The Holiday List

What to Get for A Person Who Calculates Everything

Talking with colleagues and friends in business lately, I’ve taken a new tack.  After all, it’s the season that celebrates gifts - large and small.  After greetings, I’m asking, “What’s on your list this year?”  I get all sorts of answers - from the sublime (typically, peace) to the ridiculous (mostly, political) – but it’s the answers of a friend – call him Jerry for convenience, that I thought I’d share today.

Jerry is a first-class quant – another way of saying he has worked in Big Data (principally, but not exclusively, financial services) longer than most; his work has generated revenue, reduced cost, created and eliminated jobs, I’m sure.  I met him a week ago for coffee and after catching up on our families, I asked Jerry what was on his list.  After we’d talked about it, he agreed I could use his list in my musings – so long as I didn’t use his real name (he hates unsolicited calls).

More or Less

So, what do you get for a person who is awash in data? Yep… you guessed it … More Data.   Big Data (IoT), unstructured data, mobile data – he asked for them all. Specifically, he was careful to ask for more data he could actually expose to analysis.  He’s tired of hearing that new data on some pertinent phenomenon is available, only to learn nobody (his word, not mine), but nobody can provide the right data quickly.  Jerry loved the X-Files and he’s confident the truth’s out there … somewhere.  He’s a hammer longing for more nails.

In the category of “less”, Jerry ‘s request was familiar music. “I’d like to spend less time preparing data, so I could spend more time working on it.”  There was a look of resignation on his face, as he said it – and he quickly added, “but I guess that’s like wishing for the impossible”.  My mind raced – there must be some clever reference to Schrodinger’s cat that could re-cast his pessimism.  I wanted to speak, but held back, asking only for the next item.

When Jerry said, “More friends”, I started to panic – had I pushed him over the edge? “What do you mean?  You have lots of friends”, I said.  “Yea, but none where it counts … in IT”, he replied.  “When I walk the halls, I think they hide from me.  I try, but every time I ask for something, they shrug and talk about months and warehouses and walk away.”  “What should I do, I don’t know how to talk them?  What Is it?”

I started to respond.  I knew precisely what I wanted to say.  But before the words could form in my mouth, Jerry quickly added two more items - “Greater impact.  And less uncertainty, much less uncertainty”.  Then he paused.  I think he suspected he’d overwhelmed me; I must have looked like mall Santa without a pack.

A Giving Season

We all know that what Linus told Charlie Brown about the meaning of this season was essentially true.  So, in the spirit of giving and my most jovial voice, I told Jerry that he could have every one of his wishes – not a Santa’s promise, mind you, but more data, more analytic time, and more friends.  Yes, he could  even have greater certainty and wider impact.

I wondered whether he would believe me.  Didn’t it sound too incredible for words?  He’d used the word impossible deliberately, surely.  I told him where he could find this seemingly miraculous place wherein his dreams could be fulfilled.  He made a note in the little notebook he carries everywhere, thanked me with a warm smile, and said our conversation reminded him he needed to pick up several presents.  Big embrace and we parted.

Several days later he called.  I was busy and didn’t get to the phone before he switched into voice mail.  Later, I listened to Jerry’s message.

“Lee.  Jerry.  Wanted to call and thank you for the gift you gave me.  I took a look and, though I was a bit skeptical at the start, I was thrilled to find I can probably get all of those things I put on my list.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were on 34th Street.  Let’s talk soon.”

The abrupt sound of the dial tone startled me to the present.  And, while I can’t accelerate the sublime or eliminate the ridiculous, my talk with Jerry and the excitement in his message reminded me of the power of giving and the power of hoping for the seemingly improbable.  Here’s a wish you’ll share in Jerry’s joy in the New Year ahead.  Peace.

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