23 Must-Read Quotes About Data

Emily Stevens

It’s estimated that, by 2025, the big data market will be worth a whopping $229.4 billion. The data industry is positively booming, and those who can work with data are in increasing demand.

Are you fascinated by data? Keen to start a career in the field, or just want to understand what all the fuss is about? In this post, we’ve rounded up 21 inspirational, insightful, and thought-provoking quotes about data. Check them out.

1. “There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every two days.”

~ Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google

This quote sums up the sheer volume of data that’s available nowadays. Of course, the more data we generate, the more reliant we are on skilled data experts who can turn it into something meaningful. If you’re an aspiring data analyst or data scientist, this is excellent news for your future career.

2. “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.”

~ Peter Sondergaard, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Research at Gartner, Inc.

It’s often claimed that data has overtaken oil as the world’s most valuable resource. Whether or not this is true, it’s important to note that, just like oil, data is useless until it’s mined and handled (i.e. analyzed) in the right way. Peter Sondergaard sums this up nicely, reminding us that information and analytics must go hand-in-hand in order to produce meaningful insights.

3. “Data are just summaries of thousands of stories—tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.”

~ Dan Heath, bestselling author

This quote from Dan Heath further emphasizes the difference between raw data and insights, and how data alone is rarely ever meaningful. How do we take the data we collect and put it into context? What techniques and tools can we use to analyze the data and draw out the stories it’s trying to tell us? These are the challenges tackled by data analysts on a daily basis. You can learn more about how data analysts work and the techniques they use here.

4. “No data is clean, but most is useful.”

~ Dean Abbott, Co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at SmarterHQ

George Box, a famous statistician, once said “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” With his own take on the quote, Dean Abbott highlights a crucial aspect of the data analysis process: cleaning the data. This involves removing errors, duplicates, and outliers, and giving your dataset the necessary structure. Only once the data is clean can it be analyzed and turned into something useful.

5. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”

~ Sherlock Holmes in “A study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle

This pearl of wisdom comes from one of the most famous fictional detectives in history, and emphasizes the importance of using data to drive smart decisions. Essentially, Mr. Holmes is saying that ideas or theories without data are just assumptions, with no factual reality to back them up. This is especially important in a business setting. If you truly want to understand what’s going on in your chosen market, you need data—it’s as simple as that.

6. “Data is like garbage. You’d better know what you are going to do with it before you collect it.”

~ Mark Twain

It’s one thing to collect masses of data, but as Mr. Twain says, unless you have a plan for that data, it won’t really be of much use. Prior to the data collection phase, analysts will usually have a specific question they want to answer or a challenge they want to overcome. Based on their goals, they determine what kind of data they need and where to source it. Data collection with no clear purpose? Garbage!

7. “Too often we forget that genius, too, depends upon the data within its reach, that even Archimedes could not have devised Edison’s inventions.”

~ Ernest Dimnet, priest, writer, and lecturer

This quote is especially relevant in today’s business landscape. In a world where data-driven companies consistently outperform their competitors, businesses who don’t make the most of their data are set to fall behind. To paraphrase Ernest Dimnet, our potential for innovation, problem-solving, and growth is only as good as the data we collect and, most importantly, utilize. Without data, our success is limited.

8. “We are surrounded by data, but starved for insights.”

~ Jay Baer, marketing and customer experience expert

We know that data is everywhere, but this doesn’t mean that we necessarily understand it or derive any meaning from it. In fact, one study found that businesses are missing out on $5.2 million in revenue due to untapped data. As Jay Baer says, the data is certainly there, but not everybody is using it. Again, this highlights the importance of skilled data analysts and scientists who know how to handle large volumes of data—and how to make them work in specific business contexts. If you’re wondering what it takes to become a data analyst, check out this guide.

9. “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.”

~ Geoffrey Moore, management consultant and author of Crossing the Chasm

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, this time with the help of Geoffrey Moore: data is absolutely crucial to making smart business decisions. With the right data analytics, you can see what’s worked in the past and why (or why not), and you can predict and prepare for future trends. The more you learn from, and act upon, the insights your data tells you, the more competitive you will be in your industry—and that applies to any field. You’ll find some real-world examples of big data in action here.

