2016: The Year of the Data Jedi

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Bencke headshotIn this special guest feature, Matt Bencke, CEO and co-founder of Spare5, sheds light on how “Data Jedis,” aka those that can translate and manage Big Data, will be the ones welding light sabers in 2016. Matt is CEO and co-founder of Spare5, the human insights platform that offers business solutions for big data problems through micro-tasks. He is an entrepreneur, proven operations leader and change agent who drives new business and product strategies based on deep analysis, inspired leadership and focused execution. Matt has accrued multiple strong successes across technology, strategy, business development, design, e-commerce, marketing and manufacturing in his 20+ year career. His passion is attracting great talent, fostering a meaningful team culture, and taking performance to new levels. He has created, advised, led and grown businesses ranging from several millions to several billions in annual revenue.

In 2015, we saw the partnership between machines and humans awaken. Innovators are creating new industries, and transforming old ones. IBM unveiled Watson, the first open cognitive computing technology platform that promises to enhance, scale and accelerate human expertise. IBM’s computers have won in chess and Jeopardy, but we’ve barely begun to see the implications of AI. IBM is enabling smart plush toys, augmented medicine, and education; Microsoft is telling us how we feel; Google open-sourced TensorFlow, its new machine learning platform (though you need to read the fine print on “open”); Facebook began experimenting with a ubiquitous personal assistant, M; Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston and others are creating OpenAI to advance digital intelligence; Accenture is doubling down; and the broader ecosystem is growing so fast it’s hard to map (though Shivon Zilis does a great job).

There’s more innovation happening in AI than I can summarize here. Suffice to say that just about every part of our lives that benefits from software, will soon improve due to AI. Oh wait, that’s just about every part of our lives. Compound this innovation wave with the overwhelming amount of “big data” available, the ubiquity of connected devices and sensors (“internet of things”), and the power of cloud-powered computing, and well, 2016 is shaping up to be a watershed in tech. In 2016, human-machine partnerships will change retail, security, policing, education, basic R&D, weather forecasting, social interactions, driving, and the banking, financial and insurance industries. Just to name a few.

So what does all this mean for jobs in technology? This massive disruption does not bode unemployment lines, as some have feared. Instead, this disruption presents the opportunity to expand newer roles and create jobs. Individuals who plan ahead will enable machines and humans to work together harmoniously — think Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand which helped him defend against the dark side.



Twenty years ago everybody needed a web developer. More recently, everyone has needed more app developers. Professionals with these skills have been able to demand high pay and great benefits. Overall, technology continues to create opportunity for those with the right skills, and expand jobs where people add more value.

So what’s the next position of power in the workforce? The elusive “Data Jedi.” Employers need professionals who can translate and manage the looming tidal wave of Big Data threatening to overwhelm their businesses. In 2015, we’ve watched businesses across a wide span of industries strive to collect data. Data promised to create complex customer profiles, provide insights into market dynamics, and help personalize offerings at a massive scale and manageable costs. The problem, is that the business world got exactly what it demanded: an influx of Big Data. But Big Data needs to be unlocked to be useful.

Despite its massive promise, the harsh reality of cognitive computing is that it is limited by the power of the domain-specific human insights necessary to train, and constantly re-train it. In short, your AI is only as good as the Human Insights (“HI”) that power it. To sort through their logarithmically growing waves of data, business leaders need AI. To get useful AI, they need HI. To train, retrain, and apply the resulting insights, businesses need a whole new breed of Data Jedis. Desperately.

What’s a Data Jedi? There are many kinds. At Spare5, we are hiring statisticians, coders strong in machine learning, data engineers, data scientists and even physicists. We are encouraging engineers to take classes like those offered by Coursera and Galvanize. We are looking for, and working with, product managers, project managers, database engineers, and back-end engineers who specialize in mapping, parsing, cleaning, analyzing and building powerful data sets.

Last night I was enjoying year-end cocktails with some good friends. One of them, we’ll call her Janet, was reflecting back on 2015, and looking ahead to 2016. She is an engineer with a strong background in math, and she’s been out of the work force, raising 4 children, for over a decade. Now she is hungry to get back into it, on her terms – which for her (and so many others) means flexibility, intellectual growth, and the fun of joining a hot field. She and her family are also about to go see the new Star Wars for the first time. You can imagine the advice I gave her. 🙂

In 2016 the “Data Jedi” will have the power to wield their light sabers for the good of humankind. Yes, AI is changing software, and thus the world. But dig a bit deeper, and you will realize that the real power lies with those who will enable this revolution. The Data Jedi will teach machines to function in favor of the right force—the workforce.


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