Meet the Wunderkind Economist Behind LinkedIn - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Meet the Wunderkind Economist Behind LinkedIn

Meet the Wunderkind Economist Behind LinkedIn

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu


Here’s how to land your dream job.

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Guy Berger gets off on Excel, and he’s not shy about it. He is an unabashed nerd, of the sort who can be publicly adored only in Silicon Valley. His socks are a few inches too high and the deep grooves on his forehead bounce as his eyes feverishly scan supply-demand graphs and mile-long spreadsheets. He looks like he belongs a dusty economics department at Oxford or Yale. Instead, he’s perched next to the silent disco booths and foosball tables of LinkedIn’s high-rise office in San Francisco.

Here, 38-year-old Berger’s promise is to make you more than a killer professional profile. Instead he pledges, with Valley optimism, to find you your dream job. As chief economist, Berger spends his days mining the company’s trove of data in order to surface insights about how cities, people, skills and industries are shaping the U.S. labor market. Through the lens of LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, he can tease out trends and patterns “that can’t be found or measured anywhere else,” says Berger. LinkedIn’s granular numbers come in faster than those released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which takes the temperature of America’s economy monthly. He “feels like a kid in the candy store” with the tech juggernaut’s jackpot of stats, hailing from its 450 million worldwide users and 6 million-plus active job listings on the internet’s largest professional network. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics did not respond to requests for comment.)

From job hunters who want to pin down which cities are ripe with opportunities to policymakers who want to understand local skills gaps, these numbers come in handy. So far, Berger and his data-crunching team have uncovered the top countries where expats are moving for work (the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland) and identified the industries most likely to hire career-switchers (surprise: tech!). Major market research firms like HSBC and YouGov, which survey a much larger pool of people, found similar trends. He knows the 25 most in-demand skills — like mobile development, channel marketing, and data analysis — but also warns that the need for soft skills will skyrocket in the future of robots and automation. Last year, LinkedIn teamed up with Utah’s Department of Workforce Services to help unemployed workers find a job. By facilitating a faster return to the workforce, the state’s Re-employment Services program showed a net positive return of $5.8 million to employers. Berger also provided the Economic Graph to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to bolster his efforts in expanding the pool of New York’s homegrown tech talent (his office did not respond to requests for comment). Research from McKinsey & Company found that online talent platforms like LinkedIn have the potential to add $2.7 trillion annually to the global GDP.

Some have struggled to build teams in D.C. or at universities, as Google and Amazon both swell their ranks of in-house economists.

However, LinkedIn isn’t exactly in possession of a random or full sampling of the population. The company may not be able to shine a light on the health of our economy, says human resources expert and talent recruiter Rick Devine. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, LinkedIn users are older in age, more educated and richer than the the broader internet population on average. The company is missing info on blue-collar workers, the key to understanding America’s wider economy, adds Devine — including the ones who might soon be out of a job thanks to automation. “It doesn’t matter how many application buttons you push,” says Devine. The job market “is a fortress, and people can’t get in.” Plus, LinkedIn doesn’t reliably keep track of its users’ salaries, ages or gender, all huge pieces of the larger economic puzzle in America. For his part, Berger says he knows he’s limited by how many and what kinds of people use his website, and how much personal information they willingly provide.

Berger has a kind of youthful Mark Zuckerberg vibe; he’s frenetic, wild-eyed, cerebral. He fits into a larger makeover in the economics world, as mathematical analysis becomes more accessible — and entertaining — to the wider public. Think less John Maynard Keynes, more Freakonomics. Leading universities and economics research firms have seen their pool of freshly graduated economists dwindle over the years, as Silicon Valley’s tech companies like Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix vie for Harvard-, Yale- and Stanford-trained economists. “These big behemoth companies now have really big data,” says John Johnson, CEO of D.C.-based Edgeworth Economics. “And who better to sift through and make sense of that data than Ph.D.-trained economists?” Some, like Johnson, have struggled to build teams in D.C. or at universities, as Google and Amazon both swell their ranks of in-house economists who parse through their vat of empirical data in order to leverage these tech giants strategically in the future. (Neither company replied to requests for comment.)

Born in Haifa, Israel, and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Cupertino, California, Berger was “really geeky” as a child. When most kids were playing Nintendo, he was scouring the Encyclopedia Britannica. He grabbed a bachelor’s in math at UC San Diego and an economics Ph.D. at Yale. He soon landed a job at Bank of America as a senior economist in its Corporate Investments Group, but Berger didn’t want to stay stuck in academia or Wall Street: “I’m here to understand the world, not stare at data.” In 2015, LinkedIn came knocking. 

Berger turns hesitant when asked to paint a full tableau about the future of America’s economy. “Let the data speak for itself.” In his office, we are far from the grand economic predictions that exploded on the campaign trail. Suddenly, he’s wary, lost without the comforting presence of his pie charts and scatter plots.

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