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Hypothesis testing

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Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil give the rundown on what a data scientist is, what to look for and how to hire them. It's an article in Harvard Business Review, so it's geared towards managers, and I felt like I was reading a horoscope at times, but there are some interesting tidbits in there.

Data scientists don’t do well on a short leash. They should have the freedom to experiment and explore possibilities. That said, they need close relationships with the rest of the business. The most important ties for them to forge are with executives in charge of products and services rather than with people overseeing business functions. As the story of Jonathan Goldman illustrates, their greatest opportunity to add value is not in creating reports or presentations for senior executives but in innovating with customer-facing products and processes.

I still call myself a statistician. The main difference between data scientist and statistician seems to be programming skills, but if you're doing statistics without code, I'm not sure what you're doing (other than theory).

Update: This recent panel from DataGotham also discusses the data scientist hiring process. [Thanks, Drew]

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Social learning start-up Grockit launched Learnist on Thursday, a stand-alone product separate from Grockit’s flagship online collaborative test preparation service.

Learnist builds on Grockit’s social teaching concept while adding another element that company founder Farb Nivi claims is crucial: The visual element.

Think of Learnist as something of a mashup between Pinterest and Wikipedia. Users find content from across the Web — videos, news stories, music, Soundcloud links and what have you — and post it to a personal board that other users can follow. It’s ideal, Nivi says, for teachers who want to curate multimedia lessons for students to follow, though without the feel of a stodgy, traditional lesson plan.

Grockit has already garnered a following, attracting more than a million users through its test prep service product alone. But the user pool for online test prep is only so large. With Grockit’s wiki-like Learnist product, the company hopes to spread its reach far beyond the cramming crowd. Facebook integration, which the product indeed has, will only help to further the cause.

Naturally, iPad and iPhone apps are in the works, to be expected in the coming weeks.

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kevin o'connor

This is a guest post from Kevin O'Connor, founder of DoubleClick, and currently CEO and founder of FindTheBest.

As an entrepreneur, turned VC, turned entrepreneur, I’m constantly asked how good ideas come about, how to start a business and take it to its full potential and what to focus on and what to ignore when running a company.  After founding or co-founding several companies, including the Intercomputer Communications Corporation, DoubleClick and now, FindTheBest—a data-driven comparison engine—I’ve come up with 10 key tips for young entrepreneurs.

1. Look for a big problem

Find a big problem that addresses a large audience or market and then come up with the best solution. Don’t get caught up in temporary fads that will come and go; think long term. Figure out what problems you and your peers have come a crossed and find the best solution.

2. Distinguish between fads and trends

Oftentimes people mistake fads for trends. While a trend is a behavior that grows into a permanent change, a fad is something that grows quickly in popularity but eventually fades away. (Think the pet rock vs. social media.) Make sure that whatever new idea you come up with sets or follows a growing trend.

3. Look for disjoints

New technology trends cause disjoints, which in turn open up space for new inventions. Think about how the smartphone has opened up space for the App market or how social media companies like Facebook have opened up a space for online social gaming or broad-scale photo sharing.

4. Innovate constantly

Great entrepreneurs are seldom satisfied inventing just one successful product—they’re constantly innovating and looking for ways to solve the big problems around them.  Success is oftentimes a numbers game; you need to come up with a lot of bad ideas before you come up with the great idea, so be persistent and don’t give up.

5. Test and scale

At FindTheBest, we’re constantly testing new ideas and products. We never launch anything unless it has been through several rounds of testing. But even after throughout testing, there’s the question of scale. If a new idea isn’t scalable, you’re probably better off scrapping it and looking for something that is scalable.

6. Stand firmly behind your convictions

As an entrepreneur, you need to believe in your ideas with such conviction because no matter what your idea or vision, there will be skeptics.  I remember when I first heard about a company that wanted to bring the idea of a flea market to the Web; I thought it was the worst idea.  A few years later, eBay—a multi-billion dollar company—was born.

