Back in col­lege I found myself debat­ing between choos­ing account­ing or mar­ket­ing as my major — yes, two areas you’d tra­di­tion­ally view as being dia­met­ri­cally opposed. If you were good with num­bers in busi­ness school, you typ­i­cally went into finance or account­ing — not mar­ket­ing. Even though my ana­lyt­i­cal skills had served me extremely well in all my quan­ti­ta­tive classes, I decided to break away from the path that would have led me into a safe but unevent­ful career in account­ing and instead pur­sued my deeper pas­sion for mar­ket­ing. What might have been viewed as a some­what irra­tional move by my fel­low stu­dents has turned into one of the best deci­sions of my life when it even­tu­ally led me into web ana­lyt­ics — an online mar­ket­ing dis­ci­pline that has chal­lenged both sides of my brain.

I got lucky to find my true call­ing, but many other col­lege grads haven’t been so for­tu­nate. Many stu­dents are not even aware of the sig­nif­i­cant career oppor­tu­ni­ties await­ing them in web ana­lyt­ics or data-driven marketing.

As an indus­try, we have bemoaned the lack of suit­able tal­ent to fill all of the open web ana­lyt­ics posi­tions. In fact, the WAA recently cre­ated a task force to address this crit­i­cal short­age. With very few uni­ver­si­ties ade­quately devel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal mar­keters, it was refresh­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the 10th Adobe Web Ana­lyt­ics Com­pe­ti­tion (AWAC) last month. The com­pe­ti­tion started at Brigham Young Uni­ver­sity (BYU) six years ago, and over the past few years it has expanded to include stu­dent teams from sev­eral other schools includ­ing Utah, NYU, Mis­souri, etc. From those ten com­pe­ti­tions over the years, Adobe/Omniture has hired more than 20 final­ists with many of them going into Adobe Con­sult­ing. Many of these par­tic­i­pants have turned out to be some of our best and bright­est col­lege hires (Kevin Willeit­ner was one of the first win­ners back in the day).

For each com­pe­ti­tion, we iden­tify an Adobe cus­tomer that is will­ing to have one of their web­sites sliced and diced by an eager and sharp group of col­lege stu­dents. Past cor­po­rate par­tic­i­pants have included com­pa­nies such as Com­cast, Over​stock​.com, and Back​coun​try​.com. For this last com­pe­ti­tion, Back​coun​try​.com, the lead­ing out­door gear retailer, allowed stu­dents to ana­lyze their close­out site, Depart​mentof​goods​.com. In dis­cussing Backcountry’s repeated par­tic­i­pa­tion in the AWAC pro­gram, Backcountry’s web ana­lyst Kee­lan Johns shared the following:

“Back​coun​try​.com has been pleased to par­tic­i­pate in the Adobe Web Ana­lyt­ics Com­pe­ti­tion for the past few years not only because it sup­ports fos­ter­ing data-driven deci­sion mak­ing in stu­dents with high poten­tial, but also because of the novel insights gained from future ana­lysts.  The stu­dents have con­sis­tently approached the com­pe­ti­tion with pas­sion and a fresh per­spec­tive.  We have used ideas pre­sented at the com­pe­ti­tion to make real busi­ness deci­sions and appre­ci­ate what Adobe has done for the web ana­lyt­ics com­mu­nity at large.”

With more than $27K in prize money for the tak­ing, 223 stu­dents (83 teams) reg­is­tered for this year’s com­pe­ti­tion. With only a few weeks to ana­lyze and build a pre­sen­ta­tion, only half of those teams ended up meet­ing the sub­mis­sion dead­line. After sur­viv­ing a chal­leng­ing semi-final pre­sen­ta­tion round, six final­ist teams got the oppor­tu­nity to present their find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions to Back­coun­try at the finale on Novem­ber 11.

After dom­i­nat­ing the top spot at the AWAC over the past sev­eral years, BYU was finally dethroned by a team from another uni­ver­sity for the top prize of $15K. J.J. Oliver and Tyler Riggs of the Uni­ver­sity of Utah came out on top in a close deci­sion fol­lowed by an all-international team from BYU (Yeremy Tur­cios and Fred­erico Mal­don­ado) and an all-female team from Mis­souri (Mad­die Blas­berg, Belinda Kocen, and Alyssa Mahlberg). For most of these stu­dents, the com­pe­ti­tion was their first expo­sure to the field of web ana­lyt­ics, and it has opened their eyes to new career oppor­tu­ni­ties. The Adobe Web Ana­lyt­ics Com­pe­ti­tion is just one exam­ple of the type of activ­i­ties that our indus­try needs to be doing to expand the base of dig­i­tal ana­lysts and mar­keters (the Analy­sis Exchange is another worth­while pro­gram). What more can we be doing as an indus­try to get more stu­dents exposed to web analytics?

I want to con­grat­u­late all of the teams that par­tic­i­pated in this fun and edu­ca­tional event, and I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing the AWAC tra­di­tion next year. If your com­pany or school would like to par­tic­i­pate, please reach out to me directly at @analyticshero.