Google rejects big data

Comments by a classmate are newsworthy for a rare call on talent sourcing and higher education. They’re taken from the New York Times interview In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal. Workforce insights by an analytics firm like Google can uniquely inform: Many firms lack analytical ROI comparable to Google’s, and academia, for example, is too removed from private workforces for some granular assessments.

The general topic got attention in the Harvard Business Review blog post, Should Higher Education Be Free?. If one no longer needs a transcript, GPA or test score to work at Google, maybe the conventional schooling dispensing them isn’t precisely needed either. For Google is no subversive to academia or a Peter Thiel. It’s among ideal customers to academia in the private sector. Elsewhere, countries with higher academically trained populations like Canada or Japan show lower GDP per capita and do relatively less innovation than the less educated U.S.

Previously, firms have quantified workforce terminal degrees, for example, to signal firm value. In contrast, Google is here quantifying a lack thereof as competitive. This insight should concern stakeholders in conventional academia as well as those sourcing premium talent.

Q. Other insights from the data you’ve gathered about Google employees?

A. One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college. –Laszlo Bock

Q. Can you elaborate a bit more on the lack of correlation?

A. After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer. –Laszlo Bock

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