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Is Santa Claus Secretly a Data Scientist?

Jared Kuehn Jared Kuehn  |  
Dec 04, 2018
Here we are again, amid the holiday season. Christmas items have been on sale for months. The biting, cold winter weather is rolling in. If you aren’t in the holiday spirit by now, it’s about time to get started before it’s too late.
To get into the spirit, I like to sit back, relax by a lit yule log with hot chocolate, and indulge in my favorite holiday-themed technology blogs. One blog I read recently, which is bound to become a timeless holiday classic, is Kurt Wondra’s “Is Santa Claus Secretly a Business Analyst!?” As I sat there warming my feet like chestnuts over an open fire, the thought occurred to me: Is Santa Claus secretly a Data Scientist instead of a Business Analyst?
To consider this, look at this passage from the popular Santa song: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” There’s also this section: “With little tin horns and little toy drums, Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums, Santa Claus is comin' to town!

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.

Most likely, Santa Claus cannot be everywhere at once. At the very least, he needs “Elves on a Shelf” or some other tools to routinely collect data on everyone’s status. Depending on his data sampling rate, the data generated from this analysis would be big, to say the least. To handle this analysis, Santa would need strong programming knowledge to collect the data.
Beyond gathering data, Santa the Data Scientist needs to clarify the metrics he is looking for. What does it mean to be asleep or awake? Most likely, he performs biometric scans, gathering vitals or other measurable aspects of existence. Then, he defines business rules to interpret the data and statistically reflect everyone’s current state of consciousness. Next, he writes elegant reports using the collected data with stunning visuals. The result gives him quick insights into who is awake and who is asleep.
This also leads me to wonder: Why does Santa care if we are awake or not?

He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!

Santa is a busy man. Throughout the year, he’s orchestrating the manufacturing of toys, keeping in shape to withstand the stress of the Christmas Eve tasks, and taking Mrs. Claus on dates. Whatever his magical powers may be, or how incredible his operational reports are, he’s not going to have time to look at each person individually and decide if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (which are obviously important business concepts defined in a data glossary).
To make the best use of his time, I’m certain he has defined summary dashboards that show an ‘overall goodness’ KPI of the entire world, with breakdowns that allow him to dive into specific problem areas that he finds. He also may employ Machine Learning or some other predictive algorithm to perform a good/bad analysis on everyone, making it clear who is obviously good or bad and leaving him to focus on and resolve the difficult cases (aka people who aren’t clearly good or bad).

With little tin horns and little toy drums…Santa Claus is comin' to town!

If someone is bad, Santa’s job is easy. He gives them coal and possibly a motivational speech to suggest they amend their ways. But if someone is good, they get the toy they want. How does Santa know what they want? If he’s lucky, the good people write him letters every year that tell him what they would like for Christmas. They might also visit his stunt doubles to express their wants, which again would get recorded and sent to the big guy (possibly with data on whether they cried on Santa’s lap or not). If they don’t do either, the only other data option Santa has is to use records of past presents to predict future needs. Using that, he could implement matching algorithms to make a data-driven guess of what each person wants.
It may seem trivial but knowing what to get the good people of the world is probably Santa’s biggest challenge in running a successful organization. He has an entire manufacturing process in place to create the toys he’s going to give out. Without data to tell the elves what to build, he has to use his gut instinct. If Santa wants confidence that the world will continue believing his carol advertising campaign (saying that he does all this using ‘Christmas magic’), then making critical business decisions on gut instinct is a risk Santa cannot afford.
His best route forward involves customers that are always satisfied, manufacturing plants that supply the demand without waste, and elves that have solid work-life balance and time for innovation, carol rehearsals, and dental appointments. By effectively using the data available to run his business, Santa has the best chance of delivering everyone’s hopes and dreams on time.

So…is he?

Could Santa be so good at managing his naughty/nice list because he is a Data Scientist at heart?
If we want to believe Santa makes data-driven, informed decisions on whether we get coal or not, then I certainly hope he is. Being a Data Scientist means finding effective ways to collect meaningful data and use reporting techniques to quickly understand the performance of the business and the customers he’s trying to satisfy. This allows him to make informed, timely decisions, which is a crucial trait in any efficient and productive organization that can positively impact the entire world.
Clearly, the data speaks for itself.
Data Science


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