Roger Peng asks a good question on his blog this morning: How would you know if someone is great at data analysis? He says that while he has worked with some great data analysts, the nature of their work is that it’s hard to evaluate the work of someone you don’t know personally. And as Josh Grant pointed out, this isn’t unique to data analysts.
I immediately thought of a database administrator I know. Everyone who works with her knows she’s great at her job, but I doubt anyone who doesn’t know her has ever said “They must have a great DBA!”
Matthew Crawford argues in Shop Class as Soulcraft that white collar work in general is hard to objectively evaluate and that this explains why offices are so political. Employees are judged on their sensitivity and other nebulous attributes because unlike a welder, for example, they can’t be judged directly on their work. He argues that blue collar workers have greater freedom of speech at work because their work can be objectively evaluated.
Colleagues can identify great data analysts, DBAs, and others whose work isn’t on public display. But this isn’t easy to do through a bureaucratic process, and so technical competence is routinely under-compensated in large organizations. On the other hand, reputation spreads more efficiently outside of organizational channels. This may help explain why highly competent people are often more appreciated by their professional communities than by their employers.
Related post: It doesn’t pay to be the computer guy