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SFU Computer Prof Gets Data-Mining Nod

That the world is awash in data is in no doubt. Less reliable is a widespread conviction that the folks who populate that world have a good handle on what to do with all of them. Which explains why a guy like Jian Pei deserves the accolades of which he’s currently in receipt.


Pei, a computing science professor at Simon Fraser University and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Big Data Science, was selected this week as a 2015 Fellow by the world’s leading computing society.

The Association for Computing Machinery’s fellowship acknowledges Pei’s contributions to the foundation, methodology and applications of data mining.

As a renowned researcher in the areas of data science, data mining and big data, Pei has a special focus on mastering the algorithms for frequent-pattern data mining. Useful in a whack of applications, these fundamental calculations are of particular value to individuals involved in retail planning. With them, retail marketers charged with making sense of the millions of transactions and hundreds of millions of products sold every day get a prescribed route to strategic merchandising.

Among other things, Pei’s frequent-pattern data-mining research provides vital insight into what products customers most often buy in combination. Retailers use it to strategically arrange their merchandise—and drive sales in turn—in the most effective, hard-data-informed way.

It also gives them an understanding of which smaller items they can promote to leverage the sales of larger, bigger-ticket items.

Pei’s algorithms have been patented, adapted by industry and even used in textbooks.

The Breakfast Method

From asking applicants to submit an essay or sell you something during the interview to insisting they solve logic puzzles or play word-association games, it’s all about the unconventional in the hiring game today.

But the cake topper is the strategy recently revealed in an interview Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, gave The New York Times.

When considering a new candidate, the brokering and banking exec explains, it’s all about character.

pancakesAnd that’s why, in some instances, Bettinger invites his candidates for breakfast and elects to hold his employment interviews at a restaurant. Then he gets to the place a little bit earlier and brokers an arrangement with the serving staff so that his dining partner’s meal comes out wrong.

“I want you to mess up the order of the person who’s going to be joining me,” he’ll tell the restaurant manager. “It’ll be OK, and I’ll give a good tip—but mess up their order.”

The objective of the ruse? To see how the person he’s considering for a job that necessarily contains a lot of adversity will behave in such conditions.

“Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding?” he pondered with journalist Adam Bryant. “Life is like that and business is like that.  It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.

“We’re all going to make mistakes. The question is how are we going to recover when we make them, and are we going to be respectful to others when they make them?”

Indeed. And pass the syrup.