In recent decades, employers sought MBA graduates with analytical expertise in Excel, but today, Python can hold equally useful, complementary advantages, says Daniel Guetta, associate professor of professional practice and director of the Business Analytics Initiative.
“Python can deal with massive data sets that didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s really on the cutting edge of business analytics,” says Guetta, who co-organizes Python for MBAs with Mattan Griffel, adjunct assistant professor of business and a two-time Y Combinator-backed entrepreneur and cofounder of Ophelia.
“The same way that being an Excel whiz was a superpower, now knowing Python gives you superpowers,” Griffel says. “You will be more effective at your job and in greater demand.”
Python for MBAs is not a coding course but rather an opportunity for business students to understand a common tool that informs the business decisions they will need to make or contribute to as part of a team, he says.
As an example, Guetta shares a case study of a New York restaurant chain that is using data to drive more of its decisions. The company’s data set has 2 million rows, one row for every order placed at its restaurants within a particular year, and includes what customers ordered, times of the day they ordered, and more. The analysis answers a series of questions: What time of day is most popular? What time of year is most popular? Are any of the restaurants in trouble? Should the company close a particular restaurant? Should it open a new one? Python minimizes the time to perform such a layered and complex inquiry, where Excel might require 10 times the commands to complete the same work.
Python for MBAs offers students a competitive edge and can help shape careers, Griffel says. It’s beneficial to MBA students coming through Columbia Business School and seeking jobs in product management, marketing, and operations roles that are more technical in nature, he says.
One of his students, Ernst van Bruggen ’18, began using Python for many of the projects he worked on at McKinsey Amsterdam. Today, he's the chief technology officer of Source.ag, an ag-tech company he cofounded in 2020 with Rien Kamman ’17.
Another student, Amrinder Chawla ’18, interned at Amazon, where he used Python to analyze data while working on the company’s Prime Video team. He was able to provide the team with a set of concrete recommendations that earned him a job offer, soon followed by a promotion. Today, he leads multiple technical projects for Amazon as principal product manager.
Guetta and Griffel are reaching a wider audience of individuals seeking to understand and use Python for their business projects. Last year, they published the book Python for MBAs, which details the advantages of using the programming tool in business. The course also has been offered to Columbia Business School alumni.
“We've got hundreds of alumni going back to school to learn this because it didn't exist when they went through business school and they realize how important and how relevant it is,” says Griffel.