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CSS Stories: Exploring Data Science in the Private Sector with Martin DeWitt

By Kyle Ryan

With a background in sociology and psychology from Duke University, Martin DeWitt entered marketing analytics because of his interest in research methods. He utilized focus group methods in college, but became interested in learning more about survey methodology.

DeWitt currently works at Red Hat, a multinational software company based in Raleigh, N.C., as a Senior Market Research Analyst. In this and other more recent roles, he has mostly conducted traditional market research to gain insight into customers’ needs.

His interest in survey methodology stems from a growing practice in the private sector — a desire to answer questions for people that are making decisions in business.

“It’s a really good tool for answering questions, especially when you combine it with in-depth interviews and secondary data,” DeWitt said.

In his work with Red Hat, he uses survey data in conjunction with internal or secondary data to inform strategic decisions for the company.

In an effort to familiarize himself with survey research, DeWitt took classes in Odum’s Certificate in Survey Science, which allows graduate students and working professionals the opportunity to pursue the knowledge and skills they need to design and conduct surveys, and analyze and report survey results.

He enrolled in the CSS program as a part-time graduate studies student at UNC-Chapel Hill beginning in 2016. He was fortunate to be able to enroll in the Certificate program while working full-time, which he appreciated because he was able to immediately apply the material from his classes in his workplace.

DeWitt appreciated his experience working with CSS instructor, Doug Currivan, to advise pseudo clients on potential research methods in survey methodology, listening to their needs and presenting proposals. He says that it has allowed him to become a better business partner by expanding his peers’ view of data quality.

“A lot of people in business evaluate the quality of a survey based on the number of respondents it has, and that’s the only check that they do,” he said. Participating in the Certificate program has taught him about other forms of survey error, giving him the expertise he needed to correct common misconceptions and advise his peers more effectively.

After completing the CSS program, DeWitt saw increased pay and the potential to enter a leadership role in management of customer insights. He has also attracted clients to his independent firm, Piedmont Insight.

Most recently, he conducted a survey research project for a Durham-based nonprofit organization to help them “better understand the makeup of their contact database and the reasons why their contacts would or would not volunteer or give money” to the organization.

As a graduate of the Certificate in Social Science, DeWitt encourages fellow data scientists from all disciplines to consider the Certificate if they’re interested in survey work.

“There’s a lot more data now, a lot more questions being asked, a lot more survey research being done in the private sector.”

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