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MathWorks - the proof is in the Science Museum

We live by numbers, so why is the IT industry so verbose? Nick Booth explores...

We live in a digital age don’t we - I’m sure someone mentioned it - so why are we so illiterate about numbers?

Numbers tell stories, as any CFO will tell you. You can really get to the point with numbers, in a way that no waffling press release will ever do. Words cloud, while numbers clarify. (You can use that in your next presentation. You’re welcome). A startling number can go fizzing twice round your head while a corporate video is introducing you to a coma.

The saddest part of any corporate blog is often told in numbers - “Comments nil, Trackback nil”. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the business, IT company sales meetings are seething cauldrons of white hot numbers that leave men burnt, humiliated and mentally scarred when their figures are held up to ridicule.

For some reason, we’ve sacrificed the potency of maths in recent times. Which is mad, because maths is be used in he science of everything, from the frontal lobotomy to the bottle in front of me.

In an attempt to popularise STEM skills with the next generation, this week the Science Museum in London opened a new permanent maths gallery with a range of historically significant artifacts. You know the type of thing: Alan Turing’s enigma machine, the Thames Barrier, some design classics and Virtual Reality goggles. All stuff calculated to make children look up from their SnapChat and go “wow”. (Hmmm, not sure about that. I’m worried someone many have spent too much time with those reality goggles.)

All cynicism aside, in tribute to the commendable work of MathWorks, the IT consultancy that spent years creating this masterpiece, we shall attempt to tell some channel stories by numbers. Here’s one pair of figures that tell a story: 61% is the number of teachers who think they are failing to enthuse pupils about careers in technology and 0 (nil) the number of newspapers that were interested in any type of story angle about this.

Here’s some numbers about Black Duck Software, which is a sort of an open source sorcerer. 200 – the number of commercial software applications it audited for open source vulnerabilities in six months: 22.5  the average number of ‘open sores’ related to each open source application and 67 - the percentage of apps with at least one unresolved open sore.

Growth stories are definitely best told by numbers. It’s far better just to give the figures and let the reader work out the story. Just as radio plays are ‘movies of mind’ so can raw figures be the framework on which our imaginations can run riot.

For example: 6 is the number by which Zuora has multiplied in size in three years. The figure 4 describes the number of continents it covers with its 15 offices and 600 workers, who have processed payments worth $12,000,000,000. 

And finally, here’s two really sad statistics to find off with. 1966: the number of the year when the UK last won the world computing cup and 49: the number of times the USA has won it since then. 

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