Most Data Work Seems Fundamentally Worthless



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  • Full Title: Most Data Work Seems Fundamentally Worthless
  • Document Note: This text examines the state of data work in large organisations, where employees often produce nothing of value, either to their organisation or to society. The author experienced this in three different organisations, where there was a lack of autonomy and the data work was often difficult and time consuming. Despite this, many people still work in this space, often out of necessity, and have given up on trying to do anything meaningful. The author discusses the concept of ‘data talk’ being used as a form of signalling, where management discuss data without measuring outcomes, as a way of ‘telling us to fuck off’. The author ultimately suggests that quality takes time, and that right now there is not much of a place for that in the workplace.
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  • Sometimes we would have huge errors in the work due to the horrific undocumented database we drew from, and no one would ever notice. (View Highlight)
  • we had three staff, so we were spending something in the range of $400,000 in payroll and producing no revenue. (View Highlight)
  • The goal is to get paid, not stress out, have a happy office where everyone can collect their strange handout, and not think too deeply about how unfulfilling is it to produce nothing for forty hours a week. (View Highlight)
  • I was familiar with cynicism around work. It’s hardly a novel concept, it permeates the culture, and it was further popularized by the late David Graeber’s writing on Bullshit Jobs (View Highlight)
  • It is frequently such a Herculean task to even put together a dataset that represents a clear view of what the organisation is doing that you just can’t. That is, the thing you have been hired to do is not possible. But that would mean that you, your colleagues, and almost all those managers should be fired, so we just don’t talk about it aloud. (View Highlight)
  • Piles of money + unclear outcomes = every grifter under the sun begins to migrate to your organisation. (View Highlight)
  • those of us who are despairing, we’re chasing quality and meaning, and we can’t do it while we’re taking orders from people with the wrong vision, the wrong incentives, at dysfunctional organisations, and with data that makes our tasks fundamentally impossible in the first place. (View Highlight)