Post updated November 25, 2018.
I didn’t plan on writing a new book so soon after accepting a full-time professor job at ASU. I had plenty of other things on my plate at the time. For several reasons, though, I just couldn’t resist.
First and foremost, the book that previous professors had used for my analytics capstone class did a poor job of explaining many of the concepts that I needed to cover. The quality of the writing made even simple concepts confusing to me, let alone the students. Most glaringly, the author didn’t include a single useful case study. Tying theory to practice is a core tenet of my teaching philosophy.
Yeah, most case studies ultimately fail, but this lack of real-world examples appalled me.1 Uber, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Airbnb, and other companies have been using analytics to make better business decisions for years. This is not new terrain. No, they weren’t making their algorithms available on Github, but it wouldn’t take that much research to make the book compelling, especially for college students. With all due respect to the author of that previous text, I knew that I could do a much better job with Analytics: The Agile Way. Before replacing that book, however, I searched for an alternative. This brings my to my second motivation.
As my friend and fellow author Doug Laney explains on the book’s back cover, the idea of applying Agile software-development methods to analytics is nascent. Agile Analytics: A Value-Driven Approach to Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing looked promising but it didn’t fit the contours of my analytics class. That is, there just didn’t appear to be an legitimate alternative to the textbook. After a few hours of searching, I decided to take the next logical step: to obtain department permission.
Books are seeds that often grow into trees.
Next, my department chair and boss assured me that I could use my new book in the class with one caveat: I would need to donate its proceeds to an ASU scholarship. This is standard policy and prevents the appearance of a conflict of interest. What’s more, I get to do something good beyond disseminating knowledge. My friend Matt McCarthy has done this for a long time with his books.
I had already improved many of the course lectures in my first semester. In other words, I had a good idea of what would work in a book à la Chris Rock in Peter Sims’ book Little Bets. Because of this, I had already developed a working structure of the book. Because of that, I wrote the 70,000-word manuscript in a mere 30 days.
Next, Wiley agreed to fast-track the production of the book. I doubt that I would have written so feverishly without the knowledge that I could use it in the summer of 2017.
Finally, as I’ve said many times, books are seeds that often grow into trees. The importance of analytics is only going to grow in the future. Why not get my thoughts out there and see what happens? No, there are no guarantees, but that same mind-set has served me well in the past. Case in point, this happened in November of 2018:
Whoever is buying my books in Oklahoma this week, thank you! #analytics pic.twitter.com/S7Zm5W5cyX
— Phil Simon (@philsimon) November 9, 2018
What say you?
- Student evaluations confirmed that the course’s materials weren’t exactly a hit.