Google Statistician Discusses Data

Most college students rely on Google, but a much smaller portion of students are acquainted with the academic side of the billions of searches that people perform every day: statistics. 

5C students were offered the chance to learn more about the mathematical driving forces behind the Google powerhouse at a lecture given March 5 at Pomona College by Tim Hesterberg, senior ads quality statistician at Google. Organized by the Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences, Hesterberg’s talk centered around the importance of data and statistics to companies like Google as well as to the general public.

Aaron Bagheri PZ ’17 said that he found Hesterberg’s lecture, entitled “Statistics and Big Data at Google,” very accessible. Bagheri said that lectures like the one given by Hesterberg can help students reach out to potential employers and discover new academic interests. 

“You can see what interests you, which is an important part of liberal arts schools,” he said. “You [could] come to the talk and think, ‘Wow, this is really cool. Maybe I’m interested in statistics.'”

Hesterberg has worked at Google for over six years, using his knowledge as a statistician to judge the effectiveness of advertisements displayed on Web pages. Hesterberg formerly worked as a senior research scientist at Insightful Corp., an assistant professor at Franklin & Marshall College, and an operations research analyst at Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Micah Berman PO ’13 has had firsthand experience with the material Hesterberg presented, as well as an in-depth understanding of the importance of statistics since he began working for Google after graduating last year. 

“Statistics is something that is very powerful but is often misunderstood or held out at arm’s length,” Berman said. “It can be a very powerful tool that can be used by people who go to Pomona or live in Claremont every day. The more we know about statistics, the better.” 

Berman works as a member of the Search Quality Team at Google, which is responsible for ranking the search engine’s results and ensuring that results are relevant to users’ search criteria. 

“What I do all day is solve problems, and a lot of people here [at Pomona] do,” he said. “I think the problem-solving training that Pomona provided for me [gave me] the ability to think critically and creatively about how to get from point A to point B.”

Berman said that when he was a student at Pomona, he appreciated the diversity of ideas introduced by visiting speakers and the insight they provided from beyond the college bubble.

“It’s really helpful to hear how people who live in the real world are solving problems,” he said. “We’re surrounded with academia all the time. In the real world, sometimes people take a different problem-solving approach, but I think it’s a particularly cool and valuable opportunity to hear from someone who’s working in a different sort of environment.”

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