Why Tech Companies Hire So Many Economists  

13 February 2019:

Over a recent coffee discussion, the COO of a multi billion-dollar tech company told us he was interested in building an internal team of economists. He had collaborated with economists before and was excited about the results. He now wanted to know how to bring the economist’s toolkit into more parts of the business. If he were to hire a team of PhD economists, how should he begin?

We’ve had many conversations like this, as economists have begun to play a growing role in the tech sector, and as companies have sought guidance on how to bring economists into their companies. For example, Amazon has quietly hired more than 150 PhD economists. New hires have ranged from a chief economist (who was previously a tenured economics professor) to newly minted PhDs, who are assigned to work on specific business problems throughout the company. Specific projects cover everything from design choices around Amazon reviews to estimating demand for products on Amazon.

Amazon is far from alone in its aggressive hiring of PhD economists. Companies ranging from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — where one of us, Susan, was previously the consulting chief economist — to Airbnb and Uber now all have large teams of PhD economists. And dozens of other tech companies have hired smaller groups of economists.

We’ve spent much of our careers researching issues related to the tech sector, and more recently helping to build a community of tech economists — both in academia and in practice. And, motivated by this, we recently wrote a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, exploring the work that economists are doing in the tech sector, and the ways in which the economist’s toolkit is a natural fit for tech companies.

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Source: Harvard Business Review

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