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The Worst Advice Given to Market Researchers in 2015

Bad AdviceLast week, I heard a market research industry expert state that market research professionals who want to remain relevant in the profession must learn how to code. He asserted that because technology is so critical to the research profession’s evolution, coding is a required skill set.

This is the classic case of confusing technology with innovation. And in addition, confusing application planning with coding.

So to all who were in that audience (which will remain nameless), you can exhale. That was bad advice. You do not need to rush out and learn Java or FORTRAN. I promise.

You can be a research innovator without knowing how to code. Allow me to make two simple points to support this statement:

1. Innovation in our industry means finding ways to improve research quality, speed and cost. While clearly much of that comes from technology-based solutions that allow us to scale like never before, technology is not the only approach to these improvements. Consider the case of questionnaire design: we have had many innovations in the past few years that allow us to design better questionnaires that capture richer, more accurate insights. No questionnaire coding required.

2. Innovation that does require new software tools or applications to be developed can be “coded” or programmed elsewhere. What you, the research expert, might need to know: how to write software specifications so that you can hire someone to do the programming for you. There is a reason why 67% of large US organizations outsource application development (source: Computer Economics report, IT Outsourcing Statistics 2015/2016). Programming skills are now a commodity. What is not a commodity? Coming up with clever ideas and turning them into specifications for software that would perform them.

While the gentleman making the call for coding certainly meant well, his advice was poor. If you want to be an innovator, use your specific expertise to find ways to improve research quality, cost or speed. If the idea you have requires application development, write a software specification. The only Java you, the market research professional, needs? It comes in a cup.

[Want tips on writing software specs? Let us know by adding a comment below. If we get enough interest, Kathryn Korostoff will happily host a free webinar on the topic, co-hosted by a software development specialist.]




Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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6 thoughts on “The Worst Advice Given to Market Researchers in 2015”

  1. I heard the same comment and thought that he was giving a bit of basic advice to anyone going to college. Learn computer programing it is ‘safe bet’. However after reading your piece and giving it more consideration I wonder if he meant that an increasing number of activities are being done by computers. We all need to be finding ways to automate our skills- before someone else does. Imagine writing software that writes a questionnaire for us. Not a simple 3 question customer sat survey but a complicated 15 minute survey.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Alas–he very clearly stated that researchers need to know how to code. I agree with your point that sw is increasingly important–we can now automate things we never could have imagined. I bet a lo tof researchers could write awesome sw specs!!

  2. I’ve said that too and I say it for many reasons. Learning a brand new task when you don’t really have to reminds you how much you don’t know about some things and why you need to rely on experts. It also makes it FAR easier to talk to those experts when you need to. This is likely the main advantage I’ve experienced. Conversations happen much easier and quicker if everyone is speaking the same language and someone needs to bridge the gap. I would much rather be the person to learn the new skill/language than rely on someone else. That way I am positive that I’ve understood what they’re talking about. Besides, learning something new is good for you. You always need a new hobby so here you go. Learn R and Python! 🙂

  3. Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a call lately for market research professionals to broaden their skillset instead of specialize their skillset? And it’s not just market research professionals – it’s market research organizations, too. Sometimes, it can feel like market researchers and organizations alike are falling prey to shiny object syndrome: is that a new innovation? We must become experts at it to ensure we’re relevant later! It can become dizzying to keep up. Net: I agree, coding should not necessarily be a skillset every market researcher should go out and learn – unless you plan on specializing in said skillset! Having an understanding of and an expertise in a subject are very different.

  4. I completely agree with Z’s assessment about shiny object syndrome. There are numerous distractions out there that can easily take a market researcher away from his or her core skills. Learning to code would be such a shiny object. There are numerous coding wizards in the market that can easily take your well thought idea and do something tangible with it. There is no need for MR professionals to learn to code, unless it is a personal desire to do so. Time would be better spent focusing on expanding “hard skills” such as developing expertise in a new statistical routine or “soft skills” such as broadening abilities in areas of innovative thinking, presentation skills or even selling ability.

  5. I get his point. Coding forces you to think, plan and execute in a very meticulous fashion. One mistake and the program/survey/app doesn’t work.

    As researchers, we often are thinking at the 30,000 ft / macro level whilst coders are thinking of ways to get things to work properly using logic.

    For training purposes, all researchers should learn the basics – writing surveys, selecting proper scales, code verbatims, program a survey, perform analysis, draw up data-driven strategic recommendations etc.

    It’s like an All-Star baseball player who can hit the ball but doesn’t know how to bunt, run the bases or hit the cutoff man. Useful but not everything he/she could possibly be.

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