Learn Economics. Work for Amazon, eBay, [insert tech company name here]…

This working paper from the Harvard Business School by Susan Athey and Michael Luca was recently brought to my attention by Dr. Alba Collart. The authors discuss the increasing role of economists working for tech companies like Amazon, eBay, Google, Airbnb, etc. Fascinating stuff!

I’ll list what I thought were some of the highlights:

  • Not only is the number of economists employed in this sector growing rapidly, but economists are playing more central roles in company decision-making.
  • What are the skills these companies want that economists have? (1) identifying causal relationships, (2) designing incentives to improve business outcomes, (3) disentangling the complexities of market equilibria.
  • Economists take on a wide variety of roles, from data analysis to experiment design, to public policy work.

And economists at these companies are working on topics like:

  • How to increase online advertising revenue?
  • What types of email language lead not only to more people opening them but to increased sales?
  • How do changes in the app user interface affect consumer behavior?
  • How can bias in online reviews be minimized?

And economists work on the complex interactions of these ideas as well. One example given is how eBay at one point changed its user interface to make it easier to compare prices across products. Well, this affected consumer choice, which in turn affected prices charged by sellers, all of which, over the long run, affected whether consumers used eBay at all.

I should mention that the focus of the article is on PhD economists, and I know a great place to get started in the field of economics if you’re interested!

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