10. “Data analytics is the future, and the future is NOW! Every mouse click, keyboard button press, swipe or tap is used to shape business decisions. Everything is about data these days. Data is information, and information is power.”

~ Radi, data analyst at CENTOGENE

As a data analyst working in the medical sector, Radi knows first-hand what a huge impact data analytics can have. And, as this quote demonstrates, he’s pretty excited about the future of the data industry. Data is indeed everywhere, and those who know how to handle it are in a very powerful position. It’s no wonder that data analysts are in high demand—and, as long as we keep generating masses of data, this will continue to be the case.

11. “With data collection, ‘the sooner the better’ is always the best answer.”

~ Marissa Mayer, IT executive and co-founder of Lumi Labs, former Yahoo! president and CEO

Knowing what we know about how data-driven businesses outperform their competitors, this piece of advice from Marissa Mayer makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, the sooner an organization starts collecting data, the sooner they can benefit from its insights—and the sooner they can use those insights to make smart decisions.

12. “Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.”

~ Charles Babbage, mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer

Good quality data is the holy grail, and that’s what you should always aim for. However, as Charles Babbage points out, any data is better than nothing. For businesses just getting started with data analytics, this quote will ring especially true. However much (or little) quality data you think you have, it’s a necessary starting point. From there, you can refine your data collection process and ensure you have adequate data going forward. Just whatever you do, always use the data!

13. “Where there is data smoke, there is business fire.”

~ Thomas Redman, aka “the Data Doc”

This analogy describes, quite aptly, the emphasis that organizations are placing on data analytics experts and tools in order to contain their “data fires.” What does this mean? Ultimately, if a company isn’t handling its data correctly (that’s the smoke), this is a symptom of bigger problems across the organization (the fire). So, by investing in resources that enable them to collect, store, and use their data correctly, organizations are better equipped to run more efficiently in general.

14. “Data is a tool for enhancing intuition.”

~ Hilary Mason, data scientist and founder of Fast Forward Labs

In this quote, Hilary Mason points out just how important the human aspect of data analytics is. While it’s true that algorithms and machines can do great things, behind all of these brilliant tools are real people. The data alone cannot give you all the answers you’re looking for. A key part of it is having a “feel” for what questions you should be asking, and developing an intuition for what story the data might be trying to tell you.

15. “If you wanna do data science, learn about cognitive biases, our alarming lack of statistical intuition, and how to correct for them.”

~ Hugo Bowne-Anderson, Head of Data Science Evangelism and Marketing at Coiled

Hugo Bowne-Anderson’s Twitter account is a treasure trove of data science insights, and this is just one of them. Hugo offers lots of advice on what it takes to be a good data scientist, and in this particular quote, he touches on the issue of cognitive bias. Despite what you might think, data science can be highly subjective in nature. So, if you’re working in the field (or aspiring to), it’s important to be aware of your own personal biases. You can learn about some common cognitive biases in data science and how to avoid them here.

16. “If you wanna do data science, learn how it is a technical, cultural, economic, and social discipline that has the ability to consolidate and rearrange societal power structures.”

~ Hugo Bowne-Anderson, Head of Data Science Evangelism and Marketing at Coiled

Here’s another quote from Hugo Bowne-Anderson, this time alluding to the potential that data science has to, quite literally, change the world. When we talk about data analytics and data science, we may think about the technical nature of the field. However, that’s just one part of it. If you’re thinking about “doing data science,” it’s important to consider the wider impact of your work—for example, how data science can be used for social impact, or the role that data plays in political campaigns.

17. “Data science is all about asking interesting questions based on the data you have—or often the data you don’t have.”

