With the high-school graduation season over, it’s time for grads and parents alike to celebrate and relax a bit – and maybe enjoy a long summer before recently minted graduates start college or a new job.

But here is something to contemplate (hopefully not too strenuously) over the coming summer weeks and months: What is the next learning step in the graduate’s preparation for a future career?

Whether a recent graduate plans to study 18th Century English literature in college or jump right into the workforce in any number of jobs, I have a one-word suggestion for them: Data.

Specifically, start learning about the analysis of data.

As seemingly odd as that might sound – perhaps even odder than the elder gentleman who recommends “plastics” to the young Dustin Hoffman character in the classic movie “The Graduate” – the simple fact is that our lives and careers, moving forward, will be increasingly influenced and determined by data analytics in just about every field, from what consumer products we buy to the type of medical treatments our doctors prescribe.

The data analytics era is already here. We see it every time we surf the web and those same pesky advertisements keep following us around, from site to site, no matter how much we try to lose them. Those ads are the result of data-analytic computations by Google and others designed to specifically figure out, mathematically, our consumer interests based on past purchases and web browsing histories.

As ubiquitous as this type of data analytics may already seem, we haven’t seen nothing yet, as they say, and it’s going to change the way we live and work. This data revolution is, ultimately and obviously, the result of the huge leap in recent decades in computer technology and the reams of data generated and collected by corporations, academic and public policy researchers and others.

But it’s only been recently that many have started to ask: What do we do with all this data, and how do we do it? In a nutshell, data analytics is about humans telling computers, via computer coding, what they want so that computers can tell humans what they want – and what they may well need.

And this means that humans – especially those young ones just starting out in their careers – need to learn how computers “think,” or, more accurately, how they’re coded to make computations that impact our lives.

(Next page: The need for Data Analytics 101)


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