Monday, May 24, 2010

Education in web analytics: Teaching kids how to measure the internet proper

Following my previous post on education for those in the web analytics industry, I thought I'd have a look at the opportunites for those still in full-time education to develop the skills to enter the industry.

Recent events have encouraged me to take a more active interest in the education system, and although I'd never encourage my children to follow my career just for the sake of it, I've been thinking about which courses I would recommend to a student to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to be a success in the digital measurement industry. In my opinion, there are two sides to this. The first is a generic internet education, which I would hope would be included in the "standard" ICT courses (for those in the UK) up-to and including GCSE level.

Delving into the internet section of an ICT course, children would need to be made aware of general internet skills. Being taught about the privacy and safety implications of using the internet should be as important as the Green Cross Code. I would also consider a basic understanding of how websites are built, covering coding and infrastructure to be an important part of any ICT course. Then, more specifically related to the web analytics area, a discussion of the way sites are tracked; rather than looking at it from the standard "all tracking is evil and intrusive" perspective, considering why businesses do it, and how it could be beneficial to the customer when executed correctly. One would also hope this would also be covered in any Business Studies course available today. Finally, it would be desirable if they covered internet terminology so that once and for all people could distinguish between visits and hits! Obviously these topics would likely constitute a module or part of one in a larger ICT course, but imagine how much better the world would be if all youngsters were taught this...

The second of the two key areas that a student would need schooling in relates to analytical nature of the role. Assuming that the student had covered the more generic knowledge just discussed, they would then need to build on that with both further education and development. Of course, as before, there's no way that a course specifically tailored to web analytics would exist at this level, but rather the student would need a combination of broader courses to provide the more detailed knowledge required. These courses might include statistics (for obvious reasons), with a course in econometrics helping to teach them about models and statistical tests, and a course in marketing to give them the background of the problems they'll be looking to solve in the future. However, being a web analyst requires more than a knowledge of data manipulation and sales; a critical and curious mind which questions assumptions and asks the right questions is paramount. No one course can create this, but something which encourages detailed analysis and looking at an argument from multiple angles would help; perhaps philosophy or history?

Once they've got this far they'd have a good idea of the theory behind the internet, and the necessary skills set to analyse and ask questions of the data. All they'd need then is some hands-on experience of the role itself - some pre-on-the-job training. And this is where the innovative Analysis Exchange comes in, linking students, mentors and donors (non-profit and NGO websites). The mentors provide the tuition to the student, who provides a piece of analysis to a grateful charitable website. Not only does this give students a fantastic opportunity to both learn and shine, but due to the close-knit nature of the web analytics community, it gives them a great way to advertise their skills on completion of the project.

So there you go kids - that's how to get into the #measure industry. For those of you already in the industry, what would you recommend to an aspiring student?

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