7. Know when to pivot

As an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to fail—so long as you fail quickly. The sooner you come to that conclusion, the sooner you can pivot or even completely scrap your idea and start on a new idea—drawing from all that you’ve learned from previous failures.

8. Focus on your customers, not your competitors

Many companies focus too much on the competition rather than on their customers.  When you’re focusing on what you’re competitor is doing you: 1) Are already one step behind and 2) Take your focus off what really matters.

9. Always think about how you can destroy your own business

At DoubleClick, we were always thinking about how we could destroy our own business.  If you aren’t aware of what your weaknesses are and how your competition could take advantage of your weaknesses, your competitors will and they will destroy you. The most important thing is to serve the customers better than all the competition does.  Many companies make the mistake of focusing on the competition instead of on their customers.

10. Move

Successful entrepreneurs are quick movers because they realize that just having a multi-billion dollar idea doesn’t mean anything unless they get it out there before someone else does.

Kevin O’Connor, co-founder of DoubleClick, is the founder and CEO of FindTheBest, a data-driven comparison engine. He is also the author of the book, The Map of Innovation: Creating Something Out of Nothing.

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Often designers design stuff (products/services/interfaces etc.): to fit user personas, to solve problems, to make it beautiful etc. but don’t often consider the how it psychologically interfaces with the user. Such user experience design draws heavily from human psychological behaviors that are a result of millions of years of evolution. These behaviors will not change tomorrow or even in the next 10 years, therefore we should be aware of what these behaviors are and how our designs should take them into consideration.

I was therefore really excited to stumble on this article “The Psychologist’s View of UX Design” by Susan Weinschenk which is the most comprehensive collection, I have seen, of these “truths” of human behaviors. For my and your reference, I’ve taken the liberty to summarize the list here and added a sprinkling of my thoughts.

1. People Don’t Want to Work or Think More Than They Have To
Consider simplicity, lead by example i.e. show users how it is done, provide what people only really need, and help users make decisions.

2. People Have Limitations
Remember information overload? This is where it rears its ugly head. Keep information on a need to know basis, clump and/or create visual priority.

3. People Make Mistakes
People will make mistakes, respect that and try not to make them feel stupid. Having an “Undo” is vital and the best error message is none at all. Oh, do make sure the errors, if any, are not fatal please?

4. Human Memory Is Complicated
Human memory is prone to errors and inconsistency. It’s BS to say, “oh they will remember how to use it after using it for the first time”. Susan says “People can only remember about 3-4 items at a time. The ‘7 plus or minus 2’ rule is an urban legend”. From my anecdotal experience, I agree with her.

5. People are Social
People are social animals and will listen to others for guidance even if they don’t know that person. This is probably why many companies that the 5 star rating system seriously. Furthermore, the famous 150 “friends” social limit does apply. Any greater, the bond between people weakens.

6. Attention
People are easily distracted; design for focus or for attention, not both. You will be surprised how often both things happen at the same or at the wrong time.

7. People Crave Information
Susan says it best:

People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. Having more choices makes people feel in control. Feeling in control makes people feel they will survive better.

Don’t forget that feedback, such as at acknowledgement chime or a message, is also considered as information.

8. Unconscious Processing
Be careful in creating the wrong associations with your design, particularly important with communication and object design. There is a lot of subtle processing that happen especially through the visual sense, and this impacts greatly on decision-making. That is why, for the longest time, aesthetics was the key driver for the definition of good design.

9. People Create Mental Models
Mental models are the reason why Skeuomorph Design is so important in user experience design. If user research cannot determine a relevant mental model, use Metaphors to help with the ease of understanding and acceptance of a new concept or technology.

10. Visual System
Despite knowing that our visual sense is the strongest sense, this insight surprised me:

Research shows that people use peripheral vision to get the “gist” of what they are looking at. Eye tracking studies are interesting, but just because someone is looking at something straight on doesn’t mean they are paying attention to it.

I do encourage you to check out the full article at UX Mag, it is well worth the read.

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