Analytics Blog

The End of The Data Scientist!?

You might remember Mr. Data in the series Star Trek: Next Generation.  Data, or should I say “Lieutenant Commander Data” is a fully-functional and sentient android.  He can’t feel emotions like humans, but he can process information faster than they can and he has learned to learn from facts without bias.  This attribute makes him one of the most valuable players in the Enterprise…ship…

The Star Trek series does a good job at depicting “Mr. Data” as a rare individual who combines an exceptional set of skills.  It’s almost as if the “Data Scientist” of our time could be embodied by Mr Data 2336’s personality…

Hype Cycle for Data Science

Data Scientists have been at the center of an interesting debate.   If I were to simplify and borrow an analyst term, I’d say that the profession has experience a full “hype cycle” – from mystery, to desire to disillusion.

It all started in 2009, when Hal Varian of Google named “stats”, the hottest job on earth.  A year later, Drew Conway defined the skillsets required to become a Data Scientist and helped the community think rationally through the new profession.  But, in 2010, the world panicked when McKinsey released a report predicting that, by 2018, the US would face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills….This past year, the panic turned into despair while media outlets and vendors rushed to declare the “End of the Data Scientists”.  Could “the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century”, as my friends Tom Davenport and DJ Patil featured in this Harvard Business article be in peril?

But who are these people?!

The technology industry isn’t immune to dramatic statements, and drastic terms such as “death” are often thrown in an effort to simplify.  However, the answer is not that simple.  Data Scientists are the foundation of the Predictive Enterprise and companies who want to win with data shouldn’t compromise their data science values.  Sure, industry studies have shown that Data Scientists are rare.  However, no one ever suggested that organizations should build their analytical backbone only on the back of Data Scientists.  For each Data Scientist, there are another 10 or 100 business analysts involved in the data process.  And for each Business Analyst team, there is another set of executives driven to use data to make better decisions.  The key is to enable them to come together in one place – check out here how our lead data scientists make this happen.

Data Scientists are not going away.  They are the nucleus of the Predictive Enterprise and they should be aided by tools, technologies and practices that help them scale their knowledge and talent.   We believe strongly in this reality as we see materialize across the world daily.  Over the next 10 years, we predict that Data Scientists will surely be aided by technological innovations but also by the natural evolution of our “data-driven” culture.  Here are some interesting trends, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

More “Data-Natives” – Data Science is now available in more schools for undergraduates and soon will be made available broadly to younger generations. Not differently from chemistry, Data Science is built on math, data interpretation, and experimentation.  Younger generations’ quest for answers is a natural intuition and, if you have kids, you know exactly what I mean.  New programs are popping up every day to help build on the Data Science instinct of our “Data Natives” – see a great example from the MONA foundation here!

More Decisions via Automation – in his book, Think Twice, Michael J. Mauboussin makes a great case for the compartmentalization of decision making.  Some decision tasks are better operated by humans.  Some are better automated via machines.  As humanity surrounds itself with more intelligent devices, we will grow more comfortable with empowering machines to make decisions on our behalf.  See here for a Gartner prediction on this subject.

More People, More Decisions – in his Strata presentation, Steven Hillion, Alpine’s Chief Product Officer presented a controversial view of the Data Science professional makeup.  As Data shows, women will take a far more prominent role in the world of data science over the next 10 years, which is great new for the data field.

A prediction of the “Death of the Data Scientist” would be a misguidance.  They are important today and they will be important tomorrow.   But, just like “Commander Data” could be a metaphor a “data-hungry” employee of our “Next-Generation” Enterprises, we have to remember that he is not alone.  He is not the only one to have the potential to be able to work with data in new ways.

Data is the new Oil and Data Science is its engine.   Luckily, the engine has access to multiple cylinders.  It’s up to us to equip our team with a finer understanding of this opportunity.