Adam’s Analytics Adventure: Week 2
Because of the way events transpired this week, I’m going to go through a few notable things rather than a day-by-day (because that would be boring) and give them all pithy-ish subheads, like I’m a newspaper columnist or something.
Now that I work in a hip web 2.0 dotcom startup dealie, I clearly need to develop a coffee habit. I had my first cup from the office Nespresso machine (nary a burr grinder in sight – a disgrace) this afternoon – a purple pod marked ‘Arpeggio’, with 4 spoonfuls of sugar to mitigate the taste. I will keep you apprised of my coffee adventures as the weeks go by.
One of the things I mentioned last time was how Google Analytics seems to be the tool of choice for our industry. This brings with it a few interesting issues. One of the things I was looking at this week was Google Tag Manager, which allows the user to (surprise!) manage the tags you have on the website. This is very useful for us, because it allows us to modify tags without having to change the website itself, something which, as an outside company, is jolly useful because we don’t have to pester our client’s in-house web development team (or worse, their out-of-house web dev team). However, before Google decided they wanted to get into the tag manager game, there were a rich host of third-party tag management solutions – some good, some not so good, but most of which plugged into Google Analytics.
Then Google came along, with their better, free alternative to the third parties, which also happened to be natively integrated with Google Analytics, and just like that, the market for third-party tag managers was, to say the least, severely curtailed. Some have lived on in a diminished form, others have been bought by companies who aren’t so keen on Google running all that stuff for them, but for the most part they’ve pivoted or died away.
I mention it because one of the things that’s been on my mind a fair bit this week is the dependence of a large section of this industry on Google, and how the work I’ve been doing both with Tag Manager and butting up against the ‘not provided’ problem keeps reminding me that anything from small details to the very nature of the business could be changed on the whim of a chap in Mountain View. I feel like a character in Warren Ellis’ Trees – living in the shadow of this vast, unknowable edifice, which will periodically release a load of toxic gunge and kill everyone in the vicinity. Except they offer certification and have conferences every year.
One of the things STEM graduates (and maths graduates in particular) often put on our CVs is that we’re good at problem-solving. This is, in one sense, true – we have to be good at solving the problems given to us by our lecturers, else we’ll fail the course. But in the more nebulous sense usually meant by the employer, it’s a bit more difficult to determine, since the way the subjects are taught most of the time doesn’t particularly incline the learner toward open-ended thinking about how to tackle problems, but rather strict adherence to certain methods. This is not necessarily to criticise the system, but rather to observe that when we do encounter problems of the genuine (as opposed to the contrived) variety – as I have been over the course of the last week – it’s rather a pleasant change of pace, and it allows one to exercise mental muscles that might otherwise go mostly unused.
For instance: one of our clients wanted a spreadsheet report that auto-updated in a few specific ways, so I had to try and puzzle out how to make everything work together in line with client requirements. One of the things was making it update monthly – but, specifically, to update only when the month had passed. There are doubtless many ways to do it, and I stumbled through several of them, including a messy agglomeration of if-statements that would return the number of days in the present month (which I then had to modify to give the number of days in the *previous* month, and it all ended up getting a bit messy and complex). In the end, I realised that I could just use the day of the month function I was already using to subtract from the present date, and that would always give me the last day of the previous month. It did everything I needed but without a bunch of unnecessary dependencies and in a single line – but I had to go through the process to get to that point, and the experience itself was useful and, if you can believe it, quite fun (which might say something about me, actually).
“…and they pay me for it!”
My father asked me how my job was going the other day.
“Brilliant!” I said. “I get to lounge around my room and mess around with spreadsheets and stuff all day!”
“And they pay you for it…”
“…and they pay me for it!”
They pay me to blog as well, which is a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. And on Friday afternoons, too. Lovely way to end the week