(Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part article)

IT job studies have pretty much unanimously picked data analysts and data scientists as among the most difficult of all hires this year. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that many universities and technology vendor companies are doing something about making the field of data analytics more appealing, and offering more real-world exposure to the power of data and business intelligence.

A case in point is the annual Adobe Analytics Challenge, concluding last week. Through the competition, Adobe has exposed thousands of students from universities across the nation to real-world business situations where they use data from leading organizations such as Lenovo, Condé Nast, and Comcast to solve actual business problems through data analytics.

“Beyond the nearly $30,000 in prize money, I think the students want to get a taste of real-world analytics by participating in this competition,” Brent Dykes, an analytics evangelist at Adobe told Information Management.

“It’s really hard for university students to get access to real company data and enterprise-class tools outside of an internship. Textbooks can only go so far, and a hands-on experience helps the students when they interview with employers who are increasingly looking for people with data skills. This competition gives the students an opportunity to gain some invaluable analytics experience and differentiate their skills from other students,” Dykes explained.

“Many students discover they love the challenge of analyzing the data and coming up with meaningful insights and recommendations. It has changed the career trajectory and aspirations of many students,” Dykes said. Adobe has hired more than 20 students from this competition, and many others have gone on to work in the field of analytics for ad agencies and other companies, according to Dykes.

“When I was a manager in Adobe Consulting, it was one of our best hiring channels for new talent. Many of our hires from the competition went on to be our best consultants and then took roles in product management, product marketing, and consulting leadership at Adobe,” Dykes said.

A perfect example is Chris Haleua is a senior product marketing manager at Adobe who won the competition twice in 2007-2008 (“forcing us to change the rules,” Dykes noted). He was hired into Adobe Consulting and then went on to have roles in product management and now product marketing at Adobe.

The appeal of the challenge is clear when you speak to students participating in it. Consider the motivation of Brian Phillippi, a first year MBA student at Brigham Young University, originally from Vacaville, CA.

“I first learned about the work Adobe was doing in the field of Analytics while working in product marketing at my last company,” Phillippi told Information Management. “One of Adobe's senior evangelists, Ron Nagy, came and spoke to our company about the digital transformation that Adobe had been going through and the power of data within in the marketing process.”

“As a former engineer, I was frustrated with the lack of quantitative information about my customer, so this message resonated with me,” Phillippi said. “My interest was confirmed when I had the opportunity to use Adobe tools to improve my customer's experience based on data. These experiences, Adobe's vision for making marketers better through data, and Adobe's reputation for being a great place to work all inspired me to enter the challenge.”

Asked what made him feel that he was up to such a tough competition, Phillippi explained. “I feel like I am up to the challenge because I have a passion for applying data to the marketing process, a technical degree and great teammates with a diverse set of experiences that we can draw from.” Success with the Adobe Analytics Challenge is more than just about bragging rights, of course. The prize money doesn’t hurt. But it is the opportunity to prove that you have the right stuff regarding data and analytics that attracts many of the nation’s best and brightest data scientist wanna-bes.

“I hope to gain experience with Adobe's tools, exposure to the company itself and to ultimately establish myself as a data driven marketer,” Phillippi said of his ambitions.

“My goal is to make the field of marketing better by teaching and promoting data driven decisions. I know, from experience, how painful it can be to make decisions based on gut feelings. Doing so is inefficient and many times wrong. I believe that I can add the most value by helping other companies to understand this and to ultimately make a change,” Phillippi concluded.

The full list of the Adobe Analytics Challenge participants, finalists, and winners follows:

First place winners: BYU team (Three Points Analytics):

• Jacob Honsvick

• Robert Haws

• Soon Song

The list of finalists (college or university teams):

1. Northwestern (Kellogg #6)

2. Michigan (Ross #11)*

3. UCLA (Anderson #15)

4. BYU (Marriott #33)

• The Michigan Ross School of Business team, which took 2nd place overall, was the only first-time school to make it into the finals

• The challenge had participation from 11 of the top 25 business schools nation-wide

• 6 of the top 25 schools participated this year for their first time

The lists of participating schools:

Listed in order of number of submissions, along with 2016 ranking. New schools marked with (*), finalists in bold:

1. University of Texas at Dallas (#33)*

2. UCLA (Anderson #15)

3. BYU (Marriott #33)

4. Missouri (Trulaske #79)

5. UC Berkeley (Haas #7)

6. Northwestern (Kellogg #6)

7. Michigan (Ross #11)*

8. Utah (#70)

9. Duke (Fuqua #13)*

10. Georgetown (McDonough #24)*

11. Minnesota (Carlson #27)*

12. UVU (Woodbury unranked)

13. Chicago (Booth #4)

14. USC (Marshall #25)*

15. University of Texas at Austin (McCombs #17)

16. NJIT (unranked)*

17. Drexel (LeBow #RNP)*

18. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper #20)*

19. Virginia Tech (Pamplin unranked)*

20. NC State (Jenkins #70)*

21. Pennsylvania (Wharton #3)*

22. MICA (Ahmedabad unranked)*

23. Michigan State (Broad #37)*

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