James Governor's Monkchips

RedMonk is Hiring: Data Scientists/Griots Please Apply

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RedMonk is hiring. RedMonk 1.0 was all about voice, and we certainly owned that, operating at a scale far exceeding our notional size. but with Coté leaving its a chance to recalibrate – RedMonk 2.0 will be about making the voice richer and more authoritative with data.

Doing our day jobs has meant than Stephen and I have probably not moved quite as quickly as we might have on RedMonk Analytics this year. But all that is set to change over the next few months, and our hiring strategy will almost certainly reflect that. But we don’t just need a data nerd, we need a story teller. Which is one reason I loved this piece by Chris Heathcote, pointing to a job description at Last.FM – The data griot.

A few months ago last.fm started looking for a data griot – in their words, a griot “must … have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his understanding of history formidable.”

I thought this was a fascinating take on the need within companies for stories. It’s normally gussied up in other language – research (stories of the past and present) & design, futurism, innovation, even business contingency (all stories of potential futures). Companies spend a lot of money looking for these stories. Traditional product companies had to ask people and users to tell their stories, normally through market research. Web companies are at a huge advantage: they have rivers of usage data flowing through their servers, and the problem inverses – how to make sense and tease out meaning and interest from such a torrent.

So employing an internal data griot makes a lot of sense: someone who can spend the time looking for both large trends and individual needs and uses that illuminate and portend. It’s a hard job, needing a mix of skills rarely found – a smidgen of hard maths and statistics, a pinch of programming, and dessert spoons of various liberal arts. The Economist (sub required) posits them as data scientists (a position Flickr are currently looking for), but this misses the ability to ask interesting questions, and having hunches – being so immersed in the data that relevancy screams out.

Alper followed up with Distilling meter, rhyme and verse from your database

The posited Data Griot is a great position that combines institutional knowledge and knowledge of data with public understanding. There is so much work to be done in this field to increase public awareness of the importance of and practices around data that it’s quite staggering. Nice on Last.fm too to have coined such an apt phrase for it.

So the Griot has both a deep knowledge of history and trends as well as a finger on the pulse of current events and combines both to create acute relevance. She is ad res and can combine resources both within and outside of the organization with social/technical/design skills of her own to massive effect.

At this point you might be wondering just what. the. hell. is. a. griot?

According to Wikipedia:

griot (play /ˈɡri./; French pronunciation: [ɡʁi.o]) or jeli (djeli or djéli in French spelling) is a West African storyteller. The griot delivers history as a poet, praise singer, and wandering musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition. As such, they are sometimes also called bards. According to Paul Oliver in his book Savannah Syncopators, “Though [the griot] has to know many traditional songs without error, he must also have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his knowledge of local history formidable.” Although they are popularly known as ‘praise singers’, griots may also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment.

Arguably today’s rappers are the new griots – certainly you can imagine griots had an amazing ear for rhythm and tone in story telling.

So if you love developer tools, methods and mores, and want to be a developer advocate – pushing the biggest tech companies on the planet to do a better job serving developers, if you can tell stories that resonate, can riff with authority, and you know how to get the most out of logs and available data sources to build and stand up thesis about Developer Experience and how to improve it we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re not an industry analyst so much the better -we can turn you into one. But a constant curiosity and an analytical mind- those are essential.

ping me on jgovernor at redmonk dot com if you’d like to talk.




  1. […] via RedMonk is Hiring: Data Scientists/Griots Please Apply – James Governor’s Monkchips. […]

  2. That sounds absolutely fascinating. I had an image of being caught up in tornado of bits and pieces of things, sound and light, wet and oily, and emerging every now and then with a pearl of insight. Too bad I’ve got mostly right brain and no aptitude for programming or complicated numbers. Excellent brain exposition, though. Will figure out if I know anyone griot-like.

    1. monique – lovely way with words!

  3. Some disparate threads:

    I’ve spent a significant part of my corporate life advocating for better developer tools and new technologies most of the times against hostile conservatism. Seeing the toolsets my friends at even the more innovative consultancy shops are stuck with makes me glad I got out of that business.

    That isn’t to say that developer user experience hasn’t come a long way and people like you are moving the industry forward inch by inch. I am glad for that, because I am both a developer and a user. Both styles of experience have a lot in common, but experience/interaction design for developer tools still looks like it is being filled in piecemeal by the occasional developer without wider best practices being formulated.

    Combining a developer and a data centric mindset is I think essential and it is good to see that the job type identified by last.fm and Chris back then is coming in demand now. That shows that the need is percolating up through the corporate consciousness, but I think it is going to take some time still before education and other institutions catch up.

    That is mostly what we at Hack de Overheid are busy with now. We are collaborating with corporations and government on open data, but still too often the results of our work fall on fallow ground initially (though they often take root further down the road than we would have expected). Our next big push is going to be to operationalize developer and data literacy in such a way that we can spread it through society and institutions at scale. Ideas on how to do this are welcome.

  4. […] to get recognition for writing from long long in the past. James linked to an old piece I wrote about getting stories from your […]

  5. It is so true the storytelling is the key to success–both in the corporate world and in life! It’s a well known fact in IBM that developers who are strong communicators have the most career opportunities. Thanks for a new word, too. Cheers, Amy

    1. hey amy – that is a superb point about ibm careers – arguably good story telling is important for anyone that wants to get ahead, whether in development, marketing, sales or even R&D (good stories get funded).

  6. […] we started on the search to hire an analyst with deep analytics skills a few months back I had no idea we’d find somebody so good. We had plenty of outstanding […]

  7. His wit…
    His understanding of history…
    Interesting pronouns there says so much about your company

  8. This of course is in reference to Last.fm hiring ad

    1. ironprincess points well made. in our job ads we certainly try to avoid being gender specific, though sometimes things slip through the cracks. thanks for pointing this out.

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