Data Scientist: Data job of the future?

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I’m fascinated and incredibly excited about the concept of data science and the so called scientists who do this job. I had never heard the term Data Scientist until last December when I ran across it in a blog by @BuckWoody. (http://sqlblog.com/blogs/buck_woody/archive/2011/11/15/the-data-scientist.aspx).  Since then it’s been popping up in conversations I have with people everywhere like a bizarre game of whack a mole.  

I googled ‘when was the term data scientist invented’ and I came across  a blog (http://blog.revolutionanalytics.com/data-science/ that said the term was coined by coined by DJ Patil and Jeff Hammerbacker in 2009. So it must be true, right? Egads! An aspiring data scientist could never be happy with a single google search. So I did another! And I am now prepared to say that it is absolutely possible that Patil and Hammerbacker did in fact coin the term. In fact, Mr. Patil (@dppatil) writes about the process here http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/09/building-data-science-teams.html. However, there still isn’t even a Wikipedia entry for data science or data scientist which gives us a sense of how under the radar this career discipline still is.

I also ran across this fascinating article in Venture Beat http://venturebeat.com/2011/11/28/do-you-need-a-data-scientist/. It’s a non-techie review of data science that helps present the concept in business terms that will excite the most pointy headed boss as well as the geekiest DBA. Check it out.

What is a data scientist and what do they do? Ha. I’m not gonna tell you. Frankly if you’re too lazy to research and learn a bit after reading this blog post then you’re probably not cool enough to be a data scientist anyway.

So, why did I write this post? Well, like the title says I truly think this is the coolest job title I’ve ever heard of. But more importantly, I think the concept of data science will change the data profession in fundamental ways. I know I just  said that I won’t tell you what a data scientist does, and I won’t. But I will tell you why I think the term signifies a fundamental shift in the data profession.

Data has largely been an after-thought for the past 2 decades that I have been in the business. Even the most forward looking businesses have a tendency to think of data in terms of ‘how it supports the business’. And that is sort of true. Data is there to support the business. But reading about data scientists, what they do, and how they add value to a business led me to realize that modern business trends such as the cloud, big data, analytics and etc are leading to situations where data ‘is’ the business. I had never heard of the term ‘Chief Data Officer’. I googled it. Sure enough; it exists. But the fact that I had never heard of it and have been in the business for 20 years says something about how many companies have one and how important the role is.

Mark my words. 2-3 years from now the first question, well maybe the second or 3rd, question a VC will ask a start up is ‘who is your data scientist’. Next general web scale businesses simply won’t exist unless they adopt the discipline of data science. Data science is a fascinating and marvelous blend of everything that I;ve loved about data and technology for 20 years plus everything that I’ve begun to love about business, social media, and marketing that I’ve been learning over the past decade. Within a few years I predict that most large businesses, at least the ones that make money in a web scale world, have Chief Data Science Officers that report directly to the CEO. The CTO will become a subservient role to the Data Scientist.

I’ve  always known that business can’t exist without data. Now it seems that the rest of the world has figured it out too. J

It’s a brave new world for people who love data, technology, and business.

P.S.  Want to learn more about data science and building teams to support it? Check out Mr. Patils free Kindle ebook “Building Data Science Teams” at http://www.amazon.com/Building-Data-Science-Teams-ebook/dp/B005O4U3ZE          .

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