A few words on the word “model”

The Oxford dictionary describes the word model in several ways, but the one that I want to talk about is this:

A simplified description, especially a mathematical one, of a system or process, to assist calculations and predictions.

i.e.: ‘a statistical model used for predicting the survival rates of endangered species’ 

A model is a static thing. We make a model and we use it. We may even update it!

The effects

The word model has an intriguing effect; It turns something complex into something simple in the minds of the interlocutor. Those of us that make technical software to deal with sophisticated modelling of the reality, face the effects of the word “model”.

Imagine a computer program that uses hundreds of physical and mathematical laws working together to simulate and predict the prices of the electrical markets in the long term (…) Humm, it sounds hard.

Now, replace that thought with “a market prediction model”. A market prediction model may very well be an excel sheet with a linear regression. We’ve just made our life so much simpler!

Right there is where the devastating effect of the word model resides. The word “model” simplifies the role of the modeller to something in the reach of the interlocutor; We all can model, so what you do should not be that difficult.

People say model when they actually mean software

The word “model” is often used to describe software. I would say that the word software is a generalisation of the word model in the sense that we are describing. However, a model does not run on the customer premises. A model does not handle the thousands of required inputs. A model does not cooperate with other models automatically and in parallel to provide a faster and more accurate answer. Software does, and software is hard to make.

Models are good. Models in software are great

We all can model, we know that. But if you can put a model into a computer program and deliver it, you have a product. Products are what make money, models do not and the management needs to recognize this fact. Models are fine, but the revenue comes though software, because that is what you can sell and maintain. A model in software provides credibility before the client. Trying to sell a model to a client shows that you are an amateur. Unfortunately many clients can not recognize that either.

If you can make models and put them into a computer program you are a pro. Remember this words about the word “model” when you, modeller that makes software, negotiate your next salary.



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