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The Hottest Job Out There Now? Data Scientist


There's so much talk about big data these days. On a recent DorobekINSIDER LIVE, we talked to the people at the front lines of big data: the chief data officers. These are the people who are really making big data an effective tool for government.

Hosted by Chris Dorobek, the online training featured the following speakers:

  • Jeanne Holm, the evangelist for Data.gov
  • Dianna Anderson, the chief data officer for the state of Colorado
  • Dr. Peter Aiken, author of The Case for the Chief Data Officer-Recasting the C-Suite to Leverage Your Most Valuable Asset. He is also the Founding Director and Owner at Data Blueprint.
  • Greg Elin, served as the first chief data officer for the Federal Communications Commission. Today, he is CEO of GitMachines

The panel of experts talked about everything from if big data is just a fad, to the best way to use data sets, to how to facilitate inter-agency data sharing.

But one topic of conversation was particularly engaging and rousing – how do you define what a data scientist is? And what is the different between a data scientist and a Chief Data Officer?

You can download the entire archived webinar here.

Jean Holm, speaking from both her role at Data.gov and as a new professor at UCLA, said that data scientists are the next big job opportunity.

“I just started teaching a big data class – and we need data scientists,” she said. “The need is huge. There is a huge dearth of people coming into the field. If you’re interested in a career switch, seriously, data scientist is the way to go.”

“We are right at the brink of this explosion of big data and we are left with limited people and tools to really take advantage of it,” she added.

So the need is there – but what does a data scientist even do? The panelists noted that several definitions of the term data scientist have floated around, and attempted to define what exactly a data scientist was to each of them.

“For me [the position of data scientist] really looks at the issues around combining technical and business skills,” said Holm. “It’s not just being able to go into Hadoop to create something interesting thing with the data, but to understand the implications of those patterns and what that data is talking about. So it combines this idea of complexity of the data with the subject matter expertise.”

Holm added that the ability to mine, analyze and visualize data was also crucial – as well as the ability to communicate to others the importance of what the data reveals.

Greg Elin largely agreed with Holm’s definition, but wanted to stress that a data scientist is very different from a Chief Data Officer.

“The CDO role has to do with organizing the institution, resources and creating the policies so that data is an asset for daily use,” he said. “A data scientist is more involved with organizing the research and the product that comes from working with the data assets.”

Dr. Aiken noted that it’s important to have a Chief Data Officer in charge of managing data assets.

“A Chief Data Officer tries to make a government organization’s data more useful. I always say, data is our sole, non-depletable, non-degrading, strategic asset. As long as everybody is in charge of it, nobody is in charge of it.”

And as for Aiken’s thought on a data scientist’s role?

“The term ‘data scientist’ is such a high level abstraction,” he said. “But the minute you drop into a specific domain – CMS data scientist, healthcare data scientist – if you add that term on there you can have a really good conversation around say a logistic data scientist or a library data scientist.”

“Once we can absolve ourselves of the real very vague concept of a data scientist but put it in a specific context,” Aiken added, “we can have a great conversation about the knowledge skills and abilities you have to have in that particular area.”

So what do you think? Do you want to be a data scientist? Would you angle your career to that role? Let us know in the comments.

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