Engineering teams should have an Analyst role

Happy New Year! I look forward to a fun year of blogging – I have a number of hopefully interesting posts brewing involving: text analytics, college athletic conference comparisons, Big Data, the Open Source movement, former employers, and of course, chessboxing. The caveat is that I only post when it doesn’t cut into my regular work, and I really can’t spare much time these days. So we’ll see how much of that I get to!

Thanks to Dare Obasanjo I found an interesting response to a Quora question on “What does a Product Manager at Facebook do?”

The top response includes a breakdown of the various engineering roles at Facebook, including “Analyst”:

Analyst: when we’d get too carried away in debates in meetings, one of the eng managers would often remark: "warning: we are entering a data-free zone."  The meaning was that without grounding our arguments in data, we’re just talking about opinions.  The analysts at FB are crucial for keeping everyone grounded in actual numbers.  How well/badly are we doing?  What should be our measure of success?  How do we tell if something is broken?  Analysts play a huge role at Facebook, which will continue to be true as the company grows larger.

This strikes me as a pretty good idea.

The obvious counter is, “Do you really need a separate job description for this? Shouldn’t everyone on the team be an Analyst? Shouldn’t everyone use data to inform decisions?” Well, yes, certainly. But I like the idea of a defined role that attaches this responsibility to a particular person. After all, everyone on an engineering team should be concerned about quality, yet most agree that it is a good idea to have a Test/QA job function. Just as an effective QA team builds a culture that values quality, an effective analyst has the potential to build a culture of data-driven decision making. Additionally, by having an Analyst role this allows for specialization in the form of techniques (regression, data mining, optimization, data collection) and tools – just as many engineering teams have a “performance guru” who can profile anything, anywhere, any time.

On the other hand, I’m speculating. I have never worked on a team with such a role. Have you?


Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

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