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, Overstock.com, and Backcountry.com. For this last competition, Backcountry.com, the leading outdoor gear retailer, allowed students to analyze their closeout site, Departmentofgoods.com. In discussing Backcountry’s repeated participation in the AWAC program, Backcountry’s web analyst Keelan Johns shared the following:

“Backcountry.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.

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