‘Hyper-Speed and Hyper-Scale’

Meeting the Demands of the Digital Age

In recent decades, employers sought MBA graduates with analytical expertise in Excel, but today, Python can hold equally useful, complementary advantages.
In recent decades, employers sought MBA graduates with analytical expertise in Excel, but today, Python can hold equally useful, complementary advantages.
Data & Business Analytics, The Workplace
Laurie B. Davis

The future of work in the digital age might be summarized in two words: fast and vast.

“This generation of MBAs is going to be leading and managing in an age of hyper-speed and hyper-scale,” says Jeffrey L. Schwartz, adjunct assistant professor of business, who co-teaches Future of Work: Strategy & Leadership with Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business and chair of the Management Division.

Future of Work is one of two Columbia Business School courses that zero in on key components of business in a digital world. While Future of Work teaches students to lead a workforce shaped by ever-evolving technology, the other course, Python for MBAs, provides a tool to man- age and analyze the vast amount of data today’s technology can provide. Both courses are co-taught, pairing a full-time faculty member with an adjunct practitioner.

The courses are among a comprehensive curriculum designed for business in a digital age. The curriculum covers tech fundamentals, analytics and AI in business, technology strategy, and functional and industry applications, including digital marketing, fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, digital investing, and a suite of digital product management courses. Capstone courses bring MBA, engineering, and design students together in project teams, and a new innovative course explores teams, management, and leadership in cross-functional settings.

Python for MBAs

In recent decades, employers sought MBA graduates with analytical expertise in Excel, but today, Python can hold equally useful, complementary advantages, says Daniel Guetta, associate professor of professional practice and director of the Business Analytics Initiative.

“Python can deal with massive data sets that didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s really on the cutting edge of business analytics,” says Guetta, who co-organizes Python for MBAs with adjunct assistant professor of business Mattan Griffel, a two-time Y Combinator–backed entrepreneur and co-founder of Ophelia.

“The same way that being an Excel wiz was a super- power, now knowing Python gives you superpowers. You will be more effective at your job and in more demand,” Griffel adds.

Python for MBAs is not a coding course, but an opportunity for business students to understand a common tool that informs business decisions they may need to make or contribute to as part of a team, Griffel says.

As an example, Guetta shares a case study on a New York restaurant chain, which wanted to use data to drive more of its decisions. The data set has two million rows, one row for every order placed at its restaurants within a particular year, and includes what customers ordered, times of the day they ordered, and more. The analysis answers a series of questions: What time of day is most popular? What time of year is most popular? Are any of the restaurants in trouble? Should they close a particular restaurant? Should they open a new one? Python minimizes the time to perform such a layered and complex inquiry, where Excel might require 10 times the commands to complete the same work.

Python for MBAs gives students a competitive edge and can help shape their careers, Griffel says.

One of his students, Ernst van Bruggen ’18, began using Python for many of the projects he worked on at McKinsey Amsterdam. Today, he’s the chief technology officer of Source.ag, an ag-tech company that he co-founded in 2020 with Rien Kamman ’17.

Another student, Amrinder Chawla ’18, interned at Amazon, where he used Python to analyze data while working on the company’s Prime Video team. He was able to provide the team with a set of concrete recommendations that earned him a job offer, soon followed by a promotion. Today, he leads multiple technical projects for Amazon as principal product manager.

Last year, Guetta and Griffel published the book Python for MBAs, which spells out the advantages of using the programming tool in business. The course also has been offered to Columbia Business School alumni. “We’ve got hundreds of alumni going back to school to learn this because it didn’t exist when they went through business school. And they realize how important and how relevant it is,” says Griffel.

Future of Work

The world of work shaped by technology is explored in the course Future of Work: Strategy and Leadership, co-taught by Meier and Schwartz.

Schwartz is the author of Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work and founding partner of Deloitte Consulting’s Future of Work practice. He says a decade of experimentation with technologies—human-machine collab- orations, robotics, and artificial intelligence, as well as talent ecosystems, the internal talent marketplace, and remote and hybrid work—has created a work environment that requires strategies for implementing the most relevant models for businesses.

“Companies in every industry, large and small, around the world, are moving from experimenting with these dimensions of the future of work, workforces, and work- places, to thinking about them in a more strategic and holistic framework,” he says.

Today’s MBA students will be leading in this rapidly developing environment.

“The pandemic created the environment in which we had to fast-forward,” Schwartz says. As millions of workers quit their jobs in an exodus triggered by COVID-19– related business closings, furloughs, and layoffs, employers started to ask, what do employees of every age and generation want?

"Python can deal with massive data sets that didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s really on the cutting edge of business analytics."

Daniel Guetta, Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Director of the Business Analytics Initiative

Meier says people are seeking different types of careers, with more meaningful work. “Meaningful doesn’t necessarily mean working in a children’s hospital, but having growth opportunities, being challenged, and acquiring the skills that push you to the next level,” he says.

At the same time, Meier notes, many employees need to “reskill” or “upskill” for organizations that want to operate more agile businesses.

Meier gives the example of a Unilever case study they use in class. Unilever faced the dual challenges of needing different types of talent and skills on a rapidly changing basis, combined with a workforce that was aging, but not yet at retirement age. Rather than hire new talent, Unilever made the most of its employees’ experience by investing in talent marketplace technology. A digital platform that offers opportunities for their workers to reskill, upskill, and grow inside the company, the technology made it easier for people who are more senior to stay with the company while providing the new talent and skills the company needed, Meier says.

Talent marketplace technology allows companies like Unilever to strengthen the internal mobility of employees, more easily managing recruitment, training, job sharing, and placing staff in roles where the company needs them most.

Such changes in work are “literally reframing the historical portfolio of a simplistic three-box model, which is you train, you work, you retire,” says Schwartz. “An excellent model for the 1920s, not a great model for the 2020s.”

This article will appear as part of a “Teaching for Tomorrow” series on curricular innovations that will be featured in the next issue of the school’s alumni magazine.

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