Data Scientist Sightings Will (Mostly) Be Proven A Hoax

This post is part of a series – 14 Business and Technology Trends to Look for in 2014


Organizations will realize that data science is a capability that must be achieved collectively through a team of experts rather than by a single, brilliant individual.

The ballad of the fabled “data scientist” has been sung by the technocrati bards for the past four years. This mysterious creature is a devotee of Java, a crack statistician, brilliant with Hadoop and fluent in customer and market analytics in their respective field. Oh, and these individuals are young, dynamic and recently graduated from a prestigious university.

Given the media and blog coverage, we are led to believe data scientists must be plentiful in the wild. But try finding one to work at your company and the truth shall be revealed. In reality, there are many people who have the technical chops in Java, statistics, Hadoop, customer analytics. However, all of those skills are extremely rare to find in a single person. While recent grads may perform a variety of technical feats, applying business sense to drive an effective retail product mix (for example) is simply not in their wheelhouse.

As a young analyst, I remember poring through data, finding what I believed to be gold nuggets on how to improve business operations. Presenting these findings to our CFO was quite deflating. He kindly said, “thank you,” but all of my keen observations were either already known to corporate leadership or were easily explained as business aberrations. It took several years to learn a few very important lessons: (a) most data is pedestrian and does not reveal much new information, (b) gold nuggets are incredibly hard to find, and (c) finding the gold nuggets requires the ability to ask very sophisticated business questions. As it turns out, asking sophisticated questions derives from a sixth-sense only gained through years spent in the field. In other words, even the smart college grads aren’t really as smart about business as they would like us to believe.

These realities lead us to the inevitable conclusion that the “data scientist” is, for the most part, a fable and a hoax. However, the appetite for the data science capability remains unsatiated. Companies have realized the importance of mining their data for competitive advantage and this need will not diminish. An ability to create high levels of customer satisfaction at a low operating cost is critical in every crowded market. How then will such demand be met?

2014 will see the emergence of a new organization in the corporate structure that is dedicated to proactively finding and investigating opportunities to improve the business. This group will consist of many individuals who collectively achieve the technical promise of the data scientist. Just as traditional business intelligence fragmented into ETL developers, reporting developers and data architects, so too will this sort of business analytics. There will be a Java expert, a statistics expert, a Hadoop expert. In some cases, we may find exceptional people who can cover multiple roles, but they will be the exception rather than the rule. The “expert” status implies that they may not even be college grads as true expertise – as the 10,000 hour rule tells us – requires much more than native intelligence and classroom education. As for business expertise, it will be accomplished through consultation with experienced business stakeholders. Alternatively, the group will be defined by subject matter (e.g. actuarial, marketing, supply chain) and will be led by a dedicated expert.

This approach to achieving data science capability is far more tenable than the snipe hunt currently underway. It’s time to call off the recruiting hounds. The “data scientist” is a hoax. Long live the Data Science group!


Jeff Kanel_New Headshot_041013

Jeff Kanel is Centric’s National Business Intelligence Practice Lead. He is a business-oriented leader who brings more than 17 years of industry experience in IT project and team management. Jeff has performed in a variety of implementation roles ranging from hands-on BI implementation activities to strategic BI advisement. 

He has a proven track record of partnering with business stakeholders to identify high-value opportunities and solutions to deliver on senior management priorities. Contact Jeff to learn more. 

Other Business and Technology Trends of 2014:

  1. Beginnings of a Gigantic Innovation Cycle 
  2. IT Shops Will Leverage Their Knowledge of Legos® to Build Enterprise Systems
  3. The Growth of DIY Healthcare
  4. Data is the New Currency – Mining for Gold in the Internet of Things 
  5. The Emergence of the Professional DIY Data Scientist 
  6. Marketing and IT Sitting in the Tree
  7. Cloud Breaks Out of Infrastructure Groups and Into Strategic Imperatives
  8. Financial Companies Prepare to Advise Multi-Generational Homes
  9. The Re-emerging Importance of Tech Careers
  10. Responsive Web Design Falls Victim to the Hype Cycle 
  11. Non-techies Grasp the Cloud
  12. Info Synthesis and Collaboration Create a Recipe for 2014 Breakthroughs
  13. Sensors Invade – Big Data Goes Mainstream