Curlews, curiosity, and certification

Long billed curlewUp early due to jet lag, yesterday I rode a rented bicycle to the nearby Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve for some birdwatching. I love travel for many reasons, but one is the chance to see different birds than those I see at my home in North Carolina. One of my favorites from yesterday is the Long-Billed Curlew, whose range doesn’t extend east, so it was great to see them while here in California.

So does this odd-looking bird relate to the conference? Well, last night Roberts, Chief Scientist at Talent Analytics, gave a talk at the Executive Forum  on “How to Build a Powerful Analytical Culture.” One of his key points is to hire for mindset and not skill, because skills like programming languages can be learned but traits like curiosity and creativity cannot. These two traits are the top ones identified among data scientists in their extensive study. Looking at the Long-billed Curlew walking along tidal mudflats, constantly digging its long bill below the surface to see what tasty things lie beneath, I thought about how they can be likened to data scientists. The very odd-looking bill this bird has is a creative adaptation that enables it to find food sources hidden beneath the surface. Coupled with curiosity to keep looking for unseen treasures, the Long-Billed Curlew can find insects and invertebrates other birds can’t find. They often forage for food in solitary fashion. Does my comparison now start to make sense?

Pasha pointed out the importance of executives in analytics, saying that they must set the vision at the top and clearly define what business questions they want their curlews to answer. They should protect their curlews by letting them do what they do well (dig their creatively-long bills into the data  and use their curiosity to find the answers to those business questions). It can be equally important not to make them do things for which they may not be well adapted (deal with politics, manage others, communicate). Before you bristle at generalizations, there is plenty of variation among curlews, and some may be good at these things, but plenty are not, so just let those who aren’t keep their bills busy digging for treasures in the data.

Before I heard Pasha’s remarks at the Executive Forum I led a meeting of the INFORMS Analytics Certification Board members attending the conference. One of our brand-new initiatives I am excited about is an entry-level certification, which we are tentatively calling the Associate Certified Analytics Professional. Unlike the current Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) program, it does not require related work experience but only that the applicant has a MS in a related degree program and passes the CAP exam. We have had demand from many of the analytics graduate programs, and we hope to launch this new program by the fall. To continue my curlew comparison, consider these the fledgling curlews, who have learned everything Mom and Dad curlew taught, them and are ready to leave the nest. They just don’t yet have experience living on their own and have shorter bills (true fact about Long-Billed Curlews). If you hire well-educated curlews who have long bills, creativity, and curiosity, they will learn fast on the job while their bills grow in to be even longer. And if you want to know that your curlews, fledgling or all grown up, have what it takes to succeed in that big world out there, consider hiring a certified curlew, aka Certified Analytics Professional!

Image credit: photo by Pacific Southwest Region// attribution by creative commons