On Hype

In May of 2024 I gave the keynote speech at the commencement of Carnegie Mellon’s Masters Program of Data Analytics in Science. What follows is the written version of what I told the students, their families, and their guests.

First, congratulations are in order, to all of you. You have all shown and demonstrated your dedication to going beyond your standard education to learn more about data science and I hope it pays many, many dividends.

I’m Paul Raff. I’m a Principal Data Scientist at Reddit. 20 years ago I graduated from CMU with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, and I guess before Data Science was even a thing I was already setting myself up for it without really knowing. Even today all I still know is that I love mathematics and could do it all day. Similar to Jim Simons, the father of quantitative trading who died yesterday, I was discouraged from pursuing it toward a career as I couldn’t make a living through it.

I’m here today to talk to you about hype and the role it plays in all aspects of your life and career. I’ll be sprinkling in some key learnings I’ve made throughout my career, but want to ultimately convey this main point: for hype to transform into value, work is required. Real work. Serious work. Take heart Carnegie’s motto of My Heart Is In The Work, as that is the tried and true path for long-term value and success. 

I’ve been thinking about hype a lot recently, thanks mainly to ChatGPT and the explosion of Generative AI. ChatGPT may or may not have written this speech for me. But I’ll tell you what – ChatGPT is certainly not here giving this speech. It reminds me of Reddit’s first rule of use in its community guidance, which is Remember the Human. Don’t forget that – wherever you are, whatever you do, you’ll be with humans with their own needs and quirks and you’ll do better in life understanding how to work and relate with them as humans.

I’ve also thought about another recent not-so-great hype situation, driverless cars. I have a striking memory of reading a front-page Seattle Times article explaining how a couple of people with tech/business pedigrees proposed closing all of I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver to everything except driverless cars.

  • That was almost 10 years ago.
  • By 2025 they envisioned the first milestone of a single lane for driverless vehicles in each direction of I-5.
  • The work clearly hasn’t been put in to make this a reality.
  • This leads me to my next point for your career: don’t lose your rigor. Think for yourself. Act accordingly.
  • By the way, I asked ChatGPT if it was a good idea, and after two rounds of bloviating it ultimately said yes. And that leads me to my next tip: get to the point.

I should follow my own advice! I’ll conclude with advice on the two main ways you should manage hype:

  • Hype that comes to you – the easiest example I see here is going back to ChatGPT and the desire for it to be incorporated into everything. Literally everything. My advice for you here is to always make sure that ultimately you are thinking for yourself, independently. Understand where the value is, and go in that direction.
  • Hype that starts with you – don’t ever forget that hype is an important tool, and like all tools they’re awesome when used in the right context, at the right time. Hype is ultimately a form of communication, and hype works best for you innately when you take pride in the work that you do. So take pride. 

Warren Buffett said that “In the short term the market is a popularity contest; in the long term it is a weighing machine.” i.e. another manifestation of hype. That holds true for life as well, so make the most out of it in the long term.

Thank you, and be well.