few words into a search engine? Well guess what, by taking part in all that normal, everyday digital activity you’re creating data -- little bits of information about yourself, including who you are, where you are, what you’re looking at, what you’re saying, a million bits of data. Multiply that by millions of people, even billions of people, and you have what’s called Big Data. And that’s where analytics comes in: looking at and analyzing that data in order to gain knowledge.

Here’s a quick introduction to analytics. Head over to Google Trends and poke around. Google Trends displays Google’s search data based on a topic you choose. For instance you can find out how many people are searching on a particular sports team, politician or movie star, and see when, in time, those searches rose or fell. You can also break down the searches by location -- for instance a bit of research finds extreme interest in Norway in the game Pokemon Go.

At times Google offers a featured search, for example a year in review, or a look at politics, or entertainment. Now it’s hard to say what we can deduce from Google’s search data, but it’s certainly interesting. Now imagine the vast amounts of data captured by gigantic organizations like Facebook or Amazon, and the resources they devote to analytics -- even around the clock, every single day.

Google Trends is only scratching the surface of modern analytics, and Google offers free online learning to help master their data. But a young person who gets a solid grasp of analytics will have a skill set that is crucial in modern business, marketing and more. This will definitely offer a competitive advantage in the often cutthroat world of today’s commerce. If nothing else, it offers a window on how a significant part of the world works.
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