Why do technology companies hire economists, and what is their contribution? What kinds of problems do they work on?

In terms of complementing existing non-economist workers, I have found that economists bring some unique skills to the table.  First of all, machine learning or traditional data scientists often don’t have a lot of expertise in using observational data or designing experiments to answer business questions.  Did an advertising campaign work?  What would have happened if we hadn’t released the low end version of a product?  Should we change the auction design?  Machine learning is better at prediction, but less at analyzing “counter-factuals,” or what-if questions.

Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

This is not just a hiring problem, or a procurement problem. This is a management problem, and a cultural problem. The preferred method for implementing large technology projects in Washington is to write the plans up front, break them into increasingly detailed specifications, then build what the specifications call for. It’s often called the waterfall method, because on a timeline the project cascades from planning, at the top left of the chart, down to implementation, on the bottom right.

.. It is also a dreadful way to make new technology. If there is no room for learning by doing, early mistakes will resist correction. If the people with real technical knowledge can’t deliver bad news up the chain, potential failures get embedded rather than uprooted as the work goes on.


The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography

Mayer wanted to change the colors entirely — from blue and gray to purple and yellow.

Seth’s body language shifted immediately. He looked deflated. He was going to have to tell his people the news.

Changing the color of a product like Yahoo Mail sounds easy, but it’s not. Mayer’s decision meant that some unlucky group of people were going to have to manually go and change the color in literally thousands of places — all while working under a deadline.

.. In this view, when Mayer forced already burnt-out people to work even harder at the very last minute to make sure a product went out as good as it could be, she set a marker for the new era of Yahoo

Knewton: Technological Determinalism: The Unstoppable Wave

Education didn’t use to work this way. There may have been unpredictable one-off events, but there were no system-wide surprises. But that isn’t how digital industries — which education is now becoming — work. A technology wave can take years or decades to develop, but when it crests it reshapes everything in its path. It is unstoppable, but with some intelligent foresight it is partially predictable.

.. In classic disruptive innovation style, this may initially gain widespread traction with courses a given student’s school doesn’t offer, and which hence are only available to that student online from other institutions.