~ Sarah Jarvis, Director of Applied Machine Learning and Data Science at Secondmind

In an interview with Silicon Republic’s Jenny Darmody, data expert Sarah Jarvis shares how she got into machine learning, and sheds some light on the soft skills that have helped her along the way. In particular, Sarah emphasizes the importance of curiosity and communication, stating: “It was always in my nature to ask lots of questions. And for me, that’s what data science is all about.” She goes on to add that, because data science is so multidisciplinary, “you have to be comfortable talking to people outside of their, and often your own, comfort zones.”

18. “Data scientist (n.): Person who is better at statistics than any software engineer and better at software engineering than any statistician.”

~ Josh Wills, data scientist and engineer

It can be difficult to define exactly what a data scientist does—for those in the industry, and for those on the outside looking in—so it’s always helpful to hear how data scientists describe themselves and perceive their role. In this quote, data scientist and engineer Josh Wills places the role at the intersection of statistics and engineering. So, if you do want to become a data scientist, you’ll need to master both.

19. “Data scientist: The person who is better at explaining the business implications of analytical results than any scientist, and better at the analytical science than any MBA.”

~ Dr. Jennifer Priestley, Professor of Statistics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University

Building on Josh Wills’ definition of a data scientist, Dr. Jennifer Priestley emphasizes the importance of both business know-how and scientific knowledge. Ultimately, to be a successful data analyst or data scientist, it’s not enough to be purely technical, nor will it suffice to be a business buff; you need to bridge the gap between the two. If you can carry out the technical aspects of data science and understand and explain what impact this has on the business, you’re on the right track.

20. “‘Possessed’ is probably the right word. I often tell people, ‘I don’t want to necessarily be a data scientist. You just kind of are a data scientist. You just can’t help but look at that data set and go, ‘I feel like I need to look deeper. I feel like that’s not the right fit.’”

~ Jennifer Shin, Senior Principal Data Scientist at Nielsen and lecturer at UC Berkeley

Data scientists and data analysts are curious people, and what makes them great at what they do is an innate drive to find answers and solve problems. As Jennifer Shin puts it, it’s a kind of possession; an inability to stop looking until there’s no stone left unturned. If this sounds like you, you could be right at home in the data industry.

21. “The core advantage of data is that it tells you something about the world that you didn’t know before.”

~ Hilary Mason, data scientist and founder of Fast Forward Labs

Our second quote from the brilliant Hilary Mason neatly sums up what data is all about and why it’s so valuable. At the core of data analytics and data science is curiosity and learning; finding patterns, telling stories, and deepening your understanding of the world around you. When applied in the right context, this knowledge can make a huge difference—not only to businesses, but to society at large.

22. “When we have all data online it will be great for humanity. It is a prerequisite to solving many problems that humankind faces.”

~ Robert Cailliau, informatics engineer and computer scientist who helped to develop the World Wide Web

Our penultimate quote comes from Robert Cailliau who, together with Tim Berners-Lee, helped to develop the Internet. When they “built” the Internet, the pair envisioned a global web of information. And, with the rise of connected devices, that’s what we’re increasingly moving towards. In the same way that the Internet completely changed how many of us live our lives, data also has huge potential to address global issues and ultimately make the world a better place.

23. “Nobody ever talks about motivation in learning. Data science is a broad and fuzzy field, which makes it hard to learn. Really hard. Without motivation, you’ll end up stopping halfway through and believing you can’t do it, when the fault isn’t with you―it’s with the teaching. Take control of your learning by tailoring it to what you want to do, not the other way around.”

~ Vik Paruchuri, founder of Dataquest

This final quote contains an important message about the role of motivation when it comes to learning data science or data analytics, and ultimately building a career in the field. Vik encourages aspiring data experts to take control of their own learning, and to pursue those areas that interest you. Indeed, data is such a broad field, spanning a whole host of industries; it’s entirely feasible to combine your love of data with a sector that resonates with you—say, healthcare, travel, or finance. 

Feeling inspired? Excited about the future of data? If you’re considering a career as a data analyst or a data scientist, check out the following articles. Or, for a more hands-on introduction, try out this free data analytics short course.

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