Data Scientist: Sexiest Job on the Planet

August 7, 2014
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Revenge of the Nerds

Data Scientist: Sexiest Job on the Planet

If you paid close attention, you could see it coming.

Revenge of the Nerds

Data Scientist: Sexiest Job on the Planet

If you paid close attention, you could see it coming. The tortoise eventually beats the hare, but it does take time.

Allow me to make my case using the following more or less chronological, non-linear and highly selective history of the modern era:   

  • Relying on stale polling data and a hunch, the Chicago Tribune confidently announces that Dewey defeated Truman
  • Relying this time on better data — actual election results — the Chicago Tribune corrects itself and licks its wounds
  • Waylon and Willie implore mamas everywhere to make sure their babies grow up to be doctors and lawyers
  • Michael Lewis writes The Big Short, a non-fiction book about the housing and credit bubble of the 2000s. This was Big Data before we called it Big Data, and some smart guys backed by really smart quant jocks won big while nearly everyone else lost
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Bill Gates declare that Waylon and Willie got it wrong — mamas, make sure your kids grow up to be coders
  • Codecademy launches at the tail end of Y Combinator’s 2011 summer program
  • At 17:34 on 11 April 2012, a Data Science article was created on Wikipedia
  • Northwestern University offers a Master of Science in Predictive Analytics

Program description: As businesses seek to maximize the value of vast new stores of available data, Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Predictive Analytics program prepares students to meet the growing demand in virtually every industry for data-driven leadership and problem solving. Advanced data analysis, predictive modeling, computer-based data mining, and marketing, web, text, and risk analytics are just some of the areas of study offered in the program. Prepare for leadership-level career opportunities. 

  • The FDA says it needs quant jocks to root out pharma fraud (phraud) in the era of Big Data
  • Somewhere on the tundra, Kinder-Code is launched. Say hello to Minnesota’s first K-5 computer coding curriculum.

Data Scientist

When will reality TV catch on? Can Survivor: Data Scientists Tangle with Big Data on the Big Island be far off? (I hope so.)

In short, more code written upstream means more data downstream. Lots more.

Much of the current excitement around Big Data centers on technologies that make taming it possible, including Hadoop (the most widely used framework for distributed file system processing), data visualization and open-source tools. While those are important developments, more important in my opinion are the people with the skills to use them.

In other words, collecting the data is one thing, but finding and nurturing the people who can spin the data into gold is another thing entirely. Who are these people? Don’t we call them Analysts, a typically junior role that’s been around for a while and is relatively easy to fill?

No, say proponents of the Data Scientist function, and I agree with them. There’s a meaningful distinction to be made here. The sudden appearance of the Data Scientist reflects the fact that companies are now struggling to make sense of data that comes in varieties and volumes never encountered before. In many cases, information critical to a business no longer resides in orderly, polite rows and columns of numbers. Enter the scientist.

That said, who are these scientists, where do they fit in a corporate structure, and what should be expected of them? For clues to the answers, take a second look at the description of the Master of Science degree above. You’ll notice terms like data-driven leadership, problem solving and leadership-level career opportunities. When presented with vast amounts of feral data, Data Scientists get to ask questions, chase theories, test hunches, seek patterns, explore possibilities, blow stuff up, postulate, play, pry, iterate.

Scientists enjoy playing in the mud and thinking outside the spreadsheet. They are asked to be curious, not cautious. They approach data with fascination, not force.

Data Scientist. Think high-ranking professional with the training and curiosity to make discoveries in the world of Big Data. It’s just plain sexy.