Who is the Modal Atom?

Planet Money ran a podcast earlier this year on “The Modal American.” The concept focused on evaluating the mode of a population instead of the average. For their analysis, NPR grouped Americans together based on characteristics like age, sex, income, etc. After that, they identified the most common occurrence for their set of characteristics.

The concept of mode is interesting because it represents real people in a population. In contrast, the average of a population is a blend of everyone.

This podcast got me thinking. Who is the modal Atom?

Atomic’s population is vastly smaller than the American public. As of 11/15/19, we employed 70 Atoms. Therefore, in order to have groupings with multiple individuals, I needed to limit both characteristics and possible characteristic states.

Note: There are many potential characteristic groupings and distinct states. The set I selected balances being able to use mostly quantitive data and generates a manageable but interesting amount of solution permutations.

Characteristics and Distinct States

1. Career tenure

States: 0-2 years, 3-5 years, 6-8 years, 9+ years

These ranges are based on junior, a few mid-level, and senior tenures.

2. Gender

States: Men, Women, Nonbinary

I used nonbinary as an umbrella term covering any gender identity or expression that does not fit within the gender binary.

For gender, I was only able to group Atoms based on my current knowledge of individuals’ stated gender identities. It’s possible that I didn’t group everyone correctly.

3. Company role

States: Makers, Non-makers

Maker is the term we use for Atoms who work on billable work (developers, designers, delivery leads, and testers).

I considered breaking roles into more granular states (e.g., accountant, developer, designer, etc.). However, doing so greatly increased the number of potential groupings and didn’t seem to add much interest to the analysis.

The Results

The above characteristics and possible states generated 24 distinct groupings. Many of those groupings ended up with 0 Atoms in them. Here’s a table with the top five results. These top five groupings represent about seventy percent of the company.

Tenure Gender Role Percentage
9+ years experience Men Makers 24%
0-2 years experience Women Makers 14%
9+ years experience Men Non-makers 13%
0-2 years experience Men Makers 11%
6-8 years experience Men Makers 7%

Why is Knowing the Modal Atom Valuable?

Writing this post and calculating the results has helped reinforce that the modal Atom is a grouping of real individuals. In other words, this is fundamentally different from a simple average that creates a mixture of individuals. It’s fascinating to think that at our size, the “average” Atom might not actually even exist.

The modal Atom groupings help me better understand the demographics of our organization. Generating the list of 24 distinct groupings also gave me a good perspective on the areas where we’re under-represented.

This information is insightful for communication, company policy decision, and future growth.