From student to professional in precisely one step

I originally intended this post for data-practitioners, their bosses and those who are both. Based on the small but noisy response it got, I now know I was wrong: this applies to any erstwhile student who has ever managed or been managed. That’s quite a lot more people. Enjoy.

(Original title: A-Level business data: a contradiction in terms)

To the workers:  If you work in data, you need maths.  If you are the rare beast who works in data but hated maths in school, you want to read this.  If you are the (more common) beast that grazes on data and enjoyed maths at school, you don’t have to admit that to anyone else but you need to read this.

To the bosses: you are where you are in life because you’re good.  Congratulations.  A lot is expected of you in your role, I understand.  Forgive me for simplifying, then, by baldly stating the one thing you need to do above all: care.  Caring is the sine qua non of management. (If you are a manager who disagrees with this then please feel free to sack yourself.)

To the workers: your boss doesn’t care.  Seriously.  Not always, anyway.  There exists this one thing, something close to your heart, that disinterests your boss. Deeply. That something is showing your method.  I hate to be the one to break it to you but every mathematics tutor you ever had has led you down the garden path. When they said “show your method” – and they all said it – that was subterfuge.  Quite simply, bosses want the result.  They don’t care about the method.

To the boss: sorry (but admit it, you don’t).

To the workers: not showing your method will harness your reputation.  This is counterintuitive.  After all, your formative mathematical years were spent showing your method.  Those pages of calculations were the stuff of glory, they were what made you good.  You are entitled to wonder what happened?  Surely your boss should care if you’re good?

To the boss: I know, I know, you already care about so much stuff.  Not only are there deliverables like profit, accountability, budget; there are hard to pin down tasks like time management and project planning; I won’t even get you started on sick days, holidays and quality of the coffee.  As for the freaking atmosphere round here. You can’t be expected to hold their hand through everything, right?

To the workers:  Actually, yeah, right.  Your boss can’t look after every little thing.  And that includes your method.  The value in the underlying logic (ie your method) has been rendered invisible by your progress[1].  Your method is for you and your professional pride.

The rub: teachers want to see your method because they need to know you’re doing it right. Your boss needs to be able to assume this.  In school you start at zero and attain a mark with your working.  At work you start with 100% and lose marks as you go along; your method is assumed perfect until an inquisition needs to be launched.  If you are working with data and considered competent then take your congratulations from me, right now, you deserve it because you made the maths take care of itself.

[1] For more advanced practitioners, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comment code!

(Image taken from this blog, also on Managing Up: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140620185735-156078-the-hard-truth-about-managing-up?articleId=9120317488791147589#comments-9120317488791147589&trk=sushi_topic_posts)

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